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Houston Restaurants Seriously Step Up Sanitization Efforts as Business Declines

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The city’s eateries are stocking up on hand sanitizer and holding intensive trainings with staff, among other efforts

Houston restaurants are cleaning and sanitizing more than ever before
Amy McCarthy is a staff writer at, focusing on pop culture, policy and labor, and only the weirdest online trends.

As novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country, a number of Houston restaurants are taking extraordinary precautions to help ensure that their dining rooms are cleaner and safer.

Restaurateur Tracy Vaught and chef Hugo Ortega’s H-Town Restaurant Group is taking a number of measures to ensure that its restaurants, which include Xochi, Hugo’s, Caracol, and Backstreet Cafe, are taking the right steps to “support prevention of possible spread of the virus and support the health and well-being of our customers and employees.”

As such, they’re refusing to allow employees who “appear sick” to work, and placing bottles of hand sanitizer at high-touch spots across the restaurants, including bathrooms, host stands, and in the kitchen, among other measures. At Xochi, Hugo’s, and Caracol, Ortega and Vaught have decided to suspend their popular brunch buffets in favor of a la carte menus.

Similar measures are being employed across the city — at Sticky’s Chicken, staff are limiting refills on drinks and removing utensils, napkins, and condiments from “community reach,” along with sanitizing all tables, door handles, and seats with a disinfectant after every customer leaves the restaurant. At Arnaldo Richards’s Picos, staff are making their own batches of hand sanitizer in the event of a serious shortage, and implementing “extra sanitizing processes” for its dishwashing machines.

Gr8 Plate Hospitality restaurateur Paul Miller, whose group operates Jax Grill and the Union Kitchen, says that his restaurants are “doubling down” on sanitization efforts. “We have a sanitation solution that we use to clean the tables. [To his staff, he recommends] checking that every half hour or hour to make sure it’s at the correct levels,” Miller said in a statement. “We’re following procedures and checking the dish machine, checking sanitation water, and cleaning utensils, like we always do. We’re doing everything that we know to stop things like this from spreading.”

Amidst these efforts, business at Houston restaurants is on the decline. Restaurateur Tilman Fertitta, whose restaurant empire spans across the country, says that his establishments’ sales are down $1 million a day, according to CNBC. To combat the ongoing decline in business that restaurants across the city are reporting, