True Story: Managing a Restaurant in a Pandemic

BY MELESSA CHAVES

Our restaurant, Mateus’ Restaurant & Bar in Queens Village, is not just our business, it’s a staple in the community. We are a Portuguese restaurant that is family-owned and operated since 1991. When COVID-19 became a pandemic, our restaurant decided to keep our doors open and help our community.

We joined forces with ERA Top Realty Service, also located in Queens Village, and delivered food to various hospitals, police precincts and firehouses because we strongly believe that we are in this together.

During this pandemic, the first responders gave it their all and it was only right that we did the same. Closing our dining section to the public truly changed the dynamic of our restaurant. We had to shift our focus to takeout only, and we had to depend on platforms such as Uber Eats, Door Dash and Grub Hub, as well as our own website, to increase our takeout volume.

We encountered situations that really showed the struggles in owning a small business. The struggle with platforms such as Uber Eats and Door Dash is how much of a commission fee they take out from your earnings, ranging between 25 and 30 percent.

In regards to our website, we encountered the issue of an alarming amount of fraudulent credit cards being used. Although it was very discouraging to continue to use those platforms, we decided to push through and fight for lower commission rates and increased fraud protection.

Next, let’s discuss outdoor dining in New York City. Many asked us why we didn’t offer outdoor dining, and to be honest we thought about it often. We even acquired the necessary permits for outdoor dining, but the cons just outweighed the pros.

We are located on Jamaica Avenue, which is a heavily trafficked area, both for vehicles and pedestrians. The requirements for outdoor dining were that there had to be an eight-foot clearance for people walking on the sidewalks, as well as the tables had to be six-feet apart. Realistically we were looking at only two or three tables.

We decided against it because we felt our customers wouldn’t enjoy their meal while sitting next to the many cars and trucks driving by. We always want the dining experience to be serene and enjoyable at Mateus’ Restaurant & Bar.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed our business dynamic on March 17, when we had to close our dining and bar sections and refocus our restaurant. Fast-forward to September 30, approximately six months later, when we were finally able to reopen our dining room, but only if we adhere to strict regulations imposed by the mayor.

Restaurants in New York City are only allowed 25 percent capacity, have to increase ventilation, take temperatures of all employees and customers, have a customer from each table fill out a “tracing form,” provide sanitizers and masks to customers.

It also goes without saying that we have to do lots of our own sanitizing. Although we are limited to 25 percent capacity, it’s great to see our customers returning to the “norm” of dining out with us and expressing how much they missed our food and hospitality.

We are optimistic that soon our restaurant can resume business as usual, and grateful to have dedicated staff members and loyal customers who have always been here to help and support our small business.

Melessa Chaves is co-manager at Mateus’ Restaurant & Bar at 222-05 Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village. Learn more at mateusrestaurantqueens.com.

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