Indiana Daily Student

Local restaurants adapt to COVID-19 policies during Omicron aftermath

<p>Restaurants on Kirkwood Avenue are pictured Feb. 5, 2022.  Local businesses such as Cup &amp; Kettle Tea Co. and Bloomington Bagel Company are taking measures to remain open while keeping their customers safe during the spread of the omicron variant.</p>

Restaurants on Kirkwood Avenue are pictured Feb. 5, 2022.  Local businesses such as Cup & Kettle Tea Co. and Bloomington Bagel Company are taking measures to remain open while keeping their customers safe during the spread of the omicron variant.

Local businesses, such as Cup & Kettle Tea Co. and Bloomington Bagel Company, have seen changes in in-person customer retention as well as compliance with Monroe County COVID-19 policies over the course of the pandemic, especially since the Omicron surge. 

Jessica Messmer, the owner of Cup & Kettle Tea Co. on North Walnut Street, said she noticed a decline in in-person customers since the new Omicron variant became a larger concern, but an increase in online orders and shipments of tea products from the store. 

“We had just started working with an online ordering system right before the pandemic, so it was kind of an accidental thing that proved to be really helpful,” Messmer said.  

She said that customers can order for in-store pickup on the website, but she requests that they wear masks when ordering in-person to keep others safe while in the store. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Messmer said the company maintained a station with hand sanitizer near the entrance with a glass enclosure, as well as a separated table for pickup orders. 

“We also have a QR code on the door so people can scan and order online if they don’t feel comfortable coming inside,” Messmer said. 

Messmer said the Omicron variant caused the company to cut back on events and close its smelling wall — a display of tea blend samples that customers could smell and purchase. She said she worried the wall could spread germs and encourage people to take their masks off.

Dr. Warren Gavin, a hospitalist at IU Health Methodist Hospital, said the two most important things restaurants can do to combat the spread of Omicron are to continue to enforce mask-wearing and practice good hand hygiene. 

“My expectations for restaurants all the time is good hand hygiene,” Dr. Gavin said. “We would expect good hand hygiene to always be there, but I think now impeccable hand hygiene would be one of the big things that could possibly prevent transmission.”

Dr. Gavin said he encouraged people to get vaccinated and boosted, especially if they planned on going out to restaurants more. 

“I work at Methodist, and it’s the largest hospital in the state of Indiana, and I’ve not treated a single patient for side effects from the vaccine,” Dr. Gavin said. “It won’t necessarily protect against getting Omicron or transmission, but it will prevent you from getting severely ill.”

Sue Aquila, founder and owner of Bloomington Bagel Company, said she requires all staff members to be vaccinated, boosted and provide a copy of their vaccination card. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, she said she always enforced employees washing hands, cleaning stations often and making sure everyone kept their masks on at all times. 

“We've been fortunate that we're still remaining busy and that people are still coming in and grabbing their bagels,” Aquila said. “It’s going to get harder for the guests just because it's colder and we can't set up the outdoor dining.”

Customers have been fantastic about complying with store rules and wearing a mask inside, Aquila said. She said most exceptions are usually with people from out of town, but she’s proud of the way her staff handles these situations.

“We’re not looking for conflict, we just want to keep everybody that works here and our guests as safe as possible,” Aquila said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and the pandemic gave us even more of this team feel that we're all in this together.”

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