Relearning How to Run a Restaurant in Reno During COVID-19 with At Risk Family Members

During the pandemic, all the cards have been reshuffled in many industries, including dining. Saralynn Lindsay finds out what it’s been like to manage the local Applebee’s.

Sara McClain, the general manager of the Applebee’s on Kietzke Lane in Reno, has worked at all of the surrounding locations as a server and in all managing positions.

Crisis Times at the Outset of the COVID-19 Shutdown in Nevada

In mid March, 2020, the United States experienced a nationwide shutdown after the rise in COVID-19 cases. Each state handled the shutdown and the pandemic differently depending on how many cases were in each city and state.

In Nevada, on March 16th, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve issued a city wide shutdown of all restaurants, bars and gyms originally slated to start the 17th and then delayed it to the 20th. Governor Sisolak then issued all nonessential businesses to close for 30 days which was then extended to mid May.

“We were the first of the three locations to shut down because of the Mayor’s order in Reno,” remembers Sara McClain, Reno’s Applebee’s restaurant manager. “We tried to offload as much product to the Sparks and Carson locations as we could so it wouldn’t go to waste. Then they were shut down three days later so Applebee’s lost a lot of product.”

Restaurants in Nevada operated during the shutdown with to go services only. They began reopening in mid May. Only managers were allowed to work during this time

Trying to Figure it Out

Restaurants were one of the main businesses that were hit during this shutdown. They not only had to lay off every employee except for management for safety reasons, but they also had to figure out what to do with all of their product.

Most chain restaurants stayed open for takeout services, but there was a massive decrease in sales which means there was not a need for so much product. Unfortunately, due to company policies, the product could not be donated to employees or food banks.

When restaurant locations started opening up again, they had to cut down menus because of a lack of product. Managers, like McClain, had to try and figure out what they had, what they needed, and how they were going to get it on top of trying to reopen for the public.

“No one has really gone through a situation like this before so it was kind of like flying by the seat of your pants to try and figure it out,” said McClain. “There were new laws and regulations every day so it was really difficult to make sure they were being implemented correctly.”

Every other table in the restaurant is blocked off. Only six people can sit at each table and no one is allowed to sit up front to wait for their table in order to follow social distancing guidelines

Following Health Restrictions

As a manager, McClain has to make sure that all new health regulations and cleaning standards are being met by both employees and customers. This includes wearing masks properly, washing hands and changing gloves regularly, the entire restaurant being disinfected every half hour, and social distancing at six feet by both staff and customers. Some of these things are already expected of restaurants that follow regular health and safety guidelines, however now, it is much more intensive.

“Most of the clientele that has come in has been very understanding and patient; I would say about 98 percent,” said McClain. “The biggest complaint we’ve had is about social distancing within the restaurant. People don’t like that we can’t seat more than six people at a party. They think it’s an individual rule but really it’s a state law.”

There is a new three step process for cleaning tables: Peroxide (let sit for 45 seconds), rinse (water), sanitizer (let dry). Employees have to wash hands and change gloves every time they enter the kitchen, masks are on at all times by employees anywhere in the restaurant.

Working During a Pandemic With High Risk Family Members

According to McClain, clientele were not the only ones nervous to come back to the restaurant. She lost many employees during the shutdown for various reasons. Some of those reasons include having to move or traveling to be with family, high risk employees or family members, finding new jobs to pay bills, or simply being scared. There was also very little time to find employees that were able to come back to work on such a short notice.

Coming back to work after three months off work is a difficult transition in and of itself, but there was also the added pressure of a virus that was still raging. Not only did McClain have to try and figure out how to run a restaurant with no employees, no product, and new health regulations, she also had the added pressure of having her own at risk family members.

“In the beginning no one really knew how it was spread or how to prevent it. So it was scary being around all these people,” said McClain. “My husband is high risk so it was very scary going home to him every day knowing that I could be coming home with something that could kill him. That’s life though, you buckle down and get through it.”

In those first few weeks after the shutdown, McClain couldn’t have any employees at the restaurant, she had to do everything herself. This meant that she was constantly dealing with the public during a time of uncertainty. At the beginning very few people wore masks, they only relied on hand sanitizer. Thankfully neither McClain or her husband has tested positive for COVID-19, as well as none of the Applebee’s staff, as of this reporting.

Reporting by Saralynn Lindsay for the Reynolds Sandbox

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