However, all the enjoyable parts—the server, carver, silver cart, and spinning salad bowl—are still present, but just farther away.
Safety parameters change somewhat among the locations. The Chicago unit, which reopened July 1, requires customers to submit reservations and wear masks. Valet parking is available, and attendants will sanitize their hands and the car including keys, seat, and steering wheel upon receiving and returning the car.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas and Dallas are recommending reservations and masks and forgoing valet parking.
At each location, silverware is rolled in napkins and dishes and glassware are brought to the table after customers are seated. Condiments are provided in single-serving ramekins. Menus are available on mobile devices or through single-use paper versions.
“The dining room feels different, but fortunately guests generally speaking are very receptive to the changes, and they understand the changes,” Wilson says. “They’re coming out to eat. They endorse what’s happening and are really pleased that we’re following protocol. I think the fact that we’re still going to do a spinning bowl salad from a little bit further away, it ends up not being all that material because people are just happy to see that spinning bowl salad and get that great flavor profile. So I think we’ve been able to bypass some of the potential issues there.”
Wilson says the initial flow of traffic to the reopened stores varied. For example, consumers flocked to the Dallas location, but the Beverly Hills unit had a much softer opening because of racial injustice protests and curfews. Across the board though, he says the company was pleased with the general level of interest and demand for dining.
But with rising COVID cases nationwide, Lawry’s has been hit with another curveball.
On July 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down indoor dining in 19 counties, which affected the Beverly Hills store. About two weeks later, Newsom closed indoor dining across the entire state.
Wilson says that fortunately, the Beverly Hills store has developed effective standard operating procedures for takeout and curbside so it could quickly shift back into that mode. The restaurant also plans to convert its valet parking area to outdoor seating.
Still, the entire experience has been exhausting, Wilson laments.
“Our teams are tired,” Wilson says. “And back in March, I think there was a different level of adrenaline to jump in and make that pivot, but when you’re looking to make a similar sort of change in the opposite direction, our teams are tired and I also think the risk of COVID infections has gone up. … I’m in Orange County right now, and we still struggle with people not wearing masks, so that’s just heightening the levels of stress and concern.”
But as Wilson said, Lawry’s is in it for the long haul and relies on its legacy for support.
Tauschman recalls times when people would ask how the company was doing, ending the inquiry with a heavy question mark.
She simply replies by stating how fortunate she is to work for a family.
“I think a lot of big corp restaurants would’ve said, you know what? Close up because that’s just an easier response,” Tauschman says. “And the Frank family has gone through a lot of ups and a lot of downs—they’ve had everything thrown at them. Of course nothing like this, but nonetheless, they handled it.”