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: Krystal Craig, co-owner, head pastry chef, and chocolatier of Italian restaurant Intero.
Eater: How has COVID-19 pandemic affected business?
Krystal Craig: COVID-19 has affected both our guest attendance and revenue. Our revenue and attendance is typically down by 75 percent each month compared to this time last year.
We had to restructure our business model in every way — we started offering takeout, reduced overhead costs by slimming down menu options. For example, we got rid of more composed dishes such as carpaccio and fish crudo, and instead focused on items like risotto and mozzarella that can make the trip home. We also created new revenue streams through cooking classes. We’ve seen immense success with our classes, so much so that we added a chocolate tasting class and a cocktail class in addition to our cooking classes.
We only buy local and regional ingredients, so every time a guest orders from us, it directly supports the farmers and ranchers we also love to support. Unfortunately, with a reduced menu, we had to narrow the number of vendors we use and purchase fewer products. Now, shortly after scaling down our menu for takeout-only, we have had to also rescale for dine-in, which requires significant time and planning.
There is not enough steady business or revenue being generated to provide staff with the financial stability they would need to return. Not to mention many of our beloved team members left Austin after COVID-19 hit to be with family in other states due to the uncertainty of the situation. Other staff members are not comfortable returning to work due to personal situations, such as having an immune-compromised condition, living with elderly family, etc. Employees who have not returned are on unemployment or have found jobs that allow them to work from home.
What is the current service model?
Currently, we’re open for carryout, delivery, and dine-in. Before COVID-19, we did not offer takeout.
Now, dishes have a “share” focus across the board. We’ve always encouraged sharing while dining (family-style is very Italian), but still offered plenty of individual-sized dishes. In light of fewer dates, solo-dining, and friend outings, we created a more family-oriented setup offering larger shared packages, and a prepared foods/pantry grocery menu which includes options like house-made pastas to cook at home, sauces, bread, ricotta, etc.
For dine-in guests, we covered our patio to be weatherproofed for outdoor dining and set up a new open-air outdoor courtyard area (with weather-contingent seating). We also completely reworked our indoor dining logistics, setup, and protocols.
We’re also offering online cooking classes. We have always wanted to offer in-person classes, but never had the time to set it up and execute properly. This has been a great way to stay connected with regular guests, and meet new ones.
How has business been so far?
Business is naturally still very different and interesting with significant ups and downs. We were still navigating constant changes in the first couple of months.
Many people want the dining experience that they remember as “normal,” encompassing the food, the atmosphere, and service. This is just not possible with a smaller staff and under the climate. We do our best to help people understand.
What measures are you currently implementing?
We follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and require reservations to dine-in. We’re currently offering sanitizer at every table and entryway, paper and QR code menu options, no change for cash, encouraging card payments, and extended cleaning time between table seatings. All our staff wears masks and sanitizes hands and surfaces. Each table also has a service request card so patrons may notify staff when they would like service to help limit contact.
We’ve reworked our dining room to remove bar, lounge, and communal seating areas, and to allow for more open spacing. We’ve placed signage around our dining room with information on spacing, regulations, and guidance. We’ve always had foot pulls in the bathroom, now we have signs pointing them out.
Our staff does not come to work if they are feeling ill, and we provide them with testing once a month.
Are you planning any changes due to COVID-19?
For the foreseeable future, we plan to continue takeout, classes, and extended outdoor dining. We are monitoring this ever-changing situation closely and will adjust our model as needed to ensure the health and safety of our staff and community.
What are some surprises that you’ve encountered?
The biggest surprise was, and is, how quickly our perception of “normal” service shifts. When restaurants first closed down and takeout only began, it was bizarre to be in a space that was once hustling and bustling. This month “busy” — which equates to 25 percent of our original volume — feels normal, so we can’t even wrap our heads around the feeling of what the original volume used to be. That will feel abnormal as it (hopefully) transitions back to our busiest at some point, but people are adjustable, and we are grateful to have an amazing and supportive team behind us.
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