Carry Out and Carry On: Columbus restaurants that changed to survive COVID-19 are setup to thrive post-pandemic

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Just six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 100,000 restaurants across the United States had to close their doors, per the National Restaurant Association. 

Since then, that number has only grown.

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To survive, restaurants have had to adapt quickly to the new realities of the food industry. And plenty of those changes are staying on the menu for good.

“I think it’s a new way of restaurant business now,” says Doug Pellum, the owner of Zachary’s in Columbus.

For local restaurant owners like Pellum, COVID-19 has meant empty chairs and empty tables.

“When the pandemic hit, we had to start looking for new ideas,” Pellum said. “So we had to look at new ways to serve our customers and so we started doing research. What are other places doing across the country?”

With the pandemic forcing traditionally dine-in restaurants to rely on takeout and non-contact pickup, Pellum made the move to create an app for his restaurant where customers can access Zachary’s full menu and place their orders.

Then they can come pick their food up without ever having to go inside.

“To make everything easier for the customer to order food,” Pellum explained. “We also installed a separate room to keep things away from our in-house customers.”

Mugshots Grill and Bar has also gone digital, implementing an online ordering system that co-owner Jim Hicks says has made the whole process more efficient.

“The online ordering has really changed the game because it’s so much more precise and accurate,” he said. “On the order, the customer places exactly what they want, they know exactly how much they’re spending.”

Because of a staffing shortage, Hicks says they’ve also had to learn to operate the entire restaurant more efficiently, though he added that they are currently hiring to try and get back to full strength.

“We are able to run the restaurant with less people in the building,” he said. “Because we’ve had less workers to work for us we’ve had to adapt and overcome those issues.”

When it comes to the dining-in experience, Hicks says the extra COVID-19 cleaning procedures will be a permanent fixture.

“We always sanitize tables and silverware and glassware, anything that the customers are in touch with,” he said. “But now after every customer leaves, the ketchup bottles, the menus, anything that you touch is getting sanitized.”

Both owners agree that the willingness to switch to a whole new food service model has given their restaurants access to a new group of customers, which not only lets them keep the lights on, but also sets them up to thrive post-pandemic.

“50 percent of our businesses is takeout,” Pellum said. “It’s outstanding. It’s really helped us through this pandemic with us only having to close earlier than normal. It’s really helped us get through these tough times.”