LGBTQ-Friendly Restaurants Cope with COVID-19

Business Models Change in Challenging Times

Modified menus, live DJs and shorter operating hours are just a few of the ways that LGBTQ-friendly restaurants are staying open during the state’s stay-at-home orders directive. Letty’s on Shamrock kills it for carry-out, but stopped serving brunch. Soul Gastro Lounge features live DJs streaming on Facebook every night to accommodate its homebound customers.

Based on interviews and Facebook postings, many of Charlotte’s favorite LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly restaurants such as 300 East, Soul, The Diamond, Letty’s, Pure Pizza, Dish, Bean Vegan Cuisine and Lupe’s Café are open for carry-out.

While North Carolina shifts to Phase I of easing social distancing, restaurants anxiously await the next two weeks when they will be allowed to re-open in Phase II. Restaurant owners are making plans such as adjusting the configuration of their dining rooms to meet social distancing requirements. Owners are also estimating a continued decline in revenue, which will affect their menus, dining room layout and even utensils.

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Restaurants will be forced to reduce seating capacity and they are not guaranteed to even fill those seats. An ABC poll shows that only 44 percent of Americans are willing to eat out.

“I just think going forward as long as there’s distance seating, that’s going to cut my fannies in the chair by 40 percent,” said Letty Ketner.

Food delivery services have served as the ‘waitstaff’ for restaurant owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: Atlas via Adobe Stock)

She is not taking any chances on endangering customers or her seven staff members. After the shelter-in-place orders began, Letty began offering curbside pick up and collaborating with local businesses for cross-promotions. For example, last week the restaurant did Throw It Back Thursday with Dr. Marcus Dunn of Dunn Chiropractic. The practice offered $5 discounts on every order over $20 for the first 20 phone orders.

Ketner eliminated the Sunday brunch. She tried it the first Sunday of the shutdown, but sales were abysmal. Ketner said her core clientele orders at least once if not twice a week.

“We’ve been able to do ok with to-go. We’re maintaining. We’re not killing it. We’re able to pay our rent,” she said.

When dining rooms re-open, she plans to move slowly. Curbside pick up will continue. The 22-seat patio will open as well, and Sunday brunch will resume. She will serve Saturday brunch if it goes well on Sundays.

“We’ll try this, baby steps at first. If it fails then we will maintain this and hope the situation improves,” she said.

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Andy Kastanas, an owner of Soul, Diamond Restaurant and Kiki “I’m kinda of amazed at the support,” he said. “Sometimes you take things for granted.”

Our job is to make people feel good,” Kastanas said. “I’m doing the best I can to give everybody a little distraction to get away from all this stuff.”

Lewis Donald owns and operates Dish and nearby Sweet Lew’s Barbecue. Dish’s COVID menu is only a meat and two vegetables, accompanied by the signature deviled egg and biscuit. Like Letty’s, Donald eliminated brunch items for now. Donald is not overly optimistic that business will return to pre-COVID levels.

“The term re-open really doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “People are still not going to come out to eat.”

Donald anticipates reduced capacity at the restaurant to follow social distancing rules, which means he will need less staff once the dining room re-opens. He said he has already cut the staff of 32 down to 14 at Dish. He thinks he will only see a return of about 25 percent of capacity. To save costs, he plans to trim down the menu, which is scratch-made, to help reduce the required labor it takes to run the restaurant.

People have been out of work, and have delayed paying rent, utilities and other bills, he said.

“People are not going to be able to go right back to us. They’re not going to be able to afford to. A lot of people are going to be scared and nervous at the beginning,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s going to go where we need it to go as restaurant owners.”

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