The first wave of the pandemic was finally calming down enough for the cafe to reopen this month! Rules were not the most clear on which businesses could do what and when so I was doing a lot of digging on what similar businesses were doing in other areas. Most retail spaces had been open for a bit and that all was fairly straight forward, restaurants were reopening for dine in with social distancing, masks, tons of sanitizer and more, but to be extra cautious I was looking to both libraries and event spaces to see what they doing to keep customers safe. Table Top Cafe is a weird hybrid business in all of this which has helped keep things flexible as restrictions change but also made it impossible to get a straight answer from the government about what they would want us to have in place.
Just to keep on top of everything I went with a more cautious approach than was probably necessary. On top of distancing our tables and reducing the number of them from 13 to 8, cutting our total capacity in half, glass barriers, sanitizer stations, mandatory masks, and so much hydrogen peroxide, the board games themselves had to be quarantined after use. This had me worried that we would run into log jams of people all wanting to play the same games but the drastically reduced number of customers coming in, and the large number of games available for play, made it almost a non issue. Staff were great about recommending alternatives and it gave us more time to interact with each customer if they wanted it.
The other major change into how we ran things was altering how our payment structure worked. There hasn’t been a single part of the store that I think about more than the base fee and how to price it and with our capacity cut in half I was worried that we wouldn’t have the cash flow to justify staying open. If everyone that came in was staying for many hours and not ordering food or drink, there wasn’t enough room to turn tables and operate.
So I figured it was time to do something crazy! I changed the base fee to a flexible model. More expensive up front at $10 but it goes down by $1 for every item you order. I ‘stole’ this idea from another board game cafe in the states as it seemed a fairly elegant model and in practice it worked fairly well aside from an occasional delay at checkout time but it was a hell of a thing to explain! 7 years of saying one flat rate to play as many games as you like for as long as you want is drilled in to most customers and having to explain that, plus game quarantine, plus mask rules, plus sanitizing, plus ordering, etc, was a silly amount of time spent right when customers walked in. At the time of this writing I am still not 100% sure what things will look like when we reopen again but it is probably going back to the way it was.
We reopened on July 15th and it all ran pretty smoothly! Customers totally understood the need for all the changes, we were getting enough traffic to actually run the business, and most importantly…. no one got COVID. Many regulars from the 124th Street location were making the trip south, which was amazing to see, and there was a great feeling of being supported as we adjusted to the craziness.
The one big downer was getting a lot of slightly panicked phone calls from people knocking on the window of the now closed downtown store wondering what happened. There was a lot of media coverage and me posting about it on Facebook when it closed down but it is pretty much impossible to let everyone know that there was just one location now.
We were feeling much closer to normal and including all part timers, counted 9 employees actively working again. There was plenty of awkwardness as both staff and customers adjusted to the rules but it sure felt good to be open again.