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Restaurants and bars in Salt Lake County will halt all sit-down service beginning Monday at 11 p.m., county Mayor Jenny Wilson announced, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Wilson along with Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, issued a public health order which prohibits “all dine-in food service, whether inside or outside the establishment” for 30 days.
Businesses can continue to operate takeout, drive-thru and pickup food service — with online or telephone transactions as the preferred method of payment. Cash exchanges are discouraged, the order said. “Staff who take cash or credit card payments will be required to use cleansing measure between each transaction.”
Customers will not be allowed into eating establishments except to pick up orders.
Delivery from third-party companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash will be permitted but there must be no “person-to-person” contact. And employees of these services must not work if they “present any symptoms of illness.”
The order affects every aspect of food service from restaurants and bars to self-serve buffets and salad bars.
Grocery stores and cafeterias must “eliminate seating areas as well as any other opportunity to congregate," the county said in a news release.
Hotel restaurants may deliver room service to a patron’s door or curbside. Mobile food trucks and carts are allowed with some modifications.
In addition to the restaurant restrictions, Salt Lake County is prohibiting “mass gatherings over 50 people" (the White House on Monday recommended limiting groups to no more than 10) and requiring businesses to implement “social distancing,” or staying about six feet from others. For example, Edwards said in this Salt Lake County video that movie theaters will need to monitor how many people are going into each screening. While people in the same family can sit together, they must be seated away from others.
“Thirty days will be rough," said Casey Staker, owner of Zest Kitchen and Bar in Salt Lake City. “Hopefully, we do enough business in takeout so that employees can continue to get a couple of shifts a week.”
Staker said one of the biggest challenges for full-service restaurants will be maintaining staff. “Hopefully, we can keep our staff and move forward when we are able to [fully] open again.”
Chris Matern, general manager of My Pie Pizza in Holladay, said his restaurant already offered takeout and delivery. He hopes people will continue to patronize the restaurants during the pandemic. “We want people to know that we are here and still open.”
He said third-party delivery services take a large chunk of the profits, so if patrons want to help local businesses, they should do their own pickup. “Buying a gift certificate," he added, "also helps infuse our business with cash.”
Utah’s most populous county is following the lead of Summit County, which issued a sweeping order Sunday to close all businesses where people gather, including restaurants and bars, for 30 days. Summit went further than Salt Lake County and prohibited third-party deliveries as well.
Cities and states nationwide are shutting down eateries to help boost social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During this time of national crisis, we are proud of our restaurant and bar owners in Salt Lake County and the lead they have taken to do what we know is best for our community,” said Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association. “As much of a hardship this will be for our business owners, we have seen an outpouring of love and concern for their employees and the difficulties they face. Our restaurant owners will now focus on serving guests the best they can, keeping within strict food safety policies, as takeout and delivery will be their main focus.”
Bars will be losing green
For bars, the timing is terrible, with St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.
Dave Morris says such a closure has never happened in the 17 years he has owned Piper Down, one of Salt Lake City’s most popular Irish pubs.
This year, he had planned for the usual party, too, ordering 180 pounds of corned beef, 150 pounds of potatoes and 80 pounds of cabbage. All that now must be sold to-go, along with bangers and mash and fish and chips.
“It’s the biggest day for us,” he said. “Usually the Saturday before is huge, too. But we were down 50 percent from years past.”
Morris added that the “biggest heartbreaker” is that the St. Patrick’s Day season not only boosts the bottom line at the multiple bars he owns but also fattens the wallets for the nearly 200 people he employs.
"The money we make this part of the year we use to update the bar and the kitchen. Now that’s all gone,” he said. Same goes for his staff: “St. Patrick’s Day is like their Christmas bonus.”
A plea to shoppers
Grocery stores will remain open — and, in fact, need extra help.
Smith’s Food and Drug said Monday it is seeking to hire more workers “immediately” to deal with the surging demand.
“We recognize all of our associates are showing up for our customers and communities when they need us most," Aubriana Martindale, Smith’s corporate affairs manager, said in a news release. “ ... To help alleviate the increased workload, we are hiring immediately to make sure we have the food and supplies our customers need in a clean, orderly store environment.”
Smith’s, like other grocers, has reduced its store hours, in its case opening its doors from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. It also is encouraging workers to monitor their health and well-being.
Employees are “working relentlessly to replenish shelves that require more restocking than usual,” the release said, “along with extra deep cleaning to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading.”
Grocery workers suddenly have become essential employees, and some shoppers and area businesses have taken notice and shown their appreciation. A Jimmy John’s delivered sandwiches Monday to employees at Sprouts near 200 South and 700 East in Salt Lake City.
The Utah Food Industry Association also put out a news release urging customers to remain calm and shop responsibly. In short, don’t hoard.
The retail supply chain remains strong, the association assured, and stores are working closely with food manufacturers and wholesale partners to “ensure food, medicine and cleaning supplies continue to be readily available.”
“If a shopper does not need an item in the next two weeks, leave it for someone who does,” Dave Davis, president of the association, said in the release. “Hoarding and stockpiling create unnecessary fear and may create a situation where someone who truly needs a product may not be able to find it in a store. This has the potential to place in jeopardy the most vulnerable among us — the elderly and those with existing health issues.
“We are confident,” he added, “that if consumers will not panic and exercise some patience, there will be an adequate amount of food and medicine available to take care of all consumers’ needs.”
On Monday, some stores rationed newly arrived nonfood items such as toilet paper, paper towels, disinfecting wipes and Clorox bleach — one per customer — along with some foods, including milk, hamburger and chicken.
Many shoppers appeared to try to keep from bunching up while waiting in lines — aiming to stay in step with the “social distancing” guidelines from health officials — but it wasn’t always easy.