How to treat your local businesses in a pandemic

By April Lisante
Posted 9/17/20

Two weeks ago, restaurants that have been hanging on throughout the pandemic here in Chestnut Hill finally opened their doors for indoor dining at a 25 percent seating capacity.

This week, many …

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How to treat your local businesses in a pandemic


Two weeks ago, restaurants that have been hanging on throughout the pandemic here in Chestnut Hill finally opened their doors for indoor dining at a 25 percent seating capacity.

This week, many Pennsylvania restaurants are rejoicing that the number of diners permitted indoors will increase to 50 percent – but this law does not apply to Philadelphia, which will remain at 25 percent.

And though some Hill eateries are making the most of additional outdoor seating, pushing into the street with barriers thanks to a city variance, that will inevitably come to an end as the days and nights get colder and even the thought of a curbside cocktail can’t compete with frigid temps.

The reality for many restaurants and businesses on the Hill is that almost none are experiencing their same pre-pandemic revenues, and with that reality comes the sobering fact that some businesses might not make it through this fall and winter if patrons don’t do their part.

Restaurateurs report they are still struggling to make ends meet and to keep things running after bringing back staff, stocking up on food and running electricity and gas to feed a fraction of the customers they once did. Compounding the problem? Some of the gift certificates sold during a spring promotion to help bolster Hill restaurants financially are starting to be redeemed, substituting in some cases for revenue and even server tips.

Aside from dining out once in a while at your favorite local haunt, there are some conscious efforts everyone can make to help restaurants and other businesses stay open, according to local officials and business owners.

“I totally understand that people have been eating at home right now, and that it’s been a unique, special opportunity to eat with their families at home,” said McNally’s co-owner Anne McNally, “But now more than ever is the time to dine out because we want main streets like Chestnut Hill to thrive and survive when this is over.

“If every household supported one business, it would go so far into the future.”

Here are some ways you can do your part to help restaurants, shops and other businesses locally right now:

Tip. Tip after sitting for a meal and tip even if you are ordering out. It’s tempting to run in to pick up your food and leave without tipping, rationalizing that there was no delivery or table service. But staff were still on the clock and still had to follow stringent guidelines to prepare your food, package it and get it ready. Also keep in mind servers here in Philly make under $3 an hour in wages without tips. “Consider leaving a gratuity if you have the means to, even if you are ordering out,” said Philip Dawson, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business District.

Cater your events. If you are planning a backyard party or celebration this fall, or, if you are even having an impromptu Halloween celebration to cushion the blow of not trick-or-treating, consider ordering the food from one of your favorite local restaurants. Catering helps restaurants bolster their sales. And don’t forget the gratuity.

Buy gift cards. If you are looking for gifts to give loved ones or friends, consider walking into one of your favorite restaurants or shops and buying a gift card to be used at a later date. Restaurants were fortunate this past spring to be a part of a gift card promotion on the Hill, but many restaurants are reporting that the gift cards sold this past spring are starting to trickle in for redemption. Restaurant owners say they would love it if customers would hold onto the cards a bit longer, until after the heart of the pandemic, if they can, because it takes away from daily revenue. “I’m going to guess most people wouldp refer cash right now,” McNally said.

Pay cash. Which leads us to our next tip: pay cash whenever you can. Sure, large purchases like furniture and things require a credit or debit card sometimes, but daily take-out, dry cleaning etc. would be best paid with cash, because small business owners pay such a large premium for POS credit card transactions.

Pay up front. If you are using local small repair shops, dry cleaning shops and the like, paying cash when you drop off the clothing, shoes or appliances would be appreciated up front instead of when you pick them up, since it provides immediate cash to businesses that might otherwise be waiting weeks for you to come get your belongings.

Plan ahead. If you are dining out at a restaurant, plan your trip so that you are in and out faster, because table turnover has never been so critical, McNally said. “Once you are seated try to order right away, or look at the menu ahead of time,” she said.

Be polite and say thank you. And perhaps one of the most important things you can do to help all local businesses is to thank workers for showing up, being there, and making sure that guidelines and sanitation standards are being upheld. This is not the time to argue for a seat if the restaurant is full, backtalk staff, show up five minutes before closing time with a big order or refuse to wear masks. It only takes a second to say thank you to workers, but it makes their efforts seem more appreciated.


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