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Checking In On Restaurants Amid The Coronavirus Lockdown: Hooters Of Houma, Louisiana

Checking In On Restaurants Amid The Coronavirus Lockdown: Hooters Of Houma, Louisiana

Restaurants across a handful of states reopened their doors to limited seating over the past few days. Benzinga checked in with a handful of restaurants of different sizes to see how they are faring so far at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major overhang.

This is part three.

Most Americans are familiar with the Hooters chain, and Benzinga had the opportunity to catch up with Joseph Martorana, the general manager of Hooters of Houma, Louisiana. Martorana started working at his family's restaurant when he was 12 and has amassed 26 years of restaurant experience.

'Huge Cloud Of Uncertainty' For Restaurants 

Restaurant owners, their employees and guests are certainly happy to be able to leave their homes to go out to eat, Martorana told Benzinga in an e-mail.

At the same time, there is a "huge cloud of uncertainty" for the restaurant industry, as he said everyone understands limited seating capacity without full service is "not enough."

One can only hope the ability to operate a restaurant with limitations is sufficient to "slow the bleeding" until the industry can return to full operations, Martorana said.

In the meantime, the restaurant industry needs to address growing frustration from customers, he said. 

"The people need to become vocal in support of restaurant and retail businesses resuming normal operations," he said. "People and businesses are informed enough to make decisions at this point."

Six-Figure Cash Reserves Not Enough

Martorana said he operates his Hooters location with a "six-figure reserve," but this isn't large enough to sustain operations if the lockdown continues.

Fortunately for Hooters, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said after Benzinga interviewed Martorana that dine-in service could resume at reduced capacity May 15.

The restaurant manager said in the interview that it is a "safe assumption" that many restaurants that operate on shoestring budgets don't have enough in reserve to sustain themselves throughout the pandemic.

In contrast, public companies have the ability to "go the full 10 rounds," while mom-and-pops are "getting knocked out in the first and second rounds," Martorana said.

Over time, large corporations will not only be able to resume operations at closed stores, but open new ones much more quickly, he said. 

"There is big money to be made at that point and small operations will not be there to compete and capitalize."  

Delivery, Curbside Not Going Away Soon

Off-premise dining options represent a new market for Martorana's restaurant to target, even if it came with lower than usual margins.

The incremental sales "pad the bottom line," but delivery options represent a new set of challenges, he said.

Most notably, he said higher fees are "eating into our bread and butter."

Drivers for third-party delivery partners have the potential to be unreliable or overwhelmed. This may not matter much in the eyes of the consumer, who are usually quick to blame the restaurant instead of the delivery platform for any loss in quality, Martorana said. 

Related Links:

April's Restaurant Data Far From Encouraging, But There Is Hope

Papa John's CEO Says Chain Had Best Month Ever Due To More Than Just Coronavirus Trends

Photo by Anthony92931 via Wikimedia


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