The early arrival of spring over the last week gave restaurateur Claire Calvin an opportunity to not only expand her outside dining options earlier than normal.

It also allowed the owner of The Porch Kitchen and Alma Mexicana and co-owner of Canteen Market & Bistro to apply her strategy for keeping customers and staffers safe while trying to manage the virus that causes COVID-19.

As the restaurants placed more tables and seating outside to take advantage of the warmer weather, they also spaced the indoor tables at least six feet apart.

The restaurants also went into hyper hygiene mode, requiring staff to more frequently wash their hands and sanitize their stations and tables.

Calvin, a chef, is following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that employees who are sick stay at home to the point that she uses an infrared thermometer to check temperatures like a parent checking their child.

All of which Calvin hopes will reassure and encourage customers, particularly those in the age-65 and older high-risk category, that it remains safe to dine out.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best” with any coronavirus exposure or outbreak locally. “Everybody’s in the same boat.”

“People are being cautious, but they, and we, all have to live our lives,” Calvin said.

If that becomes too complicated or too risky, Calvin said she is preparing for a multi-week shutdown of Alma Mexicana and Canteen and a ramping up of her food-delivery business from The Porch.

Calvin’s Dinners on the Porch concept debuted in 2011 from the idea of providing busy families with a “home-cooked” meal after a hectic day.

The delivery area is limited to mainly central Winston-Salem neighborhoods, such as downtown, Ardmore, West End, Buena Vista and Sherwood Forest.

“We recognized there will be more people wanting delivery and takeout orders, so that could mean shifting from restaurant serving to food preparation and delivery,” Calvin said.

“We would apply the same sanitary and hygiene guidelines with our delivery personnel.”

Losses, gains

Between 60% to 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, said Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor at Arizona State University and an expert in global supply chains.

“If panic sets in and if you don’t go out, consumer spending is going to be hit, and that is what’s causing the stock market to behave the way it is,” Chaturvedi said.

“Small- and medium-sized businesses, that are the heart and soul of this country, are the ones that are going to be hit the hardest.”

Joseph Pawlak, managing principal with food-service industry group Technomic, said a customer survey conducted before the public-health shutdowns began found that “more than three in 10 consumers say they plan on leaving the house less often, not go to restaurants as often or not order food or beverages at away-from-home venues as often.”

“Among those who say they will not go to restaurant as often, 31% say that decreased frequency will last for between one and three months. It is interesting to note that only 13% believe that they will order more via restaurant delivery because of the crisis.”

Restaurants’ losses are projected to be grocery stores’ gain, Pawlak said.

“Almost half of these consumers say they will stockpile grocery foods and beverages as a substitute for away-from-home meals,” Pawlak said.

However, restaurant delivery and those with drive-through options can thrive because “these consumers may not have the cooking skills, the time, nor the desire to make more meals at home,” Pawlak said.

Pawlak said the survey found that customers would be willing to dine out if they felt restaurants are enhancing their sanitary policies and sick employees are staying home.

“Interestingly, 37% say that restaurants should operate ‘business as usual,’” Pawlak said.

“This indicates that many consumers are satisfied that food-service operators are as prepared as anyone to mitigate the impact of an outbreak.”

Changes

Consumers will have to make their grocery purchases earlier at some stores, such as Publix, which Saturday began closing nightly at 8 p.m.

“This will give our store teams time to conduct additional preventive sanitation and restock product on shelves,” the retailer said.

Harris Teeter will begin closing nightly at 9 beginning tonight, while Lowes Foods began opening today at 7 a.m.  and closing at 10 p.m. WalMart is going to operating from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. at its 24-hour stores.

Lowes Foods said its stores have gone beyond ramping up required sanitation procedures “to wiping down our hard surfaces more frequently. We continue to have sanitation wipes at the front of our store so our guests can wipe down their cart as they enter.”

“We know the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to limit social contact. We encourage guests to use our Lowes Foods to Go Service, and we will select the items and deliver them directly to their car.”

Lowes said it has “seen high demand on some products. We are working with our vendors to re-stock those items as quickly as possible.”

“We believe we will continue to see more people dining at home as the situation evolves. We are preparing our stores to be ready as that demand escalates.”

Marvin Ellison, president of Lowe’s Cos. Inc., said the home improvement retailer has had to limit customer purchases of high-demand items, such as masks and cleaning supplies.

“We’re working to keep our shelves stocked as quickly as possible,” Ellison said.

Because a good amount of what Lowe’s sells is delivered and/or installed by company or third-party vendors, he said it has expanded its hygiene protocols for those personnel.

Business issues

Local corporations with significant domestic and international business have been warning of the potential for lower revenue in the short term, whether from their supply chains being crimped or lower consumer demand for their products.

