There was a nice closing scene in the 2001 thriller “Spy Game” with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
In the scene, Operation Dinner Out has Redford faking out his CIA peers with a retirement dinner with his wife, which is really launching a special forces strike team to pull Pitt out of jail.
Classic film. Solid scene.
Over the past year, we have not yet been given the green light for many Operation Dinner Outs.
However, we do have Bite Squad (delivery app) disciples, supporting local restaurants every week for dining.
A couple of months after exhausting the usual suspects, Jeanne and I vowed to pick a new spot each week to try.
It’s been a fun pandemic dining roulette wheel, which we will continue this week.
That’s not to say we haven’t been out on the town a few times.
The list of going out is short; let’s see … Georgio’s and Lola’s on 30A, Izzy’s Sushi and Melting Pot (the cheese must flow) in Tallahassee, Sushi Matsuri and Marks Prime in Gainesville are top-of-mind spots we have actually been into in recent months.
We have all seen favorite spots in the restaurant world close; a huge shoutout to the restauranters, wait staff, cooks, chefs, managers, and bartenders who found a way to keep going.
I can point to tech and apps — like Bite Squad/Uber Eats — or quickly retooled websites with curbside pickup and to-go options that many restaurants rolled out (like Mimi’s Table next to our house).
Technology is certainly helping restaurants change the game completely in this industry for the customer, but also what It’s like on the front lines.
I checked in with some professionals in the industry to find out what 2021 has been like — despite the obvious, which is brutally difficult.
First, I reached out to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association for their statewide view on the situation. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Florida’s hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants and suppliers) hard.
Pre-COVID, it was a nearly $112 billion industry with more than 1.5 million employees. At the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 934,000 of those were either furloughed or laid off.
As restaurants began reopening, many came back to work, but we don’t have access to data to know exactly how many.
Across the nation, the National Restaurant Association estimates that 100,000 restaurants have closed and one out of three will not reopen.
Here in Florida, we are grateful for Gov. Ron DeSantis allowing restaurants to safely reopen. As you know, it started in phases with limited capacity seating, the addition of outdoor seating, alcohol-to-go, etc. That strategy has helped restaurants to begin getting back on their feet and helping reemploy team members.
We hear from cohorts in other states who are much worse off – either still battling shutdowns or it is too cold for outdoor seating.
Our members have expressed their gratitude to be doing business in Florida; we have seen recent articles about restaurant owners closing up shop in places like New York and relocating to Florida.
Next, I reached out to Matt Thompson, managing partner for the Table Hospitality/Madison Social in Tallahassee.
Matt brought to the conversation exactly what I expected — straight-up facts with a sense of humor:
“In all of my career, I have never experienced every discipline/pillar of the business (marketing, accounting, legal, operations, etc.) being throttled at one time. It reminds me of the old cartoons when the character would run into the electricity grid control room and push up every lever at one time to make the system implode.”
Well said sir, it certainly painted an image for us all.
Finally, I contacted Viet Vu, co-founder of Izzy’s Sushi also in Tallahassee. The “Sushi Slam” at their spot is always a good time (look out for the geoduck, it is an acquired taste):
“I’d say most of us (restaurateurs) don’t really choose this industry for the money but rather the challenge, opportunity, and thrill to provide a new taste/experience to others.
“Margins have always been tight enough as it is pre-pandemic, and since most of the ‘mom & pops’ aren’t heavily backed/funded anyway, keeping the doors open to an uncertain future was naturally very difficult for us and other industries.
“That is why it means so much more to us all to see the community rally together to support locally owned and developed businesses; keeping us afloat until the pandemic subsides.”
Locally, I know a lot of people; everyone I encountered at a restaurant has been beyond courteous and safe through every step of the dining out or delivery process.
The other day, a Bite Squad driver actually left our food on the road and honked when he arrived.
I love it, people should be doing whatever necessary to feel safe while following the guidelines of their community.
If you are a driver and need a roadside drop off, do it. However, most delivery drivers do at least go for the doorstep drop off. To each their own.
Thank you for supporting your local businesses throughout Florida — including the restaurant industry — and I hope your Operation Dinner Out/Or takeout is fantastic on this beautiful Saturday.
Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].