Restaurant Highlight: Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que

When the COVID-19 pandemic first led federal and local governments to shut down businesses and implement self-isolation measures, many restaurants ceased most of their operations. One such affected restaurant is Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, a Mexican- and Texas-style barbecue restaurant based in Brownsville, TX.

Toward the end of March 2020, their county officially mandated social distancing and even set a curfew for citizens, along with other regulations put in place to quell the spread of COVID-19. Armando Vera Sr., the owner of Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, adapted the business model to protect the health and safety of the community.

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Under Mandated Quarantine

In February 2020, the James Beard Foundation awarded Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que the title “American Classic. “In part because of this recognition, the restaurant enjoyed a good amount of business before the pandemic. In March, they closed dine-in services to comply with official orders; in a fairly small restaurant, they had no way to continue sit-down service while still ensuring customers kept six feet between each other.

The restaurant shifted most of their business over to their drive-thru, since by their estimate, between 70% and 80% of their business operated through there anyway. They established new rules for takeout services, as well by limiting the queue for the counter to ten people maximum. They also developed a new method of touch-free payment: Without the funds or time to invest in advanced restaurant technology, customers complete the entire transaction themselves on the credit card machine. Additionally customers no longer need to sign their receipts, thus completely eliminating physical contact between customers and employees.

Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que recommends that customers place orders in advance to ensure they don’t run out of stock—a valid concern, since they announced on March 10th that they remain open 5AM to 2:30PM or until they sell out. Some customers choose to pay over the phone when they order in advance; although traditionally people worry about giving out sensitive information like that, since the pandemic they’ve grown more concerned about health than privacy. Some people also want to limit how long they spend inside the restaurant, forgoing privacy concerns.

Despite the burden on business, the restaurant continues to develop rules ensuring the health and wellness of their customers. By reinventing or putting new emphasis on the tools already at their disposal, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que works hard to survive until the market reopens and business finally returns to normal.

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As Texas Reopens

On April 27th, the Texas governor announced that the state would allow their stay-at-home orders to expire on May 1st to begin partially reopening the economy. Retail stores, personal care services, theaters and restaurants can all resume regular operations at 25% capacity, and if they don’t experience a second wave of the virus for two weeks then they’ll reopen to 50% capacity.

Many restaurants have taken advantage of this, but not Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que. They remain closed to all services except takeout and drive-thru. Although they’re eager to get back to normal, they refuse to open to 25% capacity because, in their words, “There are still a lot of people who are very concerned. I want to respect that. I would rather keep things the way they are. We will play it by ear.”

Nonetheless, they’re one of the few businesses not necessarily worried about staying afloat through this pandemic. Although many restaurants have had to permanently close during quarantine, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que reports having at least double their usual amount of business since this all started. They’re not sure the exact reason for this, but they theorize that it’s because they’re only open Thursday through Sunday and people want to treat themselves after a long week.

Although the local authority no longer enforces social distancing in their county, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que doesn’t want to open full service operations until their customers feel comfortable with the decision. They want to ensure that reopening won’t contribute to another outbreak or risk the health of any of their customers. As the U.S. begins to partially reopen and dine-in services start back up again, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que and many other restaurants around the country continue to center customer safety and community wellbeing above all else.

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