As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Eater checked in with Austin’s defining restaurants to see how the pandemic has affected business, service models, and more. Next up in this series: Bryce Gilmore, seven-time James Beard Award-nominated chef and partner of acclaimed quirky restaurant, Odd Duck.
Eater Austin: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting business right now?
Bryce Gilmore: It’s been very up and down. The initial shutdown was a huge blow and very difficult to plan for. After getting back open, we’ve been able to work on efficiencies to allow us to continue to operate while we wait this out. Unfortunately, with the spacing of tables, it is very difficult to profit during these times, so our goal is to break even or lose as little as possible.
What is the current service model?
We are operating our dining room with plenty of space between tables and really pushing the patio seating. We do offer a takeout curbside option for guests, which we’ve never done before this summer. Once we figured out the logistics and how the guest could safely pick up the food, it just became a part of what we do. The sales help and make it worth doing, but certainly don’t make up for all the seats that we are not able to fill in the dining room.
Do you have any changed planned due to COVID-19 or otherwise?
We are rethinking our hours of operation to maximize efficiency, which is a constant balance of meeting demand while keeping our costs (mainly labor) down. When we opened our dining rooms back up, we started with a smaller crew, and opened during the most prolific days and times to make sure our sales would be as high as possible while the staff was in the building. (For Barley Swine, we settled on four nights a week, and for Odd Duck and Sour Duck, it was five days.)
We’ve added brunch on the weekends at Odd Duck while we continue to hire and hope to be open seven days a week again with demand allowing for it. We have been closing a little earlier than usual as it seems that the demand for dining later in the evening is not quite there yet. But this is a constant evolution — you’ve got to keep adapting and changing to meet demand and hit your numbers.
What measures are you currently implementing to prevent the spread of COVID?
We’ve implemented the standard protocols to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19 in our restaurants, like being very strict with mask wearing and sanitizing everything often.
How has business been so far?
So far business has been below 50 percent of what we normally would be doing.
We feel fortunate to be in a position to stay open for now and continue to provide for our staff and support our local farmers and vendors. When restaurants closed, farmers shifted to CSA boxes and other ways to get the food out to the people. I was very happy to hear some of the farmers discuss having record sales this year, but I know that’s not the case for all.
We came to realize a few months ago that we have to start making decisions to sustain the life of our restaurants without relying on the help of our government. This could be a whole other interview where we talk about the Paycheck Protection Program shit show and how they dropped the ball on further stimulus even when there was bipartisan support. I have hope that our new administration will get something done, but we will see. Even with the growing frustrations from the failures of our federal government, it is encouraging to know that we are all in this together helping each other to get through it. I’m thankful for the support of our community and our great guests.
We are hopeful to be close to normal by the end of next year (being able to seat our dining room at full capacity again safely), though this may be optimistic. Whether the demand will be there and we get back to the sales we were doing before COVID, we will see. I’ll plan for the worst and hope it’s better.