ORLANDO, Fla. — At Se7en Bites in Orlando, a host opens the door for you by pulling a latex glove tied to the handle.

Inside, a worker wipes down the soda fountain between customers. Chairs and tables also get a wipe down regularly.

Trina Gregory-Propst, the owner of the popular “southern on steroids” eatery, says they’re stepping up cleaning like all restaurants, along with other tweaks, but they are doing their best to operate business as usual.

“We are well-prepared for this,” Gregory-Propst said while placing decadent baked goods into displays Saturday. “We already have so many measures we already do in terms of cleaning and sanitizing. We already have to stay ahead of the public.”

With more people paying heed to COVID-19 directives from the CDC and state health departments, the biggest trick for small businesses like Gregory-Propst may be getting ahead of customers staying home instead of going out to eat.

Se7en Bites as seen some customer fall-off, Gregory-Propst said, particularly during the week. She attributes that to customers spending more time trying to pick up supplies or get errands done, and hopes business will pick back up. She pointed out that the dinner rush Friday at her other restaurant in Orlando, Sette, saw no change.

Other restaurants are not faring as well.

“Slow” is how the owner of Le Gourmet Break in downtown Orlando, Aurelie M., characterizes business.

On Sunday people were enjoying breakfast inside the little French café on Magnolia Avenue, but Aurelie said more people were being sure to use social distancing.

Meanwhile NY Bagels and Deli, a popular bagel place in Orlando’s Williamsburg neighborhood and in Winter Garden, reported a 30 percent drop in business Saturday, and a 20 percent drop in sales Friday on their Facebook page.

Tweaks to Bring in Customers

For these and other small businesses in Central Florida, staying open is a matter of survival.

Gregory-Propst points out that, unlike Walt Disney World, she can’t afford to shut down and pay all her employees until she can reopen again.

We’re just trying to be business as usual and staying positive,” she said.

They’re also preparing for a hoped-for uptick in to-go orders.

On top of enhanced cleaning, restaurants are also restocking single-use utensils and cutlery, along with to-go containers.

Many are starting a curbside service, or getting into delivery.

NY Bagels and Deli says they will sell the frozen bagels to customers so they can warm them up at home.

Se7en Bites can take payment outside, so that customers don’t have to leave the car.

Le Gourmet Break has a pickup station.

"People still need to eat,” Gregory-Propst said. “Not everyone cooks.”

She also argues that eating at a restaurant with heightened sanitizing policies may even be safer.

“You are safer eating out then touching things at a grocery store,” she said.

Helping Local Restaurants

COVID-19 couldn’t come at a worse time in Orlando, which has a burgeoning local food scene that is picking up more and more recognition nationally. With attractions closing and conferences and events cancelling, Orlando foodies are looking for ways to help out the eateries they’ve come to love.

“People can practice social distancing while also supporting local restaurants affected by the public health and economic crisis,” said Ricky Ly, owner of Orlando food blog Tasty Chomps.com. He also runs the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook, where fellow foodies are crowdsourcing ways to help local restaurants. 

“[Order] takeout or deliver, and purchasing gift cards in some cases so the businesses have some cash flow,” Ly said. 

Florida is asking businesses to take the Business Damage Assessment Survey to help them assess what economic help businesses may need in the coming days and weeks.

Results from the survey will be used to implement relief programs.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is also offering loans to businesses affected by COVID-19.

For now, Orlando business owners we talked to are hoping things will level off and business will pick up once COVID-19 concerns calm down.

Aurelie of Le Gourmet Break has talked to friends in France, which has gone into lockdown because of COVID-19. She says people are bored. They can go outside, but there is nowhere to go. Even cafes are closed.

“We will stay open as long as we can,” Aurelie said. “If we have to close, we close. We have to stay safe.”