The restaurant joined a newly formed coalition to overturn restrictions in Maryland.
Gary Cohen, executive vice president of sports bar concept Glory Days Grill, says operating across the country is now like working on different planets.
Because of location, the nearly 40-unit brand saw a 20-point same-store sales divide between its company-run stores and franchises. Thanks to Florida, franchises finished 2020 with a roughly 10 percent drop in sales compared to the 30 percent dip experienced by corporate stores in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Florida allows full capacity statewide and doesn’t mandate masks. If a county chooses to limit capacity, it must explain the economic impact and why it’s necessary for public health. Even then, the county can’t go lower than 50 percent.
Cohen says Florida’s rules surrounding alcohol to-go are much more business-friendly, as well. For example, Gov. Ron Desantis’ executive order simply states restaurants can offer alcohol to-go as long as the beverage is in a sealed container and accompanied with food. In Virginia, restaurants can sell two cocktails with each meal included, up to a maximum of four cocktails per order. Operators also have to ensure the drink is transported in the trunk or an area that can’t be accessed by the driver.
“[Florida operators] were selling gallons of margaritas and gallons of sangria, and growlers to-go,” Cohen says. “Now Virginia did acquiesce and let us do that eventually, but it's so restrictive. Like you could sell one cocktail by the glass and you have to carry it to the car. You have to put in the back seat in a paper bag. Why bother even letting us do it? But I mean, we are allowed to do it. We’re just not doing a lot of it.”
Additionally, stores in the Sunshine State had a natural advantage when consumers were ready to eat outdoors. Because of the milder weather year-round, Florida units are built with bigger patios as an extension of the building. Cohen estimated that for Florida locations, 60 percent of seating is inside, while 40 percent is outside.
Meanwhile in Virginia and Maryland, customers are seated at every other table because of capacity restrictions and social distancing rules. In Virginia specifically, customers aren’t allowed to be seated at the bar. The patios in these states are designed for six to eight months of use; they’re smaller, usually not covered, and make up about 10 percent of seating.
“Imagine the difference when you’re a sports team concept like we are and people coming to watch football, but you're not allowed to sit at the bar,” Cohen says. “So a huge difference. That's why I say it's a different planet and it's all governor regulated. It's all executive order regulated.”
Cohen adds differences in performance were also driven by public mindset. Glory Days has 21 restaurants around the Beltway, or the region surrounding Washington, D.C. As you get closer to the D.C., Reston, Fairfax, and Alexandria areas, some units were sliding 45 percent last year. But the farther you move out of the Beltway, like Winchester and Culpepper, Virginia, and Ranson, West Virginia, comps improve to a decrease of 10 to 15 percent.
“I believe a lot of this has to do with politics and a lot of it has to do with consumer mindset,” Cohen says. “And I think in Florida, the consumer mindset was wide open. I believe that as you go to more rural counties, the consumer mindset was wide open. They had the same regulations in Virginia in those far-out counties, but the customers were less afraid to dine in restaurants.”
Although corporate and franchised locations have trended differently, both are looking at opportunities to grow. A new franchised store opened in Riverview, Florida, on Monday. The franchise association is also looking at another store, but nothing has been signed yet. On the company side, Glory Days is investigating a potential location in Northern Virginia.
The brand was able to renegotiate leases and agree to term extensions amid COVID, which presents an opportunity to freshen older stores and meet the new age of convenience.
“We want to remodel and maybe enhance our restaurants so that we have bigger patios or enclosed patios or better carryout facilities because we think that will stay with us for the future,” Cohen says. “So strongly and surely, we're going to be around, but business may be different—more focused on outdoor dining and carryout and any technology that helps us with them.”