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Dozens of Utah restaurants, some that have never offered takeout or delivery before, started these convenience services this week, a means of survival after state and local officials prohibited eateries from offering sit-down dining.
And diners, faced with the real possibility of losing their favorite neighborhood restaurant to the coronavirus pandemic, have stepped up, placing orders online and over the phone, tipping extra and even buying extra meals for seniors and others who are most vulnerable.
Salt Lake City resident Ed Felt was like many who picked up a meal at one of his favorite neighborhood spots.
“We’re so fortunate to have great restauranteurs in our city. We’ve connected with many of these folks over the years, and they are part of our community like family, friends and neighbors,” he said. “The folks we’ve spoken with are taking COVID-19 very seriously, just as we are for our own family. They are following extraordinary procedures to ensure there aren’t any problems. So as long as we can, we’ll give them our business.”
But not every eater — or chef — believes that remaining open, even on a limited basis, is the right thing to do for their staffers or customers in these tenuous times.
“I’ve heard people say that they are afraid of ordering food from restaurants during this time,” said Michele Corigliano, executive director of Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.
She encouraged restaurants to share information from the official health groups that says there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
The coronavirus, according to health officials, is thought to spread mainly from person to person, especially between people who are in close contact — within about 6 feet — of one another. It is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
“There is no evidence that COVID-19 is foodborne,” according to a statement from the Salt Lake County Health Department. “The risk is contact with the respiratory droplets of other people, which is why dine-in service is prohibited but takeout is not— it’s not the food or the environment, but the gathering of people.”
Still, some people, including Moudi Sbeity, owner of Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City, aren’t convinced.
Earlier this week, Sbeity started curbside takeout hoping to keep his staff employed through the pandemic. But even though “we were slammed with orders, something inside of me said ‘this is not safe.’”
“When you’re moving around the kitchen, you’re not thinking of the 6-foot rule, you’re just moving as fast as you can,” he said. “It is very high risk. I just had to come to terms with that.”
No matter what sanitary precautions he takes inside the restaurant, Sbeity said he has no control of what employees do on their own time. “Have they gone to the grocery store or visited a friend?” he said, “I can’t gauge how everyone lives their lives outside of the restaurant.”
Sbeity says some might think he is going to extremes, “but the bottom line for me was that I was worried about the people, my staff.”
Manoli Katsanevas had a similar sentiment. On Monday, he offered all food 50% off for curbside pickup at Manoli’s, his Greek restaurant in Salt Lake City. “We had such overwhelming support,” he said. “It was one of the busiest days we’ve ever had. We sold out all our food.”
Even so, Katsanevas has mostly shut down the restaurant to protect his staff, he said. “I don’t think it’s responsible.”
In addition, fast-food and fast-casual restaurants are naturally built for pickup and have better price points, especially as the economy worsens. “As things get tighter,” he said, “people probably aren’t going to spend $100 on dinner for the family, which I understand.”
Still, Sbeity and Katsanevas seem to be the exception as dozens of restaurants are jumping into curbside dining and posting on social media and websites about their increased sanitation procedures.
Proper Burger Co. in Salt Lake City is up and running its fast-food operation, said owner Andrew Tendick, with online and phone ordering, curbside pickup and third-party delivery services . The restaurant has set up a makeshift drive-thru in front of the building at about 850 S. Main., with large menu boards for customers.
Its sister restaurant — Avenues Proper and Stratford Proper — have online order, curbside pickup and delivery as well.
“Like many restaurants,” Tendick said, “we are trying to find ways to stay alive long term.”.
Delivery companies also are updating policies to ensure diners feel safe.
For example, Door Dash said Friday it’s eliminating the “hand it to me” option. All deliveries will be no-contact between drivers and customers. “With this update,” the company said in a news release, “leave it at my door” will be the default drop-off option.”
Utah health officials have also offered some rules for both drivers and customers to follow when ordering delivery.
• Not work if they feel sick — as with all businesses.
• Make no contact with the customer.
• Wash hands thoroughly every time they enter a restaurant to pick up delivery orders.
• Use hand sanitizer between each delivery if they are trip-chaining from multiple restaurants.
* Leave instructions where to place delivery items. Most apps allow you to leave a photo of where the food should be placed.
• Put the food on your own plate and throw out the takeout container. Wash hands thoroughly after doing this and before eating.