Puerto Rico restaurants have been given the green light to reopen for business, at reduced capacity and under physical distancing restrictions that are prompting most to reboot to move forward.
One major consequence of the distancing required to contain COVID-19 contagion is the virtual elimination of the self-serve buffet concept, which is now a thing of the past in at least two of the five Bonanza restaurants in Puerto Rico.
Enrique González, president, of E. González Inc, owner of the Bonanza locations in Bayamón — at Avenida Lomas Verdes and Rexville — confirmed that the casual dining restaurants known for their miles-long buffet will now have employees serving unlimited portions to patrons at designated food stations.
“We’re a hybrid between restaurant/fast-food concepts because customers order their food. Once they arrive at the restaurant, they’ll have their temperature taken, provided hand sanitizer and briefly interviewed to learn about how they feel and whether they have been exposed to the illness,” said González. “Once inside, they’ll see markings on the floor where they should stand when they make the line to order.”
The Lomas Verdes location opened first, while the Rexville restaurant is expected to reopen within the next two weeks, he said. The locations have a combined 70 employees.
In response to the government’s general conditions for reopening, the restaurant has scaled back its capacity by 25%, from 280 to 70 patrons at any given time. Tables, which have been separated to provide six or more feet between them, are sanitized before and after being used. A maximum of six people per table will be allowed, he said.
Nayda Gutiérrez, marketing advisor to the firm, said constant use of face masks will be required from customers and employees. Customers will have their hand sanitized between trips to the food stations, she added.
“We have signs everywhere now, telling people to use face masks, except for when they’re eating. We’re watchful at all times,” González said.
Given the new social restrictions, the executive said the company is already considering new revenue-generating options, including offering take-out and food deliveries via Uber Eats. Initially, only the dishes on Bonanza’s menu will be available for those two services, and down the road, could be expanded to allow customers to make their own plate, choosing from the food stations.
Meanwhile, González expressed his support to a petition the Puerto Rico Restaurants Association (ASORE, in Spanish), is making to Gov. Wanda Vázquez to sign House Bill 2468 to allow Nutritional Assistance Program recipients to use their benefits to buy prepared meals at restaurants during the COVID-19 emergency. That practice has been done before under a pilot program called “Buen Provecho.”
“We tried that once and we completely agree with that [initiative], to give us a boost. We have a market of people who hold the [NAP] card that could visit us and it would help us greatly to get back into things,” he said, adding that extending the elimination of the sales and use tax on prepared foods would also help.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico denied the government’s petition to extend the exemption after it expired on Monday.
Meanwhile, Starbucks Puerto Rico has reconfigured several of its coffee shops to once again receive customers.
The company has placed instructional signs at contact points, ensuring distance between people at all times and increasing cleaning and disinfection protocols in all stores. Starbucks will continue to offer carry-out, delivery via Uber Eats, and drive-up services in several locations.
“Our highest priority is the health and well-being of our partners and customers. We’ve made a number of changes to our store operations to reduce contact points and boost our cleaning procedures to keep all of our store partners and customers safe,” said Idis Ortiz-López, general manager of Starbucks Puerto Rico.
El Mesón Sandwiches launched a new service through which customers will be able to order, pay and get their order without having to get out of their cars. Upon arrival at the restaurant, the client will park in one of the parking spaces reserved for self-service, access the menu online and order using the number of the parking space as their locator. Payment will also be done electronically.