WE ARE BACK!
Dearest customers and readers, the last few months have been some of the most challenging we have ever faced as a restaurant and a community. We closed early in the pandemic, March 13 was our last day of service. That last week was a strange one, customers with fragile health saying goodbye as their doctors had told them to stay at home for the next 2 months. We were all extra stressed and customers seemed more on edge. On Friday the 13th the first case in Maine was announced and it was an employee at the India Street Clinic. Bruce had been there on Wednesday doing a naloxone training as part of the group, Dignity For Opiate Users. We knew that we would have to close for 2 weeks immediately, thankfully Bruce is fine and never exhibited any symptoms.
The following weeks were awful for me as they have been so many others. Days of deep depression and anxiety trying to find anything to cheer myself up as I watched the completely botched response to a global pandemic. I watched stupid movies and then would watch press conferences that made me cry. I spent too much time on Twitter and observed our already fractured county become more broken. At a time when the only thing that would save us is unity, wearing a mask has become a political divide.
We very luckily got the PPP loan which enabled us to get our employees off unemployment and we paid people to stay home for 4 weeks. During this time we were constantly weighing out the perils of re-opening versus the want to feed our community. How to safely and efficiently serve people while dealing with keeping us all safe from coming into contact with the virus. I really came to realize how much of my self esteem is tied up with serving customers, my regulars, smiling, chatting and receiving compliments.
I slowly began to form a plan. I made a checklist of things that I thought were important to address, masks, sanitation, social distancing, and very importantly how to make sure that our customers were also following protocol. I didn’t want a line of people forming, some masked, some not, maybe keeping their distance maybe not. I didn’t want to encourage any type of gathering. One night I had an epiphany. I’ve been making reservations for restaurant tables for years, why not have parking spot reservations?
Hence my system. Customers make a parking spot reservation at brucesburritos.setmore.com, it includes their cell phone number and car type. When they arrive in the spot we call them, take their order, credit card info and run the food right out. No one else thought this was a great idea, I persevered because I knew that it could be done and that enough of our customers would happily comply with the new system. I had also been watching how other restaurants were handling their re-openings and saw how many were completely overwhelmed by the demand. I needed to control the flow of business while we worked to refine our system.
The first day was awful, the app we were using kept crashing, we were disorganized and I was extremely stressed out. The second day was better and now after 11 days we are operating as a smooth machine once again. It is not easy. From 12-7 I am calling people, taking their orders and running their credit cards while wearing a mask. I have staff members that can jump in but for the most part the person on the phone is me for three reasons, I’m fast, I love talking to my customers again and I’m no good at the other job of figuring out what car is in the lot. I can’t tell a Honda from a Toyota and have to constantly ask staff what kind of car is that.
We are now up to 6 reservations per 15 minutes, 24 customers an hour. That is far below what we used to do but I feel very hopeful. The response has been overwhelming we have over 100 5 star reviews from people that loved our set-up. I have definitely cried on the phone with a few customers because I am so happy to hear their voices and know that they are doing well. We have also had folks who are making it rain with their tips, this always moves me to tears, a $50 tip on a $20 order just because they are so glad we are back. We split the tips equally between our employees that are working the shift and being able to give them bonuses during a pandemic really lifts my spirits. If you want to hear more about our journey check out Crash Barry’s new podcast Open Ears Maine.
This pandemic is far from over, I worry about the future constantly. Almost every time a customer tells me the expiration date on their credit card I have a fleeting thought about where will we be then, 11/2020, 05/2021, 04/2024. I hope that we are in a better place that we will have somehow come together to overcome what is in front of us. Good things can come from this if enough of us are willing to fight for it.