Long-time restaurateur, Mark Jakuboski plans for a new normal at his restaurants post Covid-19
ALLENHURST, NJ: Paper menus, disposable silverware, and mobile ordering are just some of the new dining measures restaurants are implementing while waiting for the green light from the government to reopen their dining rooms. While social distancing and wearing masks in public have been encouraged by health experts since the beginning of the global pandemic, restaurateurs are taking precautions a step further to ensure the safest environment for their customers and staff. Mark Jakuboski, owner and operator of Old Man Rafferty’s in New Brunswick and Hillsborough, New Jersey discusses how the virus has changed his nearly 40-year restaurant concept.
Regulars of Old Man Rafferty’s know it as the place to go during a lunchbreak with colleagues, or for a relaxing family dinner for a casual farm-to-table meal. Since Covid-19 has made dine-in service off limits for both his restaurants, Jakuboski has been challenged to provide the same enjoyable experience in other ways. “I’ve opened many restaurants in my life,” said Jakuboski. “This is the hardest I’ve ever been through because we have reinvented our restaurant.” Some changes include updating menus, implementing online ordering, and retraining staff, which Jakuboski admits is one of the most difficult parts of the process. “Now we have a concept that was working and we have to change it totally around after Covid-19,” said Jakuboksi.
To adapt to the new normal of the restaurant industry, the long-time restaurateur has gotten creative with his business model, reinventing the Gourmet Shop & Deli at both restaurants. The grocery store, which offers an assortment of prepared dishes, cold cuts, salads and desserts, expanded their inventory to include the eatery’s finest wines, pasta, sauces, and household items such as toilet paper, napkins and bleach spray. “People are loving it because they don’t have to go online, stand on line and shop,” said Jakuboski. “You just come in and grab the basics of what you need.” Guests can pick up orders from the grocery store or opt for home delivery with no limits on purchases at both the New Brunswick and Hillsborough locations.
A major focus has been on maintaining a safe working environment for the employees who Jakuboski admitted were weary of the changes in the beginning. “Its kind of really settled in to ‘we’re good with this’, ‘we can do this’, ‘we feel safe’, ‘we’re a family’,” said Jakuboski. In addition to keeping six feet from one another, the staff has been avoiding touching railings, and wearing masks as a safety precaution. Jakuboski also believes in maintaining his relationship with his vendors during the pandemic, who are also facing hardships. “My number one priority right now is to take care of my purveyors,” said Jakuboski. “Everybody should get a relationship with someone who knows you personally and understands you and knows that you’ll always be there.”
While Jakuboski is itching to be able to welcome diners back to his restaurants, he doesn’t believe that restaurant dining will return to normal for some time. “If we opened, nobody’s coming. Everyone’s scared,” said Jakuboski. In the meantime, he plans to take advantage of outdoor patio areas and continue with take-out and delivery services. “Offer people a chance to get out of the house and stay away from each other, but still be out in the fresh air and have a nice meal,” said Jakuboski. “It’s a matter of restaurateurs in the future making sure their guests feel as comfortable as they can be.” For Jakobuski, this may mean adding brown paper on every table, wrapped cutlery, disposable ketchups and menus, eliminating servers at the tables and adding a mobile payment and ordering system. “It’s going to take a full year to get confidence back,” said Jakuboski. “Servers and bartenders are going to get the worst hit in the world.”
Even though guests will be limited in the dining rooms upon reopening, Jakuboski hopes to bring the experience to the customer with a new virtual online dining service. The videos will provide customers with the simulated experience of dining at Old Man Rafferty’s with a virtual guide through the entire process. “Even if you had a physical restaurant with a dining room, you always try different things, you don’t give up, always hustle,” said Jakuboski. “Don’t wait for the government to say, ‘okay, now you’re ready’. We can’t depend on anyone else, but we can depend on ourselves, you can get this done.” More information on the virtual dining experience will be posted to Old Man Rafferty’s website at http://www.oldmanraffertys.com/home.
To view the full video interview, visit Bielat Santore & Company’s website at www.123bsc.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/123BSC/, and Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/bielatsantore and stay tuned for the next “Thursday Restaurant Rap” interview.