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How Will COVID-19 Change The Barbecue Restaurant Experience?

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    How Will COVID-19 Change The Barbecue Restaurant Experience?

    In some of the articles that I've read about preparing to eventually ease social distancing, I've seen a few suggestions that restaurants in general are contemplating changes such as larger spacing between tables and perhaps even some sort of barriers around tables or booths. But of course, on this forum, the restaurants we are obsessed about are those serving up barbecue. And that's the rub, if you'll forgive an all too easy pun.

    Many of the barbecue restaurants we cherish most intentionally create an atmosphere that becomes the closest we can come to moving the social experience of a backyard cookout into a retail environment. What I think of as the Texas model, where patrons move from serving station to serving station with a tray, interacting closely with a handful of servers and fellow customers while in line, and then taking the food into a common dining hall, often with shared large tables, is the opposite of social distancing. Will customers be "spooked off" by these practices? If so, will it be long-lasting or will they come back after the passage of some time? Alternatively, will there be recommendations or even regulations mandating cutting back on some of these closer encounters?

    How will customers choose their food? Will there be a way to make the movement with a tray safer? That could be tough, given that it would mean virtually every patron in the facility will trod the same route, pausing in many of the same places. If we worry about airborne virus droplets, that seems problematic. Just prior to the shutdown here, our local pizza outfit came out with a dedicated app. It can be used to place an order much more easily than waiting for them to answer a very busy phone and can even be used to pay for the pizza. This dramatically cuts down on the number of interactions on arriving for pickup and the number of things touched in paying. But it's so impersonal.

    Would the use of a dedicated app ever catch on in barbecue? Would we give up that friendly banter with the server to find out what's good today (or, for the more cynical among us, what they've been told to push today)? Would Texas-style setups have to revert to table service only, with menus (which would have to be wiped down after each use, but many restaurants were already there on that one)?

    But here's the biggest elephant in the room: at a time when the dining industry as a whole is suffering from an unprecedented level of loss of cash flow, we are talking about potentially very expensive changes that in some cases get to the heart of the branding of the operation. I can't imagine the level of anguish for the owners, operators and employees of these enterprises as they face an array of such impossible choices amid such uncertainty of both the timing and the urgency of any changes that may or may not be mandatory.

    Maybe the next few days would be a good time for us to choose a day to rest our grills, call a local barbecue joint and pick up a meal or three while there still is an opportunity. And be sure to give a big smile and wave to the person who comes out to put the food in your trunk.

    Nice post.

    We haven't done any drive-by or in-store grocery shopping or food pickup during this quarantine time. We're staying as quarantined as possible so perhaps we will be able to drive to visit our one-week-old grandbaby and her 'rents when the shelter in place rules are lifted, her Dad's family leave is over, and he is (hopefully) allowed to work from their quarantined home. Even then we will drive straight through (8 hours) without using rest stops or gas station restrooms and decontaminating gas pumps before use. Not going into detail here, but only for the safety of our grandbaby and her family would I plan to use the same great outdoor restroom that most guys already take advantage of in a pinch.

    As the rules are eased there will be the inevitable rise in COVID19 cases, especially in rural areas, I'm guessing. We've already seen that happen in various hot spots across the country as the rules were bent. For that reason, we'll continue to be as careful as we are now--decontaminating groceries and mail, hiring people to grocery shop for us or ordering groceries, wearing masks and social distancing. This thing won't have run its course for months, at least based on what happened in America during the flu epidemic in 1918. It's the old "those who don't read history are doomed to repeat it" slogan, so we will continue on with all the precautions that we can take.

    All of this is to say that restaurants, when they are allowed to reopen, should step up their curbside delivery and add on a tip for waitstaff inside the restaurant. They should provide clear barriers between booths and space tables farther apart. All of this is part of the new norm until COVID19 has run its course. And we should each make our own choices, continuing with extreme caution or tossing it to the wind--or somewhere in between.

    Elbow-to-elbow camaraderie in BBQ restaurants is not hard to sacrifice in the name of public safety, at least going forward for a while, IMO.



    • Jim White
      Jim White commented
      Editing a comment
      Yes. Missing the grandbabies is so hard. I can't imagine how it would be to know you haven't held that new one yet.
      We have been making grocery pickups. Since I'm higher risk than my wife, I drive and she goes in with mask and gloves. Also, our CSA has developed really good distancing practices for picking up food, so we do have that wonderful fresh, local stuff.
      And I agree that real relaxing of distancing is a very long way off. I also fear, as you mention, the additional cases from rule bends

    All valid points above. I as a lowly cook seeing this from the other side of the house have a multitude of thoughts and various opinions based on those thoughts.

    Thinking is this as an employee, a lowly cook and as management the for almost 20 years as part of my life.

    My context here is all over the map and the points above take me in different directions.

    I’m not really sure how I feel right now or what my opinion is on various things.

    So for now, It depends.

