Columbia restaurant owner helps others in the industry learn safe practices directly from experts

Safe Dining SC is a group restaurant owners who talk to public health experts and virologists weekly about ways to protect customers and employees.
Updated: Jun. 18, 2020 at 7:11 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Public safety is a big concern for restaurant owners these days, and one Columbia restaurant owner is providing a way for those in the industry to learn best practices directly from the experts.

The group is called Safe Dining SC and was started by Tim Gardner, the owner of Lula Drake Wine Parlour in downtown Columbia.

Gardner was one of the first businesses downtown to close his doors due to the pandemic, and Lula Drake is still closed today. Gardner says his building is too small to practice safe social distancing, but he wanted to help everyone in the industry learn what’s best for their business.

“What started out as frustration, turned into a desire to help,” Gardner explained.

He got in touch with members of the National Scientist Volunteer Database. Now, he and 15 other restaurant owners across the state talk to public health experts and virologists weekly about ways to protect customers and employees.

“We just did a Zoom call this week, and the information that we were getting was just incredible. We’re getting things from them that the public hasn’t heard. If you’re a restaurant, you can talk to some of these scientists and say this is the layout of my restaurant, help me with airflow,” said Gardner.

During this week’s call, Gardner says scientists recommended restaurants make sure they have constant airflow through the space but to also pay attention to which way the air is moving. If it’s flowing towards one end of the building, it could affect people sitting at that end.

“We were hearing about the issues with restrooms and having lids on toilets. All of those details of things that you just don’t think about,” said Gardner.

Experts also suggest restaurants make sure every toilet has a lid. They say the droplets forced upward by flushing could linger in the air long enough to be inhaled.

John Brunty owns Crave Market in Columbia and joined Safe Dining SC because he says there wasn’t an easy way to learn the best protocols or to ask questions. After talking with experts, he’s decided to only offer curbside to go.

“I’m going to wait until we’re 100 percent back, and then wait and see what the numbers do,” Brunty explained.

However, other restaurants in the group have opened for indoor and outdoor dining.

“This is a place where everybody is doing something different. So, there’s no judgment as to whether you’re open or not,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s goal is to make sure owners understand all the costs and make the best decision for them.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than feeling like you can make a difference, and this is really what this is about.”

He believes restaurants and businesses were allowed to re-open too soon, and he thinks we are seeing the result of that right now with an increase in COVID-19 cases, but he also understands many businesses may not be able to financially survive this pandemic.

Gardner wants to be able to offer the free information to as many restaurant owners as possible. If you want to join the group or learn more about restaurant safety, you can follow Safe Dining SC on Facebook and Instagram.

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