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Insights from an Alabama Restaurant Operator

Yo’ Mama’s Restaurant

Although national statistics and insights from restaurant lobbyists on Capitol Hill can be helpful, sometimes the best place to go for real advice is a local owner-operator. So we called Crystal Peterson, co-owner of a legendary eatery in Birmingham, Alabama.

This is what Yo’ Mama’s has to say.

“Well, COVID-19 happened. We had to really change our business model. When you’re doing house dining, and then you can’t,” encapsulating the whiplash experienced by far too many restaurant owners.

“Because we are such a small facility. We had to just do only take-out. We can’t allow anyone to sit inside, because the amount of people that I have on carry-out, they won’t be able to stand inside while the people inside eat. We may only have so many people in the building, and my building is like 1,300 square feet, so you already know!”

This is the unfortunate circumstance for many restaurants. Being forced to keep patrons six feet apart translates into de facto forced closure of sit-down dining areas. Although a small price to pay to keep people safe, it is a hefty cost for businesses with famously thin profit margins.

Peterson said that online orders have become a welcome respite. She quickly focused on training her staff to prioritize printed tickets the same as hand-delivered tickets from in-person diners.

“Seeing tickets that somebody else made, not that I had literally put together when in-house. When you’re online, you just click.” 

All restaurant owners can benefit from Peterson’s advice: Train back-of-house staff to prioritize computer-generated paper slips with the same urgency as formerly handwritten orders.

The Peterson family started Yo’ Mama’s in 2014. The restaurant served gluten-free southern comfort food for patrons concerned about celiac and wheat allergies. Today, the local establishment has tens of thousands of followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Three years ago, the Cooking Channel featured the restaurant on its Cheap Eats TV show.

The long road to recovery in the U.S. restaurant industry continues. Approximately 65% of restaurants are accepting dining reservations. Seated diners are still 55% lower than pre-pandemic levels. When adjusted for only those restaurants which are accepting reservations, seated diners number only one third lower today than pre-COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied 520 new COVID-19 deaths today. Current hospitalizations with the disease fell for the third consecutive week to 43,747, but are still substantially higher than June.

Image courtesy of Instagram

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