The interior of One Fifth.

Image: Julie Soefer

Things we've been instructed to do during life with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 include:

  • If you're sick or feeling sick, don't go out in public.
  • Whether or not you're sick, avoid large groups of people.
  • Keep a distance from people as much as possible.

Living by these guidelines doesn't necessarily lend itself to going out to restaurants and other dining establishments, something that Houston does better than really any city in America. It's a challenge.

That said, if you're healthy, hospitality industry workers say going to a restaurant is absolutely an option.

"(Practicing safe hygiene) is not something new for us," says Chris Shepherd, founder of Underbelly Hospitality and restaurants Georgia James, UB Preserv, One Fifth, and The Hay Merchant. "Keeping things clean is what we do for a living. We cook food and keep things clean."

You'll see a lot of that language from local restaurants over the next few days. For example, Berg Hospitality Group (B&B Butchers & Restaurant, B.B. Lemon, B.B Italia, The Annie Cafe & Bar, Turner's) posted on social media a note about how it sanitizes its establishments and handles food and drinks:

"We are taking careful steps to limit person-to-person contamination," read the note. "All chefs are outfitted with FDA food code compliant gloves that are worn during the preparation of any consumable food product. They are also thoroughly washing their hands, keeping their arms clean, and following every recommended cleaning procedure. We also work with the best food suppliers in the country who are proactively following CDC guidelines and aligning themselves with current best practices."

Another example: Bobby Heugel recently posted on social media that at his concepts (Anvil Bar & Refuge, Squable, Penny Quarter, Better Luck Tomorrow, The Pastry War, Tongue-Cut Sparrow), "all tables are detailed with sanitizer after each seating" and "dirty plates and silverware (are) cleared with disposable gloves."

You may also see restaurants taking away tables to create more space between diners. Shepherd will be doing that at his concepts.

"We have to work together to understand that, until this thing is figured out or this thing is a relaxed a little bit, we all just have to be fluid with it," he said.

What patrons can do

Still, you may not want to visit a restaurant, or maybe sickness is preventing you from being in public. Even then, there are ways to support local food-and-drink establishments.

"You can always buy gift cards to your favorite restaurants," Shepherd says. "Getting food to-go is really easy to do."

To that end, Shepherd is working with his team at Underbelly Hospitality to set up a system where customers can order food from his restaurants online and pick it up for home dining. 

"We're trying to make options for the consumer on all sides," he said. "For people who want to come in, for people who don't want to come in. And implementing that system, which hasn't been implemented before, has been tough."

Another example: H-Town Restaurant Group (Hugo's, Xochi, Caracol, Backstreet Cafe) is offering delivery for both meals and bulk to-go orders. And for their famous buffet brunches, Hugo's, Xochi, and Caracol will temporarily be serving food a la carte only.

A suggestion: Call your favorite restaurants to find out how they may be offering food to people who don't want to sit in the dining room.

"We'll see where it goes," Shepherd says. "I hope that it doesn't get too bad. But if it does, we gotta hunker down and support each other."