TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: Healthy Workforce, Healthy Local Economy

By Jud Watkins, posted May 20, 2020
Jud Watkins
Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of columns from Wrightsville Beach Brewery owner Jud Watkins about his experiences as the economic recovery continues and businesses reopen.
This week North Carolina and the greater Wilmington community look to reopen businesses as we approach what has been deemed “Phase Two.” In the next phase, it is critically important that we all take a moment to pause and put ourselves in the shoes of others.
When larger numbers of people begin to venture out of their homes, our economic AND health positions are going to become more and more complex. Whether we like it or not, the two will always be intertwined.
Looking around on social media right now, there are far too many people creating false dichotomies. It is possible for someone to be concerned about their health AND the economy.
It is possible for someone to be thoughtful enough to wear a mask in public and do it not because they are afraid but rather because they understand what it means to be asymptomatic, and they are concerned for the health of others. It is possible to reopen businesses today in a manner that is safe for both the staff and the customers IF we all work together.
We must be careful. We must be considerate. We must be a strong community.
At Wrightsville Beach Brewery our taproom has now been “shut down” for two months. We have been fortunate enough to press on with a drive-thru model, keeping us open in some capacity, but many restaurants, breweries and bars have not been as fortunate. Consequently, it will be particularly challenging for some to go from zero to 100 overnight; or 25% to 50% capacity as we are being told might be the case.
Please take a moment to recognize the challenges business owners and their staff may be facing as we all attempt to get up and running again.
We will not be returning to business as usual. Business as usual is not possible until we have a widely adopted vaccine or herd immunity. We now face new standard operating procedures.  
Restaurants, breweries and bars simply will not be as efficient as we were before because of new regulations and safety precautions. Frankly, you do not want us to be. As a customer, please understand that you want us to wash our hands twice as much as we did before. It is in everyone’s best interest that we take the time to wipe down a table thoroughly and possibly wipe it down twice.
Something that was previously as trivial as handing a customer a menu now requires the restaurant or bar to laminate the menu, then soak it in sanitizer for two minutes between uses.   This will slow us down. This will cut into our ability to make a profit. And yes, this will cause some minor inconveniences. And this is why we must all be patient and kind to one another. 
Many restaurants and bars may not reopen right away. Some may not reopen at all. Please do not be quick to judge or make assumptions as to why this might be happening. Maybe it is due to financial hardships. Maybe the bar or brewery feels it cannot be profitable at 25% or 50% capacity. Maybe a high percentage of the staff told the managers they currently do not feel it’s in their best interest to return to work (for health or financial reasons). Maybe the announcement for reopening comes only a day or two before the mandate goes into effect, and that’s not enough time to prepare.
Whatever the reason, please be patient and understanding. Please, don’t be “that guy!!”
Regardless of where you stand on the mask debate, it is crucially important that you recognize that restaurant and bar employees are putting themselves at risk when returning to work. We aren’t a hardware store or grocery store.
Your objective when going out for food and drinks is to imbibe, so masks are out of the question. When we politely ask that you remain 6 feet back from bartenders or servers and recognize two things: 1) it is now mandated that we follow these guidelines, and 2) it is in the best interest of that employee.
According to a recent Brewers Association anonymous survey, only 60% of Americans are ready to return to breweries and restaurants if there is appropriate spacing and/or limits on capacity. The N.C. Brewers Guild also conducted a survey of more than 4,000 21+ adults, finding that 36% anticipated they would visit a taproom or restaurant.
Recognize these statistics when you catch yourself thinking “everyone thinks it is safe to fully reopen” or you think “no one wants to go out for a drink.” 
The nation clearly has very mixed feelings on the topic right now.
So please be careful. Please be considerate. Please help us be an economically strong AND healthy community.
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