TUPELO • Before Mayor Jason Shelton’s executive order Thursday to close restaurant dining rooms in the city, Jason and Amanda Hayden had already been a step ahead.
Earlier in the week, the owners of Cafe 212 in downtown Tupelo had placed signs on their tables that said in bold, capitalized letters, “YOU CAN’T SIT HERE.” A sentence underneath said, “For your safety and the safety of all, please spread out and do not sit in close proximity of others.”
That was a preemptive move to help slow or stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but the next day, they closed the dining room altogether, keeping the restaurant open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for call-in and curbside orders only. Delivery services like Tupelo 2 Go, also are another option.
So far, it’s worked well.
“Our customers have really been amazing and have really come out to support us,” Jason Hayden said. “We’re very grateful.”
The Haydens and other restaurateurs have had to navigate a sea of quickly changing scenarios as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread. Towns and cities across the country are trying to figure out the best way to tackle the virus and to follow guidelines to minimize contact.
Beginning on Monday, March 23, all restaurants in Tupelo will be required to only offer services through drive-thru, curbside pickup or delivery, and close in-house dining facilities altogether.
Tupelo joins at least two other cities in the state with some sort of restrictions.
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill earlier this week asked for and got the city’s Board of Aldermen to require that all restaurants shift to curbside pickup, drive-thru service or delivery, closing dining rooms for 15 says. In Jackson, bars were closed and restaurants were ordered to serve takeout only.
Tiffany Franks, the co-owner of Crave, admits she’s a bit worried about the impact of the restrictions.
“I worry about our employees, I worry about who to work and when to work them ... there’s so much involved,” she said. She and her husband, Brad, also opened a coffee shop in Fulton earlier this year.
She said the executive order was putting pressure on all restaurants, but they would have to manage the best they can.
“You can talk about curbside and takeout, but a lot of people still want to sit down,” she said.
Terry Bumphis and his wife, Judy, opened T.J.’s Place on South Green Street late last year. The convenience store generates most of its revenue from selling plate lunches. The new regulation doesn’t affect them directly – yet.
“We don’t have anywhere for anybody to sit down – customers just come in and order what they want and they leave,” Terry Bumphis said.
What concerns Judy Bumphis the most is what happens next.
“If people have to start staying in completely, they won’t be dropping by to buy anything,” she said.
Brittany Strong, the owner of Tupelo 2 Go, works with more than 60 restaurants, delivering meals for them for a fee.
“All of the restaurants in our delivery family are working tirelessly to abide by the ever-changing lists of CDC guidelines and sanitary practices,” Strong said. “But that doesn’t matter. People should be heeding the government’s warnings. Yes, stay at home, but that doesn’t have to mean cook every night. We’ve got dozens of restaurants still cooking, filling as many orders as they can to stay afloat. They’re depending on call-ins, curbsides and delivery to keep them afloat.”
Many restaurants have cut down on their menu to expedite orders, and others also are creating family packs, specials, and other offers to help attract customers.
Delivery services like Tupelo2Go help more than one business, but Strong said there’s been no extreme growth that some might have expected.
“While we may be steady, there has been no extreme growth over this past week,” she said. “Our fate is in the consumer’s hands just as much as the rest of them.”
Strong said more restaurants have reached out to Tupelo 2 Go in recent days.
“We’ve had an influx of new restaurants contacting us to start delivery just to help,” she said. “Employees at restaurants are losing their hours and even jobs. Managers and owners are sending them to us for possible temporary driver positions. We are doing our best to accommodate, but we wear no capes. We need the public’s help for the demand – we need our community.”