Restaurants near ASU adjust to challenges brought with COVID-19

With decreased business and increased concern for public safety, restaurants are making changes

A sudden decrease in customers due to social distancing recommendations by government and health officials has left restaurant owners facing an unanticipated lack of income. 

Many restaurants have had to make cuts in staff, shorten employee hours and cut business hours to make up for the loss of revenue, and restaurants near ASU are no different. 

“The main challenge is dwindling business,” said Bassel Osmani, co-founder of Pita Jungle.

Osmani said social distancing recommendations are not the only factor causing people to go out less — many people are not working as much as they were prior to the pandemic. 

“Most people can not afford to go to restaurants if they do not have a steady paycheck,” Osmani said. 

To cope with these challenges, restaurant owners like Osmani have brainstormed a variety of ways to put customer and employee needs first. 

Some restaurants, like Pita Jungle, are expanding media-related content and promotions, advertising take-out and to-go orders while hoping to reach more customers in the process. Online services such as Grubhub, Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats and others are being utilized as well.

In addition to profit concerns, many Tempe restaurants that have been ingrained in the ASU community have had to make public health-oriented changes as well. 

“Throughout this time, we’ve made it a priority to continue serving our customers, while also keeping our communities and employees safe,” Brian Maxwell, chief operations officer of Dutch Bros. Coffee said in an email. 

Dutch Bros no longer accepts cash or stamp cards and has customers run their cards themselves. They have also closed all lobbies and walk-up windows in the hopes of promoting social distancing between their customers.

“We’ve moved to a frictionless payment system to cut down on customer and employee touchpoints,” Maxwell said in an email. 

Employees are also required to wear masks, said Alex Aragon-Sierra, an ASU student studying exploratory engineering and Dutch Bros barista at the Rural Road stand, just outside ASU's Tempe campus.

"It's noticeable that customers are cooperating. Everybody has been good at understanding and accommodating," Aragon-Sierra said. 

According to Aragon-Sierra, there have been a lot fewer students coming by the stand, but "the vibe at the ASU stand hasn't been broken."

Some restaurants are also optimizing menus and promoting new deals for customers during this time. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery has begun making a variety of meal package deals for costumers in addition to their regular menu options. 

Snooze now offers taco Tuesday packages, booze bundles and provision neighborhood packages. 

The provision neighborhood package includes a gallon of milk, a gallon of orange juice, one loaf of sourdough bread, coffee, eggs, two avocados, butter and bananas.

"It takes care of all the different needs for a household," Beth Cochran, regional vice president of Snooze said. Snooze has also begun encouraging virtual brunches.

 "The concept of brunch is one that's very social in nature," Cochran said. 

Orders placed over the weekend receive a mixtape or playlist made specifically by Snooze to be played during an at-home brunch.

However, ASU community members will not see the newest menu additions. 

After ASU moved to online classes, forcing most students to return home from campus, the Snooze closest to ASU was closed. Cochran said without the community present to support the business financially, it was smart to temporarily close that location.

Restaurants that relied heavily on customer traffic from nearby businesses are searching for new ways to adjust to recent challenges.

For restaurants near a college campus, one thing is crucial to business: foot traffic. 

"It's gone down," Jeff Dorsten, owner of Hungry Howie's Pizza, said. "(There are) no people traveling." 

He said many customers came from events from the ASU community such as celebrations, sports games and birthdays, among others.

Chris Hove, owner of Perfect Pear Bistro, said that when the office buildings near the Bistro and ASU closed down, sales began to fall quickly. 

“Immediately we were losing money on labor and food waste, it all started tumbling real quick,” Hove said.

Perfect Pear Bistro has closed in the hopes of reopening soon after first making a game plan to cope with new challenges, Hove said. 

“Our business model is being flipped 90%. It's kind of like a reset button and trying to restart again,” Hove said. “The climate of the industry is going to change for a long time.” 


Reach the reporter at mewill31@asu.edu and on Twitter @Madwill_edie.

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