On Sunday night, Uptown Barrel Room owner Dwayne Christiansen heard Gov. Jay Inslee had ordered restaurants to close their dine-in options because of COVID-19. So he and his team began to rig a walk-up window.
“We’ve been here all night,” Christiansen said Monday, standing near a wire suspended on sticks running from the back of the restaurant to the computer monitor at the new walk-up window. “We’ve wired the restaurant for takeout.”
Uptown Barrel Room is one of the majority of Vancouver’s restaurants and breweries that will remain open, but proprietors are scrambling to shift their business models to takeout orders or delivery only.
In some eateries and breweries, the changes have caused layoffs. Most restaurateurs are taking to social media to request that customers buy gift cards amid uncertainty about the financial impact of COVID-19.
Grocery stores, on the other hand, are hiring more part-time workers and are limiting store hours to keep up with the added demand.
“Breweries and restaurants are immediately being forced into this place where everybody has essentially the same business model,” said Michael Perozzo, founder of ZZEPPELIN Media, a marketing company supporting food and beverage clients. “It’s all about what can you pick up to go. No more seating. No more atmosphere. No more service.”
Perozzo, who also is the founder of Brewcouver, a passport-style marketing campaign for local microbreweries said some restaurants and breweries have had to lay off employees, mostly hosts and servers.
“Kitchen staff are still going to be needed,” he said. “With the front-of-house staff, you once needed five or six people to serve. Now you have just one person handing to-go food to people coming in the door.”
Restaurants and breweries are trying to target their long-term customers for support as they head further into a world with only dine-out or delivery options. They are using Facebook, Instagram and other social media to ask for support by having customers order takeout and buy gift cards, canned beer or container fills, Perozzo said.
Perozzo said some local breweries and restaurants are expecting the impact to be so great that they’re considering closing for good.
One way Perozzo is reacting to the changes is by hosting Facebook Live videos at taprooms and breweries. The idea is to get people to virtually drink a beer together, he said. On Monday evening, he’s testing the idea at Trap Door Brewery’s release of a new India pale ale called Normcore IPA.
“We’ve got to keep the money moving or people are going to suffer,” he said.
At Vancouver Pizza Co., manager Eve English said that by about 2 p.m. Monday, only about 25 percent of the normal orders came through for lunch service. Also, businesses that regularly order pizza have stopped because most employees are now working from home. That’s caused the mornings to be slow, she said. Delivery orders have also fallen off, she said.
“People are still a little hesitant to interact with delivery drivers,” she said. “It will really put a big dip into the business. But we’re hopeful that things will pick up.”
Christiansen said that using social media to communicate to customers has been vital.
On Monday, he posted a picture of a pizza on Facebook, wanting to show them that food is still coming out of the kitchen. He’s also had to communicate an altered menu due to the takeout style.
Some coffee shops in downtown, including Kafiex Roasters, have chosen to close amid Inslee’s orders. Other coffee shops like Black Rock Coffee Bar are allowing only to-go orders.
As far as any restaurant and brewery owners know, Inslee’s order closed sit-down service until the end of March, but that might be extended.
Food delivery services, such as Postmates, Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash, are preparing to fill the gap between restaurant to-go orders with people at home. Some are offering a “no-touch” delivery option, which has the delivery driver leave the food at the door and leave without interacting with the customer.
Burgerville announced Friday that it would close its dining rooms and shift its restaurant locations to drive-thru and delivery-only. Customers can also order ahead using the Burgerville app and pick up their food either at the drive-thru or in person at the store entrance.
Burgerville partners with DoorDash for its delivery orders, and director of strategic initiatives Hillary Barbour said last week that the company expected a surge in delivery demand, although on Monday she said it’s too soon to know how the change in operations is playing out.
“We’ve only been at this for two days, and we had snow on one of those days,” she said.
Inslee’s closure order doesn’t apply to grocery stores, all of which have remained open during the outbreak. If anything, grocery stores have had to grapple with the opposite problem: overwhelming surges in customer traffic, both nationally and locally in Clark County.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal and state agencies have urged Americans to practice social distancing and avoid social gatherings, and to self-quarantine at home if they get sick.
That advice has sent shoppers rushing to grocery stores to stock up on nonperishable food and hygiene supplies, most notably toilet paper.
On Thursday, a crowd of more than 200 shoppers gathered outside the Vancouver Costco prior to the store’s 9:30 a.m. opening time. Shoppers waiting in the line said the morning crowds had become a common sight in the past two weeks, because stores have routinely run out of toilet paper by the end of the day.
The spike in demand for self-quarantine supplies has prompted some stores to institute new policies, such as Fred Meyer’s restriction on the number of sanitary products and over-the-counter flu medications that individual customers can purchase.
Fred Meyer also announced on Saturday that it would begin hiring additional staff to meet the demand, according to multiple media reports. As of Monday, the company’s jobs page listed nearly 500 open positions across the store chain, many of which were for e-commerce clerks who help fulfill online orders and parcel clerks who help load vehicles and return shopping carts.
The other big change has been to operating hours, with many 24-hour grocery stores shifting to daytime schedules in order to give associates time to clean and restock the shelves at night.
Walmart announced Saturday that it would move all of its stores — including the Neighborhood Markets — to a 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule.
WinCo also announced that its stores would begin closing during early-morning hours for cleaning and restocking, although the exact operating schedules will be determined on a store-by-store basis. As of Monday, the four WinCo locations in Clark County had all shifted to 7 a.m. to midnight operating hours.
This story was updated to accurately state that Dwayne Christiansen owns Uptown Barrel Room.