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Rocco Mangel, owner of the Mexican restaurant chain Rocco's Tacos, is welcoming back customers for in-person dining with extensive safety measures in place as the state continues to loosen restrictions designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday, most of his South Florida locations are open for dine-in lunch and dinner service after COVID-19 shutdown orders temporarily curbed operations. Restaurants will offer dine-in service at 25 percent capacity, although guests will only be allowed to stay for a maximum of an hour and a half. The chain is also increasing outdoor seating with tables placed six feet apart. In order to protect both his staff and customers during this process, Mangel has chosen to exceed local and federal health safety recommendations.
Although he is thrilled to welcome back guests, doing so was no easy task. Mangel said the pandemic has created many issues for the hospitality industry, but has helped industry leaders come together to help each other through the unprecedented crisis.
"My competitors have become my companions," Mangel said. "It is one person helping another and that's how we are going to get through this time."
In order to safely phase in operations, Mangel's network of restaurants is ramping up safety protocols that include having a "cleaning patrol" dedicated to wiping down and sanitizing each location, implementing bells which will ring every 30 minutes to notify employees that its time to wash their hands, and posting signage on tables notifying customers that it has been sanitized.
Each location is also using disposable menus, requiring all employees to wear masks when entering the premises and gloves when handling food, while offering hand sanitizer at entrances and high-contact areas and additional signage and floor mats emphasizing health and safety guidelines.
Additionally, prior to the start of their shift, employees will be required to have their temperature checked and fill out a questionnaire about whether they feel any symptoms. If an employee has a temperature above 100 degrees, they will be set home and directed to proper medical care.
On May 5, after restrictions began to lift, Mangel addressed a small group of customers at a location in Orlando, showing gratitude for their support.
"It's not your typical Cinco de Mayo but I don't want to get emotional," he told a cheering crowd. "It has been a very, very rough road for us in the hospitality industry but the most important thing is putting people back to work."
Following the heartfelt message came a round of shots for customers paid for by Mangel himself.
By the end of the week, Mangel expects to re-employ between 200-250 workers across all restaurants as service begins to pick up.
And despite all the hurdles to get to this point, Mangel said he has still managed to throw on a smile even underneath his mask.
"We are all in this together," he said.
The company is still offering curbside pickup and delivery. The Fort Lauderdale location is currently limited to take-out only but Mangel projects it may open for dine-in service next week.