Watertown restaurants react, adjust amid COVID-19

Ryan Tietz, a delivery driver for PJ’s Pizza, places orders on his passenger seat Wednesday before he heads to his next delivery. The popular Watertown pizza place has seen an increase in delivery orders since Gov. Tony Evers’ March 17 ban on dine-in establishments. Tietz, who has worked for PJ’s for four years, said he has seen an uptick in deliveries during the day hours with more students and adults off of school and work because of COVID-19.

Restaurants in Watertown had to think on their feet in recent weeks after Governor Tony Evers’ March 17 ban on dine-in establishments, forcing some employees into new roles while others saw increased work.

At Rosati’s, those who worked as a server or table waiter have transitioned to duties as delivery drivers, kitchen staff or phone receptionists while all employees are still on the payroll.

“It almost seems like a daily occurrence that something changes,” Rosati’s second-year general manager Greg Griesemer said. “When the Governor speaks we watch the TV and ask if we are going to be in business. If he changes this, this is what we have to do. When it first started, everyone thought it was going to be fine. When they sent down the restaurant part, the employees looked at me like ‘What are we going to do’?”

The eatery has seen a slight influx in delivery orders, placing drivers on the road for more time.

“Our delivery systems changed quite a bit with the sanitation part of it, making sure each employee is washing hands before and after delivery,” Griesemer said. “Drivers have hand sanitizer in cars, utilize contact-free delivery and take delivery bags to be sanitized inside and out.”

At Marco’s Pizza, delivery driver Jason Dollard has noticed some busier moments, like during the dinnertime hours, while also experiencing slower times. The restaurant offers contact-free delivery, something roughly a quarter of customers take advantage of.

“Most people don’t order the contact-free delivery,” said Dollard, who is in his fourth year at Marco’s. “There is some concern there, but overall I’m just happy I have my job.

“If you deliver to someone who is sick, you don’t know what they have. I haven’t had to deliver to someone who is sick. You never know what they have. There is a reason they aren’t coming out (to the store). You have to be cautious of that.”

With the contact-free option, Dollard simply rings the doorbell and departs back to his car. The traditional delivery arrangement has been tweaked as well to include less interaction. In this setup, drivers ring the doorbell and walk back to their vehicles while awaiting the customers’ payment. When the food order is retrieved and the payment is left in its place, drivers return to the front step to collect the money and leave.

Griesemer, through Rosati’s mobile application, has learned that approximately half of his clientele go the contact-free route.

“The app asks if you would prefer contact-free delivery and about half the people have taken advantage of that option,” he said. “We ask people when they are calling what they prefer.”

Rosati’s offers curbside and in-store pickup options, practicing social distancing in all facets of operation.

“It’s definitely a different environment,” Griesemer said. “We offer curbside or pickup and we have 6 feet of separation with counter space in the store. The kids here from the high school are conscious of what they are doing and ask questions frequently.”

Marco’s general manager, Jason Schneekloth, hasn’t experienced sweeping changes at his store, noting that busy hours have shifted to a pattern similar to the summertime months.

“It hasn’t changed for us that much,” he said. “Most of our business has been pick up and delivery. The times people order have changed — more like what happens in the summer when people are home; we have a big dinner rush. We don’t have people ordering from work for lunch like usual. The sales have been redistributed in different ways.”

Marco’s has fewer employees working simultaneously than usual, a measure that helps with social distancing especially in the kitchen setting.

“With the way the store is arranged social distancing is already there for us,” said Schneekloth, who has been GM since November. “Our workstations are already 6 to 8 feet apart. We’ve doubled our efforts to sanitize everything. We try to sanitize anything customers touch. Aside from that, we haven’t had to change much.”

Meanwhile, Cassandra Jacobson, the general manager at Jimmy Johns, has seen a sharp decline in overall orders. The sub shop has half the amount of staff working.

“We’ve been slow, not as busy as we normally would be,” Jacobson said. “Delivery-wise, we are busier during the lunch hour than we are at night because businesses are still open. In a lot of our deliveries, we don’t have contact with anyone. We get quite a few pickups during lunchtime, but even that can be hit or miss.”

Delivery drivers for Jimmy Johns have received mixed reactions out in public.

“When you take deliveries, people are afraid of you, but they still order,” Jacobson said. “That bothers some of my drivers a little bit. ‘Why are you ordering when you don’t want to say hello?’ They drop food and go. A lot of people don’t think it through that we handle your food, put it in our car and bring it to you.”

Despite the industry changes and future ordinances that could create more modifications, these restaurants still have their doors open for carryout. Sit-down dining is still not allowed.

“What’s hard in being a business owner is seeing fellow restaurants that are not open,” Griesemer said. “I feel for them.”

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