Restaurants across the St. Louis region, like the rest of us, have been adapting since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year. Restaurant owners, operators and chefs have been tasked with trying to serve up the great food they’re known for while keeping staff and guests as safe as possible – a task they take very seriously. We talked to the staff behind popular restaurants like Vin de Set, Nudo House and Vicia about what they’re doing to keep both customers and staff safe.
All three restaurants now have stringent mask policies in place. The staff have their temperatures taken daily when arriving to work, and go through a checklist of safety questions.
“A mask is now part of the uniform,” says Jason Arnold, director of operations at Hamilton Hospitality, which owns Vin de Set.
“Our staff wears a mask from morning to night,” adds Qui Tran, who prefers the term “Restaurant Dude” as opposed to owner or chef at Nudo House and Mai Lee. Both encourage customers to wear a mask when not at the table and ordering. Vicia requires masks for both staff and customers, unless dining at the table.
When Vin de Set reopened in May after a brief closure, the team immediately took the floor plan and reduced it to 25 percent capacity. Booths now have custom partitions separating diners. Nudo House moved half of its tables and chairs at the Delmar location to the outside patio. Vicia already had a great patio, so they expanded it to accommodate even more people on the lawn adjacent to the building.
Vicia has closed the indoor dining room, and guests now come to order at a station on the patio. The staff is separated by plexiglass and offer menus via QR code and signage. The al fresco dining experience allows guests to collect food from a service table and stay as contactless as possible.
Nudo House has made a shift to offering curbside pickup, as well as delivery and its usual dine-in options at reduced capacity. The fast-casual style lends itself to diners easily ordering and picking up their food under the new curbside model.
Vin de Set has always been known for its rooftop dining, which guests can still enjoy with a little more space between the tables. When the weather cools, they will cover a portion of the patio and continue service there, as well as inside. Guests can access the menu via QR code or request a disposable paper menu.
“I thought the QR code might have died a couple of years ago, but now they’re everywhere,” Arnold says. “We try to make the guest experience as contactless as possible.”
As for sanitation and cleaning, this is something restaurant owners already know well. Now, the process is just heightened.
“We have an alarm that goes off every hour,” says Tran. “When that goes off, we sanitize everything.”
“Every time a guest gets up is an opportunity to be cleaning,” adds Tara Gallina, co-owner of Vicia.
Mostly, each restaurant just wants to create a place where guests and employees alike can feel safe.
“We’re trying to keep everyone safe… and ourselves! Ya know, we have families to go home to,” says Tran.
“The restaurant is only as strong as the community that supports it,” says Arnold of Vin de Set, who insists some of the best compliments they’ve received are from people who have come back because they felt comfortable.
Guests who may be unsure about dining out right now are encouraged to pick up the phone and give their local restaurants a call to see what guidelines are in place. Dining out and supporting local could be a cure for the sense of isolation that has become all too common for many this year.
“Even if it’s for an hour, I hope we’ve been able to provide that experience for people to just forget about COVID, even if for just a few minutes,” says Gallina.