Main Street Monday — Small Business Restaurants Adapt Amid Capacity Restrictions

May 4, 2020

 By Caity Witucki
Contributing Editor, Main Street Monday

Main Street Monday Small Business Restaurants Adapt Amid Capacity Restrictions

When Texas Governor, Greg Abbott announced that restaurants could begin reopening in May with some capacity restrictions, small business restauranteers in the area began brainstorming about ways they would need to adapt their business model to fit the temporary limitations. 

“We were brainstorming the other day, after the Governor Abbott announcement, about how the 25 percent capacity model would even work,” says one Austin restaurant owner. “The only way to approach it would be a ticketed system with a tasting menu where guests pre-pay and you know exactly what you are feeding them up-front.” 

However, even with these adaptions, many small mom and pop eateries will reach their state’s capacity limits with only a few tables filled. As a result, they will not be able to turn tables fast enough to earn a profit. 

“Nothing has really changed in the last six weeks,” says the owner of a small upscale Mexican restaurant. “You can say, ‘let’s open up the restaurants,’ but so many employees have kids enrolled in school districts that are still shut down—what do you do with that? What do you do with invoices sitting from the last six weeks that haven’t been paid? Do you expect purveyors to make deliveries in good faith? Most restaurants aren’t designed to break even at 25 percent capacity—how do you prepare for that?”

Instead of reopening their dining rooms, some local businesses in Texas have banded together to develop web-based platforms. One such platform, Assembly Kitchen, offers fresh ingredients from three different local restaurants with detailed instructions on the correct way to prepare them. With this adapted business model, the small business restaurants say that they are able to earn a greater profit than if they reopened their dining room with a 25 percent capacity limit. “We are probably selling 20 orders on a slow day and 60 to 70 orders on a busy day—and one order could contain as many as five meal kits,” says one participating business owner. “And this doesn’t include the alcohol program we also recently launched.”

As other counties and states begin lifting their stay-at-home orders and instead enacting capacity restrictions for local businesses, many small business operations will need to adapt just as the restaurants in Austin are or risk going under. Luckily, many small business owners remain confident that they will eventually be able to return to their original business model in the future.

Bon Appétit Magazine
Austin Eater
Assembly Kitchen