Following the Sedgwick County ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people that went into effect March 16 (in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic), questions immediately arose about how that would impact the restaurant industry.
County Chairman Pete Meitzner noted at a press conference that the ban would not directly force closures of restaurants, but the hope was area restaurants would adhere to the limit as it applied to customers on site at dining establishments.
Derby restaurants immediately started to adapt, with several closing their dining rooms or shifting to drive-thru/carryout business only. Others, like KFC, have even stopped allowing self-serve drinks.
Some restaurants took the county’s guidelines a step further, like Good Fortune. Owner Heng Liu said the restaurant moved to carryout only in accordance with the national recommendation to limit crowd sizes to no more than 10.
Additionally, Liu said staff are sanitizing the counters after every customer’s order — with an increased focus on those practices a common theme at area restaurants.
Both Liu and Talliano’s owner Janet Talley noted they felt the impact in reaction to the coronavirus restrictions almost immediately.
Good Fortune implemented its policy changes on March 17 and Liu reported that business had slowed down by 50 percent the following day. Similarly, Talley said she saw a drop-off in the past week.
“Obviously we hope everybody will come back once this ban has been lifted, but right now we’re probably down about 20 percent in business. It’s just probably going to continue to decline and we’ll have to shut our doors for, hopefully, just a short period of time and then reopen,” Talley said. “I’m sure customers will come right back to us; we have very loyal customers, especially in the Derby area.”
As of 5 p.m. Friday, Talliano’s took that next move to close the restaurant temporarily. But as of Monday, they were trying to figure out a plan to possibly open this week.
Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research released a report showing that full-service restaurants in Kansas are one of the most vulnerable sectors amidst the COVID-19 threat.
Estimating a 60 percent reduction in demand for one month, the CEDBR found that would have a direct impact on 14,500 jobs and $27.5 million in labor income. Increase that to 100 percent (or a full shutdown) and the impact would be felt among more than 36,000 employees and affect $68.8 million in labor income. It was noted the CEDBR’s estimates do not take into account other changes within the Kansas marketplace.
Regarding continuing operations, Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order allowed an exemption for restaurants – as long as they follow social distancing protocols and cease self-service of unpackaged food (i.e., buffets and salad bars).
That measure has led Dillons to shut down its salad bar, while Good Fortune closed its buffet temporarily and Talliano’s shut down the entire restaurant.
Sedgwick County has noted it has no real way to enforce its restrictions, but asks that the public adhere to the ban in order to protect public health.
Employment concerns persist, however, given how restaurants have been forced to operate. While Good Fortune has not had to make any changes yet, Talliano’s has started to feel that effect.
“A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck and so I’m concerned about their well-being, and then will they come back to us after this is over,” Talley said of her employees.
While these are unprecedented times, local restaurants are trying to adapt. Even with the closure, Talley noted she plans for that to be temporary and for her restaurant to return to full service eventually.
For a list of some changes at Derby restaurants in the wake of the coronavirus situation, visit derbychamber.com/shop-local/.