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Here's how you can help local restaurants and bars survive the COVID shutdown

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 11/20/2020 Janet Patton, Lexington Herald-Leader

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With cases of coronavirus surging across the country, restaurants and bars in Kentucky will be shut down to indoor dining beginning this weekend for the next three weeks.

Some restaurant owners, including Jeff Ruby of Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, were blunt that about the impact this will have on their business. “Dear Mr. Governor, With all due respect today’s baseless allegation that dining out puts people in harm’s way just ruined Christmas for 160 members of our family,” Ruby tweeted out Wednesday night.

To compensate, his restaurants in Lexington and Louisville donated revenue from Thursday night’s dinners to staff.

When Gov. Andy Beshear announced the new restrictions on Wednesday, he acknowledged that the hospitality sector, including venues, is facing economic hardships.

“This virus spreads where people congregate and take off their masks,” Beshear said. “It’s really unfair but it’s not me being unfair, it’s the virus.”

Many restaurants support efforts to contain the pandemic, want to get it behind them and get back to normal.

Kevin Heathcoat, co-owner of Bourbon n’ Toulouse, said his restaurant will make it through the pandemic. “But we want to make sure as many of our friends as possible are standing with us come springtime. It’s going to take a lot of support from Lexington to make sure your favorite restaurants survive,” he said.

So what can diners and patrons do? Plenty.

Here are a thirteen ways you can help:

Order takeout

This seems obvious but here’s the thing: Order on a weekday or weeknight. Restaurants are swamped on the weekends. So spread the love around and make Tuesday your night for tacos or whatever.

Skip online delivery service, pick it up

Although there are lots of delivery services, most of them charge restaurants a fee and skim off what little profit would be made for the local establishment. Skipping delivery services like DoorDash or Grubhub could mean an extra 30 percent for your favorite places. So, if you can, go get it yourself.

Skip utensils

When you’re ordering, tell the restaurant you don’t need plastic forks and napkins, extra sauce or salad dressing, or anything else you have at home. All that stuff adds up and eats away at the restaurant’s slim margins.

Pay in cash

Restaurants are charged bank fees when you put it on your credit card. If you pay in cash, they get to keep more.

Tip big

Don’t forget the servers and the drivers if you do get delivery (some restaurants, like pizza places, have their own delivery options.) And tip in cash too.

Bundle up

Outside seating is still allowed and lots of local restaurants have invested in tents and heaters. So go prepared, keep your coat on and order hot drinks.

Buy drinks

Speaking of drinks, liquor is typically a big moneymaker for restaurants, and of course bars. So add a bucket of margaritas for Taco Tuesday. Some restaurants and bars offer drink kits to go, beer and liquor package sales and “mocktails” that are non-alcoholic but still tasty.

Buy gift cards

If you just don’t feel safe eating outdoors or doing takeout, buy gift cards (you can sometimes even get e-gift cards online) that you can give employees, neighbors, teachers and friends for the holidays.

Be patient, stay civil

Everyone’s stressed right now, so don’t make a server or restaurant owner’s day worse. If you have a problem with a meal, let them know directly rather than in a bad online review. And, when you can, share positive reviews. Social media mentions really help, restaurant owners say.

Order from local caterers

With venues restricted to 25 people, caterers are hurting too. Even before the new restrictions, lots of holiday parties were just not happening, leaving caterers out in the cold. Many are offering heat-and-eat family meals and grab-and-go lunches too. Or order a meal and send as a gift (popular for older relatives, new parents, just about anyone.)

Support the butcher, the baker

Lots of local food providers like bakeries, butcher shops and even farmers count on selling goods to restaurants (think about all the Kentucky Proud logos you see on your favorite menus) but that volume is going to be down. But you can get items like locally baked bread and farm-raised meat at Good Foods Co-op, Wilson’s Grocery, Critchfield’s and directly from on-farm stores. And the Lexington Farmers Market is still going on Saturdays in the Rupp Arena parking lot.

Donate to support hospitality workers

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been many non-profit efforts to support out-of-work hospitality industry workers, seniors and food-insecure families. Nourish Lexington, a partnership of FoodChain, VisitLex, Keeneland and the Murry Family Foundation, has prepared and served more than 130,000 meals and provided employment to chefs and others. Meals are distributed Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. outside FoodChain, 501 W. Sixth St, Suite 105. Donations can be made online at foodchainlex.org to help that effort.

Also, the LEE Initiative, created by Louisville chef Ed Lee and in partnership with Maker’s Mark, launched The Restaurant Workers Relief Program that has expanded nationwide, serving more than 500,000 meals. Give at leeinitiative.org or buy a newly released Maker’s Mark limited-edition “CommUNITY Batch” bourbon.

Another option: Order for the staff. Some restaurants have drinks or meals you can purchase that go to feed the staff.

Lobby politicians for relief

Restaurants and bars have been asking for direct relief. Beshear announced Wednesday a $40 million state fund but it will be capped at $10,000 per restaurant, or $20,000 for two locations. The industry has asked Congress to fund a $120 billion aid package; the Restaurants Act has passed the House but not the Senate, which favors more PPP loans instead. Either way, they say they need financial help to survive long term and they ask you to contact state and federal lawmakers through Saverestaurants.com.

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