After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They've faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.
To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later.
When Village Pub servers, line cooks and dishwashers clock in to work these days, they immediately have their temperature taken. They sign a form that states in English and Spanish: "I certify that I am in good health and have had my temperature checked and recorded accurately at the beginning of my workday." They deposit the pen they used into a sleek silver container labeled "used pens," put on a mask and start their shift.
The Village Pub, located at 2967 Woodside Road in Woodside, reopened for both indoor and outdoor dining in June. While many of the signature touches of the 19-year-old Michelin-starred restaurant returned — the staff still uses handheld irons to steam wrinkles out of white tablecloths before setting the tables, caviar is still on the menu and service is paramount — much has changed in the age of COVID-19.
Diners can order on their smartphones from a digital QR code or physical menu, and the latter is sanitized after every use. The menu was scaled down from 60 dishes to just 15, which are now offered in a $75 per person pre-fixe model to reduce the time waiters spend at tables. Customers can only take their masks off when seated, and employees keep them on at all times. Only one employee is allowed at a table at a time unless it's to drop off dishes and leave.
The overarching goal, said Tim Stannard, founder of Bacchus Management Group, which operates The Village Pub, is to minimize the amount of interaction between employees and diners — a counterintuitive "180 degrees from our natural inclination, which is to spend as much time as we can (with customers)."
Reconfiguring The Village Pub's elegant dining room to allow for at least 6 feet of distance between tables meant operating at 50% capacity. The restaurant quickly secured the necessary permits to build an outdoor patio — which cost $50,000 — that makes up for the lost tables. On a recent Monday evening, every table on the patio was full while a scarce number of parties sat inside. Stannard said the split between outdoor and indoor seating requests is about 70/30.
Plenty of people still want the traditional dine-in experience, he said. When Bacchus was discussing whether to resume indoor dining, they talked to staff, investors and customers. There was a "pressure — not a pressure," he corrected himself, "but interest" from the community in reopening the dining room. It's sold out nearly every night since reopening, Stannard said in July.
The pandemic forced a major shift for The Village Pub, an upscale restaurant that places high value on the experience of dining in, into takeout. Pre-coronavirus, to-go orders generated less than 2% of sales for the restaurant, Stannard said. Now, delivery accounts for about 30% of sales — a number that's held since the restaurant reopened for indoor and outdoor dining.
View the rest of this year's Best Of listings here.