Kontoor Brands Inc., based in Greensboro with a major distribution center in Mocksville, said March 5 in its latest quarterly earnings report it is “carefully monitoring the coronavirus situation” for potential impact on employees and global operations.

“Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, we saw improved trends from holiday sales, both within the U.S. and international markets,” said Scott Baxter, the company’s president and chief executive.

“Based on information we have quarter-to-date, we anticipate a potential negative global impact of approximately 4 points to our first-quarter revenue, due mostly to our operations in China.”

In February, a majority of owned and partner retail stores in China were closed for the month, while most of the remaining stores saw very substantial reductions in traffic and comps.

In recent weeks, the number of those stores that have re-opened has surpassed 75%.

Kontoor said there are no material disruptions in either manufacturing or sourcing of materials. One third of Kontoor production is owned manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere.

However, it has chosen to hold off until the fall a major marketing push for Wrangler in China, which will now focus initially on digital advertising and social media rather than in-person events.

Wells Fargo & Co. disclosed Wednesday that an employee who works on the sixth floor at One Wells Fargo in Charlotte had been in prolonged, close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee is at home under monitoring. All employees who had been in close proximity with the employee have been asked to work from home.

The bank also said it is restricting all non-essential business air travel in the United States and globally, and requiring executive-level approval for any business air travel deemed essential.

Reynolds American Inc. said it has placed restrictions on international travel, specifically any travel to or from countries in the warning level 3 (29 European or North Africa countries) or alert level 2 (countries with community outbreaks) categories.

“Employees returning from those countries must work remotely from Reynolds American facilities for two weeks,” Reynolds spokeswoman Kaelan Hollon said.

“In addition, we are encouraging common-sense measures for all employees. including reducing domestic travel and attendance at conferences and large business gatherings.”

Inmar Intelligence also is limiting business travel, but working from home is not a new strategy for the Winston-Salem company, according to corporate communications official Sharon Joyner-Payne.

“As a technology company with locations across North America, we use technology every day to connect our teams and conduct business. As a result, we are well-positioned to adjust and respond as needed.”

Hotels

Although the only two Forsyth County presumed cases of coronavirus involves a couple returning from a cruise, it is taken, as expected, a toll on the local hospitality sector.

Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem, said that as of Friday, local hotels have reported more than 7,000 cancelled group room nights due to COVID-19. The bulk was related to out-of-state and international visitors.

Geiger said hotels are not counting room nights associated with High Point Market in that total since the trade show has been delayed from April 25-29 to unspecified dates in early June.

The market, which tends to average about 70,000 to 75,000 attendees for its spring show, has a significant spillover effect for Forsyth hospitality venues and restaurants.

“Just by the sheer nature of COVID-19, we are discovering that the impact changes on a daily basis,” Geiger said.

“We therefore are asking our hoteliers to report to us any group cancellations as it relates to the virus, as it occurs, so we can have a real time measure of impact.”

Geiger said the tourism bureau is “working closely with our state travel and tourism industry officials — Visit North Carolina, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association — to stay informed and keep us and our Forsyth County hospitality colleagues up to date on best practices.”

“We have reminded and been assured by our hotel and restaurant community that they upholding, and in most cases, exceeding health guidelines and hygiene standards,” Geiger said.

The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in downtown Winston-Salem said it and the Katharine restaurant is following corporate guidelines, including “ensuring hygiene standards and working closely with the respective authorities to minimize risks.”

“Our global cancellation policy waives cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally for stays between March 9 and April 30.

Meanwhile, High Point Market officials said the decision to push back the market by at least five weeks came with the realization “that any change in date could have tremendous economic repercussions on our industry and community, as well as the countless small businesses whose livelihoods relies on High Point Market.

“It underscores our shared concern and well-being of the citizens in our community and our industry partners.”

Staying safe

Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery LLC, based in Ronda, said it remains open to tourists “while taking additional precautions to keep everyone safe during this time ... and ensuring that we can maintain as much normalcy during this time in the safest and efficient way possible.”

Besides requiring sick employees to stay home, the winery said “staff will be continuously disinfecting all door handles, surfaces, faucets and all high traffic areas and we have added hand sanitizing stations in the tasting room and other public spaces.

“We do understand that some of you may be nervous about going out in public, and so we encourage you to visit our website and take advantage of online purchasing,” the winery said. “We can easily ship you your wine so you can stock up on your wine supply without leaving home.”

The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce is encouraging members to employ social-distancing techniques and limiting large gatherings to reduce the risk of transmission.

The chamber postponed its annual community-wide State of the Economy event slated for April 2, as well as postponing all chamber events through at least April 15.

“During this time, it is important for our community to support local businesses,” chamber president and chief executive Mark Owens said.

“Our restaurants, shops, service providers and other businesses are open and taking precautions to take care of their customers and employees.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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