AUSTIN (KXAN) — Effective noon Tuesday, restaurants in Austin and Travis County are take-out, drive-thru or delivery only for six weeks, city leaders announced Tuesday.
Dine-in restaurant service is prohibited, as are gatherings of 10 or more people “due to substantial risk to the public.”
Bars must close all common spaces and can’t allow alcohol consumption on the premises under the new orders issued by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. The City of Pflugerville clarified that this order also applies within its city limits.
“Our acts, individually and collectively, will determine how fast and how hard the virus hits our city,” Adler said.
“We know today’s order will create huge hardships for many and we resolve to do all we can to address the economic impact this virus is having. But public health must remain our first priority and the experts tell us these are steps we must take. As we have done before, we’ll do this together and help each other,” he said.
The orders are using recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adler said. It’s a community-wide approach that uses social distancing to reduce illness and death.
The order will be enforced by peace officers, City of Austin code department inspectors and the Office of the Fire Marshal.
Adler also made it a point to say that hoarding or stockpiling isn’t necessary.
“Normal shopping patterns will work just fine,” Adler said. “Grocery store shelves are being continuously stocked.”
As the orders take hold, Adler says the city will be in contact with those affected most — workers in the service, music and event industries among others — about the services the city will provide to help them.
According to the Texas Restaurant Association, more than 50% of food consumed by citizens of Texas comes from the approximately 55,000 restaurants in the Lone Star State.
“Restaurants can’t just shut down overnight because we are talking about 1.4 million people that would be out of a job. And that’s just the people who work in the restaurants. You’re not thinking about the vendors that supply them or the delivery drivers,” said Anna Tauzin, the chief revenue and innovation officer for the Texas Restaurant Association.
Even so, some restaurant owners are having difficult conversations with their staff.
On Tuesday, managers at Black Star Co-op made the decision to become “to-go” only until it’s safe to open their dining room, again.
The co-op hasn’t had to lay anyone off yet, Black Star Board Staff Liaison Christopher Byram told KXAN. However, employee hours and menu options will be reduced.
“Trying to limit as much dishes that we need to make dirty, so that everything is easy on the staff,” Byram said, adding, “We’re anticipating reducing the amount of staff that we have on-site pretty drastically.”
At Black Star, which brews its own beer, managers hope the fact that they can sell 32 ounce Crowlers full of beer to-go will help the brewery stay afloat.
Byram says businesses urge people to buy giftcards and merchandise and keep ordering take-out or delivery, if they can.
“That could be part of a saving grace for this industry and be able to give business owners a little bit of support and padding so if they close, whenever they hopefully will be able to reopen, they can have a little bit of money in the bank to be able to either rehire their staff or whatever the case may be,” Byram said.
On Monday, Peached Tortilla Owner and Executive Chef, Eric Silverstein, had to lay off approximately 60 hourly employees. His location on Burnet Road will remain empty for at least the next three months.
“The way I saw it, restaurants were operating on borrowed time,” Silverstein said. “We all feel like we are in a movie right now. Everything feels a little surreal and unreal.”
Homeslice Pizza partner Jeff Mettler has shifted his business to a “to-go only” model. Customers are no longer allowed indoors and must order from the take-out window.
“Reducing crowds and reducing contact is what people want, but they are ultimately happy that we have remained open,” Mettler said. “We’re just taking it day by day and ingesting the new information as it comes and making the best decision we can at a time.”
All restaurant owners said they have elevated their sanitation standards and are doing their best to keep the restaurant and common areas clean.
Breweries doing beer-to-go only
Several Austin-area breweries announced on social media Tuesday even though their taprooms are closed, people can still buy beer and take it home.
About six months ago, a new state law went into effect, allowing Texans to take beer home in cans or crowlers from craft breweries.
“Although we’re able to do it, thank goodness we can do it, otherwise we’d be totally have to shut down, but that is kind of our smallest of lifelines,” explained Carlos Garcia, Taproom Manager at Hops and Grain Brewing in east Austin.
He said beer-to-go makes a small part of the brewery’s revenue stream.
“Breweries are dynamic businesses where we have our restaurant distribution sales, tap room drinking sales, and then the small portion is to-go from the taproom,” Garcia told KXAN. “We sell our beer to all the restaurants, but no restaurants are open. We can’t sell them beer because they can’t buy beer because they’re not open, and so it’s a huge, huge, huge impact on us as a business. [It’s] very challenging, I’m not exactly sure what we’re gonna do.”
Breweries told KXAN they understand public health is top priority.
Garcia hopes the local and state government can offer some sort of direct help to locally-owned small businesses.
“Those bills don’t stop just because the mayor says stop sales,” he said. “We have a long road ahead of us as we cannot open until May 1.”
Adam DeBower, one of the co-founders of Austin Beerworks, suggested lawmakers temporarily let breweries deliver their products.
“I think that would be really valuable, and I think would be a great opportunity that could help bolster this industry,” he said and added even though they’re taking all the necessary steps to minimize the spread of germs, some people may not want to leave their homes.
Austin Beerworks said about 20% of the sales were coming from beer-to-go.
The local breweries are still able to distribute to grocery stores or convenience stores, but co-founder Michael Graham said, “I don’t expect the grocery store sales to double. I think they’ll go up a little bit, but not enough to make up for those lost sales.”
He said they’re keeping their employees on during this time.
“We’ve had to change some long-term plans that we’ve been saving up money for, a lot of sort of big idea things,” Graham explained. “We’re gonna have to divert that money to just payroll and making sure that our staff is taken care of.”
The breweries said they hope the community will come and support them through beer to go because every little bit helps.
“Any hope we have to survive the storm is the community helping us out as much as they can,” Garcia said.