As the number of COVID-19 cases rises nationwide, hotels across the country are shutting their doors and turning off the lights in response to declining occupancy and to protect the health of their guests and employees. In addition to the other challenges that go along with halting operations, full-service properties are faced with the question of what to do with their kitchens and all of the food in their pantries.
Some larger properties with multiple F&B outlets have found a use for their fresh food by donating it to food pantries and local organizations. For instance, Pechanga Resort Casino donated its produce and dairy to three charities in California’s Riverside County and MGM Resorts International’s properties nationwide donated the equivalent of 400,000 meals through local food banks.
Other hospitality businesses have decided to bring food directly to those in need. Ocean House Management, which operates several New England properties including Ocean House, Weekapaug Inn, Watch Hill Inn, and Hastings Park, has repurposed its food truck to distribute lunches to families, many whose children previously relied on the meals served in schools that are now closed. The company created the truck two years ago to provide on- and off-property catering services. “Redeploying the food truck to help the community was a natural and creative extension for us,” says Daniel Hostettler, president and group managing director of Ocean House Management. “It’s an unprecedented step during these unprecedented times.”
Hostettler says that Weekapaug Inn’s Executive Chef Devin Bozkaya, General Manager Corinne Finn Heyl, and others worked with the food truck manager to spearhead the effort. “We are very proud of our culinary and operations team,” he says. “They created a healthy menu with children in mind, prepared meals.”
To supplement the food truck program, the company’s Ocean House Fund for Charitable Giving, which focuses on philanthropic efforts to support children, the disadvantaged, and food-related causes in its communities, is donating $20,000 in emergency funds to local food pantries and other organizations.
“We feel a deep responsibility to provide a service for children and families in need and to help alleviate the difficulties that many local families are facing at this time,” Hostettler explains. “We understand that with the closure of schools, many underserved children may not be getting the food they ordinarily would receive. Our objective is for our culinary team and staff to serve the community in a meaningful way, and inspire other organizations as well.”
“As hospitality professionals, we have a responsibility to help our communities who support us in so many ways throughout the year,” Hostettler added. “It’s our civic duty to help individuals in ways that we are able.”
Sage Hospitality Group has created a way for both restaurants and guests to give back to the community during COVID-19. Through the newly launched program, Keep Calm and Carry Out, participating restaurants are donating $1 for every carry-out order placed to Feeding America.
While the group’s business operations are temporarily suspended at a portion of its hotels and restaurants, Sage Hospitality Group still has restaurants offering carry-out and delivery service. Meaghan Goedde, senior vice president of operations for Sage Restaurant Concepts, a division of Sage Hospitality Group, says that when the team started to understand the severity of COVID-19, they took action. “As we began to recognize the scope and scale of this crisis, it was clear that we had to do something,” says Goedde. The group came up with the idea on a Friday and launched its logo, website, and social media by Sunday morning. “It was fast and furious,” she says. “Through social content, PR outreach and exposure from partners like Eat Denver, we were able to quickly garner a lot of attention and interest from other restaurants.”
By March 20, more than 50 restaurants had signed up to participate1 in Keep Calm and Carry Out. Goedde says their team is small and has limited bandwidth, but is working quickly to onboard new partners and update its website.
To ensure the safety of guests picking up orders, Goedde says staff members should limit interaction by wearing gloves and delivering food directly to a guest waiting in their car. Partners like DoorDash are also offering non-contact delivery options.
“Keep Calm and Carry Out is a way for us to continue serving our communities as we collectively practice social distancing, while simultaneously raising money to help those most affected by COVID-19. Guests who choose to order from a participating restaurant are directly supporting the restaurant community and also indirectly supporting those in need through donations to Feeding America,” Goedde explains. “We love what we do and the people we do it with, and we’ll do anything we can to help this industry and our communities survive and come back better than ever.”
For owners and operators of hospitality businesses who want to step up for their communities, Goedde says help from partners is critical to the success of initiatives like Keep Calm and Carry Out. “Live your values and find ways to work together,” she advises. “Look for ways to help even if it’s not financial. From offering family meals for industry employees affected by this crisis to helping to raise awareness about the advocacy work being done to secure government assistance for them, there are ways we can all play a part even if we don’t have much to give ourselves.”
1To join Keep Calm and Carry Out, restaurants can reach out to Heather Dratler, vice president of marketing and brand integrity at Sage Restaurant Concepts.