These days, the best places to dine out or drink out are the ones where safety is on the menu.
With COVID-19 restrictions relaxed in Florida, restaurants have been welcoming guests indoors for months now. And they're continuing to look for innovative ways to help guests feel comfortable with the idea of eating out. Whether by mandate or just good hospitality, some are creating new routines and staff positions to make everyone feel more at ease.
Call them what you like: Safety Stewards, Sanitation Specialists, Coronavirus Cops. These are just a few of the titles created by nationwide chains like Denny’s and Hooters to label employees responsible for overseeing social-distancing inside the restaurant. Their main job, however, is to keep surfaces clean and sanitized — even checking to ensure co-workers have their temperatures taken and are washing hands frequently.
That’s especially true at Bakan (2801 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-396-7080; bakanwynwood.com), where they’ve gone one step further to ensure COVID compliance.
Late last year, managers Victor Lopez and Felipe Indriago realized their top priority is to protect their guests, staff, and, ultimately, their business.
“After reviewing Miami-Dade's guidance on COVID restrictions we quickly realized that it would be a full-time job to enforce all the guidelines,” Lopez tells New Times. “As a result, we decided to designate a position whose only job was to make sure we are in compliance and keeping everyone safe. This way, anyone who stops by to dine at the restaurant feels extra safe dining with us.”
Want to feel safe no matter where you go? We asked five Miami Beach professionals to share their tips for dining out.
Do Your HomeworkAccording to Hernan Cardeno, director of code compliance for the City of Miami Beach, the most important thing to do before dining out is your research.
Before you visit a restaurant or a bar, check the safety practices. Make sure employees are wearing face coverings, spacing tables for social distancing, routinely disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and providing adequate ventilation.
“Most restaurants in Miami Beach have been doing everything possible to keep patrons safe,” Cardeno tells New Times. “But I encourage everyone to make up their own minds. Are restaurant workers wearing masks? Were you given a disposable menu or QR Code? Is everyone socially distanced? These are some of the things that people can easily look for when they visit a restaurant.”
Limit the Size of Your GroupThe list of safety procedures at Bakan extends from taking employee temperatures daily and using disposable utensils and containers to asking every guest for their name and phone number for contact-tracing purposes.
Among the many safety checklist to-do’s that are in place, one of the hardest to maintain has been limiting the size of parties at each table. It’s important for keeping social-distancing measures in place, and it also limits the amount of people sharing exposure.
“We are having a hard time enforcing the six-people-per-table — if not from the same household — rule,” shares Lopez, who has begun asking for IDs to make sure last names match, in an effort to keep crowds from getting out of control.
Use Contactless Forms of PaymentWhile it’s always a good idea to order online whenever possible, sometimes you just don’t know what you want until you get there. That’s why the fast-casual chain Sweetgreen (sweetgreen.com), which recently opened its first Florida location in Coral Gables, has reconfigured its in-store experience, stationing a “concierge” employee where customers begin their on-site visit.
Their job: Ensure each and every guest complies with safety recommendations, including wearing a facemask and staying six feet apart from other guests.
The best part, however, is that Sweetgreen makes it easy to procure your favorite meal without having to wait in line, allowing customers to purchase customized bowls and salads — even specialty menu items found exclusively on the company’s dedicated app.
“At Sweetgreen, you get the added bonus of purchasing our location-specific specialty dishes when you use the app,” says Sweetgreen chief concept officer Nicolas Jammet.
Make ReservationsGlenn Sampert, general manager for the Miami InterContinental Hotel (100 Chopin Plz., Miami, 305-577-1000; icmiamihotel.com), has been busy keeping the hotel and its restaurants operational throughout COVID-19. That includes the venue’s Latin steak house, Toro Toro.
The hotel has employed all the required mandates from hand sanitizer at every table and socially distanced tables to replacing paper menus with QR codes and even purchasing special masks for the entire team. Despite these rigorous safety measures, the only thing Sampert can’t control is the volume of people who converge during busy times.
“For me, one of the most important aspects of COVID safety is allowing enough physical distance between guests. That’s why making reservations is so important,” Sampert tells New Times. “Yes, it’s fun to be spontaneous, but planning ahead helps the restaurant spread people out and not create that environment where people are gathered together waiting for a table and possibly risking exposure. We want to help everyone do the right thing so we can all be safe.
Be PatientPerhaps the best piece of advice? Slow down, take a deep breath, and relax.
Derek Kaplan, owner at Fireman Derek's Bake Shop (firemandereks.com), has seen the frustration firsthand. With limited indoor access and no seating, the lines at his Wynwood and Coconut Grove stores have seen record numbers since the start of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
“The majority of people are understanding in terms on compliance,” Kaplan says. “But it can be as something as simple as just walking in the door without a mask.
"They get it. Everyone is well aware of what's going on at this point. But if I had to offer one piece of advice, my biggest tip for everyone would be to please have some patience. We are all trying to take care of you, and we all appreciate your business. And yes, we’re all frustrated, and we all want this to be over. But we’re all going to get through it together.”