Last summer, we launched our Stay Safe Pledge, a set of health and safety guidelines for both businesses and consumers. Our local businesses and hotel partners have taken this pledge, demonstrating their commitment to helping minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keeping us safe and healthy.

In this blog series, we will interview a Discover Saratoga member who has taken the pledge and discuss what actions they have implemented to keep their employees and customers safe. We will also discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their business and their outlook for the future. Today’s Q&A is with Bill Gathen, director of marketing at DZ Restaurants (Forno Bistro, Chianti Ristorante and Boca Bistro).


How has your business changed post-COVID?

One of the biggest challenges we have faced during Covid and even now as we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel is how we have had to completely rethink the way we do business, communicate with our guests and provide the same level of service and quality we have been providing for some 20+ years as a restaurant group in Saratoga Springs. During Covid we’ve gone almost entirely paperless, relying rather on QR codes for guests to access all our menus. We also built takeout platforms and multiple programs which grew our take-out business nearly 30% from the same time last year. All three of our locations we’re reduced to a 5 day week and we’re employing a fewer number of staff members due reduced hours as well as table spacing requirements. Even our menus were initially streamlined and pared down to account for fewer kitchen staff as well as the possibility of supply chain interruptions.                   


What enhanced procedures do you have to keep your guests safe?

We have been and continue to remain committed to ensuring a safe dining experience and have been following all CDC recommended distancing, capacity, and cleanliness guidelines. We will continue to follow these protocols while they remain in place. The safety of our employees, their loved ones and our guests will always be our top priority and we will remain resolute in our efforts to keep our restaurants safe. Beyond physical distancing and mandatory mask wearing by our employees, we have also installed dividers in our restaurants as a way to encourage guests to return to in-restaurant dining safely and with confidence. We also ensure safe sanitation practices are followed by providing hand sanitizer at all entrances, We clean and sanitize common areas and surfaces regularly and we clean and sanitize all tables and hard surfaces after every use.


How has COVID affected your takeout business?

Through a variety of takeout promotions and programs including takeout boxes for all major holidays and events (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Superbowl, etc) our Food Crazy Ghost Kitchen Food Boxes, picnic baskets, meal kits to go and $10 Tuesdays we grew our takeout business nearly 30% company-wide.


Will you continue to use any of the new initiatives you started due to the pandemic post COVID?

Whereas we will continue to build a strong takeout program moving forward, with the warmer weather and the rapid increase in vaccinations our focus is gradually changing back to indoor and patio dining. Our goal is to re-open to 7 days a week from the current 5 day schedule and we will continue to offer paperless menu options.


How have you reconfigured your restaurant to fit the new health and safety rules?

Some of the reconfigurations of our restaurant floor plans have been the required physical spacing of the tables and bar seating along with the installation of dividers and partitions. Together this has greatly reduced our capacity, but has also created a safe and more intimate dining experience for guests who feel comfortable dining out.


What is your outlook for the future?

Our outlook for the future is to see Saratoga Springs return to the bustling, vibrant city we all know it to be. Visitors in the hotels, people at the track, concert goers at SPAC, events at the city center, and restaurants with 100% capacity. We understand this has to be done safely, but we think with all of us working together towards this common goal it will soon be a reality.


Read the next post in this blog series: Stay Safe Pledge Blog Series: Impressions of Saratoga.