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: Savannah Stiles, general manager of campus bistro and bar Hopfields.
Eater: How has COVID-19 pandemic affected business right now?
Savannah Stiles: Like everyone, we are affected physically, emotionally, and financially. For Hopfields, it is really about surviving together, keeping our family of staff safe, and making sure that the restaurant makes it through to the other side.
What is the current service model?
Hopfields is open for dine-in and curbside to-go. We have opened the bar area, dining room tables, and outdoor patio. Reservations are recommended, but a few seats at the bar will remain available for walk-in guests.
What measures are you currently implementing?
- Staff are temperature checked upon arrival.
- All staff wear masks at all times.
- Guests are required to wear masks when not seated. We do keep a stock of emergency masks for those who are without.
- All stations are regularly cleaned and sanitized.
- Hand sanitizer available at all entries, all service stations, and on all tables.
- No communal water or condiments.
- Low-contact payment methods [i.e. credit cards].
- No-contact menus, one-time use menus available.
What are some surprises that you’ve encountered?
It has been disorienting to reopen, but this new world has opened space for us to get creative again and prototype with new systems and ways to help our guests. There is a new level of connection and camaraderie. We are constantly thinking, “How can we do this better?” and more importantly “How can we make this ours?”
When we were creating a curbside business model, we had to design a system for guests to safely pick up orders, transition to a new POS (point of sale) system, set up a new process to box orders and keep them warm.
The pommes frites were one of the biggest challenges. We wanted to find the best way to package the fries so that they could stay crispy. We prototyped many different ways of boxing and bagging — everything from clear vented clamshell-style containers to the McDonalds-style cardboard cups to even P. Terry’s-style wax paper bags.
After eating dozens of batches of fries back to back to see which ones tasted better, we realized there was something more important than keeping them warm or making them look pretty. The fries would steam themselves if packed together too tightly, ruining the beautiful crunchy crispy goodness that they are known for. So now, the fries come in a cardboard box, but we rip off the two short ends of the lids leaving the box well vented. Doing it this way keeps the fries fresh and also allows the customer to sneak a few french fries during the ride home, one of the well-known joys of getting drive through foods.
Are you planning any changes?
We are planning to remodel our patio to creating a true outdoor dining room for full service dining and special events (wedding rehearsals, etc.) for 40 to 60 people. The patio will be done in a Mediterranean design, mirroring the original Hopfield’s style of rustic elegance, featuring unique lighting, custom tables, white flowered jasmine lattice, privacy benches, and a separate lounge sitting area under the tree.
How has business been so far?
Our patrons were supporting our curbside to-go and they now continue to support Hopfields and staff by visiting the restaurant or making purchases online. We’ve gotten sweet notes of encouragement through the online orders. We are pleased to see them again, we want them to know that we share in their care and concerns for everyone’s health and safety.
Initially, sales were expectedly low and overall business volume has been very inconsistent. Sales have ranged from less than 25 percent to recently just under 50 percent of what we were used to pre-COVID.
We’ve guaranteed our staff a minimum wage. If business volume does not cover it, then we make up the rest. We’ve implemented a mandatory 18 percent service fee on all online and to-go orders. This helps pay for additional packages and helps ensure that we can pay our staff a proper wage.
These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.