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Local businesses including Ironsmith Coffee Roasters in Encinitas have been working hard on contingency plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Kai Diaz
Cheers! North County Columns

Cheers! North County: Balancing safety, support with a hard-hit service industry

I had planned on a fun article about hard seltzer this week. I had reached out to a bunch of hard seltzer brewers, collected a bunch of wild statistics and drank more than a few for inspiration. Then the NBA canceled the season followed by every other sport. European travel was curtailed, a national emergency declared, schools closed, and “social distancing” began climbing the list of phrases that will reflect the tenor of 2020.

In short, my hard seltzer article didn’t seem to be terribly appropriate. You’ll have to wait till next week for that kind of hard-hitting journalism. This week I’m thinking about my previous career managing restaurants. The places that become our second homes, our places of refuge and the settings for our stories. If I were still running an alehouse today what would I be feeling and doing?

I’d probably spend a few minutes in the office panicking, but that would end quickly. This pandemic is happening whether I like it or not. Then many hours coming up with a plan to make sure my staff and customers were safe. Trying to decide if opening the doors even makes sense. Then trying to figure out how to combat the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

I’d be making lists of the anticipated impacts of this pandemic, how to ensure the safest experience for my employees, customers and community. I’d call neighbor businesses to see if we could collectively come up with a plan to inspire customer confidence, and I’d work as hard as possible to ensure our business stayed viable enough to keep the doors open, pay the bills and be there when this is over. I’d question my choices.

In the service industry, you work long, odd hours which includes long stretches of waiting punctuated by furious bursts of high-stress effort. You need a team to survive it. No matter what, as the boss, you care about your people and this pandemic is going to hit them hard. It will hit the industry hard. Not just for the spring and summer, but for an extended period. This week I’d be working hard to minimize the impacts to my team. That, and extra cleaning.

How many times in the past week have you stayed home from a social excursion instead of going out to do something? Here is my list of things I did not do this week: A second trip to the grocery store, coffee with a friend, and visiting a brewery.

That’s only three things, but this is only the first week. Combined that was about $100 I did not put into the community. How many others made the same choice? How many local businesses can withstand an extended period in which customers choose to stay home more than go out? How much tourism money doesn’t get spent? How many for sale or rent signs will be going up this year? I bet more than a few.

I’m not advocating that we ignore the coronavirus, and pile into the nearest brewery for a pint. Not by a long shot. People are getting sick and dying. Yes, I know the flu has caused many more deaths, but that is the devil we know. We just don’t know enough about this to be able to say its impact is being exaggerated. We aren’t letting the virus win by staying home. It is how we create a more even playing field. Everywhere is the battlefield, and, for today, home is the safest zone. Not just for you, but for others at risk.

For now, look for science-based information on best practices from smart, researched sources. If you go out minimize the risks. Wash your hands like you hope the cooks in the kitchen do at your favorite diner. Use sanitizer wipes. Maintain appropriate distance in stores. No hi-fives, bro-hugs or knuckle bumps. Pretend you are Jim and Pam from The Office, and air-five from a distance. Be patient. All these local businesses are dealing with this for the first time too.

If you operate a business let us know how you are combating the potential impacts of COVID-19. Be open about cleaning procedures, and changes made to regular policies. Many local businesses already have plans in place and are posting them publicly like Ironsmith Coffee Roasters in Encinitas. They’ve inspired confidence that when I do run out of coffee they will do their best to ensure a great, safe experience, and because they offer sick pay to their staff they are minimizing the risk that infected employees will come to work.

At some point, I will run out of the craft beer in my fridge. I’ll go out into the world to restock at the local spot, and know it really does matter to the people working there. Until then I’ll buy a gift card online. The economic recovery from this event will take a long time. Support the brewers, coffee roasters, distillers and service staff that work and live here. They already make some of the finest products available anywhere. It will help. It will matter.

Photos courtesy of Ironsmith Coffee (Instagram: Ironsmithcoffee) and photographer Kai Diaz (Twitter:@kaidiaz)

1 comment

Ryan Woldt March 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm

It’s amazing how many things have changed in the few days since this piece was written. If you want to support your local cafe, brewery or restaurant during the shut down a lot of them are still selling take out, and lots of breweries have set up online purchasing for beer you can pick up. Check social media of your favorite places for details on how they are getting through this time.
And if you can stay home, stay home. If you go out be careful, safe and respectful.
Ryan Woldt

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