    Sounds like I’m ducking the issue but the variables are flying fast and loose so for that reason I’m on hold for how to address the above. Example:

    1) A vaccine is magically discovered tomorrow. That’s a game changer. Fantasy I know but we don’t know what we don’t know. (Not gonna happen tomorrow I know but I was making a point and variables)

    So many things can happen or change.

    I will be very interested in seeing everyone else’s perspective on the points made above.

    Thank you for this post. Thanks fzxdoc for your reply too. I’m following this thread.


    • Jim White
      Jim White commented
      Editing a comment
      Agree completely. My thinking on this has been all over the map. In addition to the vaccine appearnce, what will happen once expanded testing for antibodies is carried out? Will we have a new version of segregation with separate entrances and dining areas for "immune" and susceptible folks? Or even only allowing "immune" on the premises?

      And the complete fluidity of the situation, where things seem to change by the minute, continues to make actual planning nearly impossible.

    • fzxdoc
      fzxdoc commented
      Editing a comment
      HouseHomey this issue hits closer to home for you compared to most of the rest of us. It's understandable to be torn between the safety of yourself and your family and your livelihood. What a terrible position to be in. I hope you find some clarity of purpose and do what feels best in the coming days and weeks as the rules begin to be lifted. Your creative soul must be suffering as well, since I can tell from your posts that much of who you are is what you do for a living. I wish you well.


    I think you are both right fzxdoc and Jim White - we will see changes for sure, and it extends well beyond restaurants. The hospitality and entertainment industry may change forever, or at least a long time.

    My company provides retail point of sale solutions, credit card processing and back end data center hosting, as well as operational supply chain management for retail operations and restaurants on site at places like Seaworld, Universal Studios, Margaritaville, and what few Planet Hollywoods are left. Those folk have quit paying their bills, and who's to say when they will get back into business? This summer, do we really think folks are going to go back to Disney World, or to Universal Studios or Seaworld? I think they would be too freaked out to go be in a crowded theme park, at least I would be. Seaworld has told all their creditors that they will only be feeding the animals for the foreseeable future, and paying none of their other bills.
    Last edited by jfmorris; April 16, 2020, 08:14 AM.


      One thing barbecue restaurants have going for them is barbecue is great takeout food. For the most part the food eats just as good after a 20 minute drive home, it is easy to pack up to go, and easy to put together a family-style meal. And you don't need 8 cooks crammed in a tiny kitchen. Just one guy tending the pits and a couple packing up the food.

      The barbecue restaurants here that offer takeout have been doing well so far. Some of them even require ordering a day in advance which could really help them know exactly how much food they need to cook and have very little food waste.

      Yeah, not having the line at Franklin's would be weird and not being able to chat the same way with the pitmasters would suck. But I think barbecue restaurants are set up better than most to deal with this.


      • jfmorris
        jfmorris commented
        Editing a comment
        Good point - BBQ and most sides for it is one of the ideal take-out foods, aside from pizza. It handles packing and unpacking well, doesn't get soggy typically, and reheats well.

      I think most everything, as we have known it, is going to change. May be hard to accept but no doubt, business as usual, will be different! We will "remember the good old days!"


        I think there will be at least two phases and we can't know how this will shake out long term. The near term will look... not as good for all of the reasons you outline. But what does this look like, say, 5 years after we get an effective vaccine (effective meaning CV becomes no worse than the flu is now)?

        f we have a vaccine in 2021 and it's highly effective so that 2022 and beyond sees the CV threat become tiny, will 2026 be much different than today? I don't think so. After a few years of no big issues, people will revert back to form.

        What if a vaccine is effective but not highly so? That's a whole different world.


          Who knows. We aren’t exactly in uncharted waters, but we are in waters where the only available chart is 100 years old and doesn’t show all hazards. When social distancing is eased the ship could run aground on a reef. Going from the last big flu pandemic, it lasted years. There was the initial wave in 1918, then it would come and go, reoccurring as a hot spot in a population center, subsiding, then glaring up someplace else. This lasted until 1920. And there is historical evidence that as early as 1916 British troops were being hit with the flu, but the British kept that a secret for war reasons. Meaning 4 years of flu not 2.

          More recently there was SARS and the swine flu, SARS being 2002 and the swine flu 2009. SARS wasn’t as contagious, but it was still around for years. Popping up then vanishing then popping up again. So was the swine flu, until that strain was finally included in a flu shot.

          All accounts are suggesting to me that the immediate new “normal” isn’t going to be what it was. Places will open up, people will travel, and so on. But public health codes could limit capacity, just like fire codes do now. For restaurants that means less tables and probably higher prices. Without capacity restrictions the new normal will be sporadic returns to what we have now if the bug returns to your area. So in the case of FL maybe not a statewide closure, but rather specific county or region closures. Miami-Dade could be licked down, but not Ft. Myers for example. Then when Miami is open maybe Ft. Myers won’t be. Basically a game of whack-a-mole. And travel could very well require immunity certificates, travelers here who like to go off the tourist radar may already have an old yellow fever card in their passport, we might be seeing new cards for those who are exposed to this and fight it off.

          once there is a vaccine and it is available to all, that’s when this will really be over.



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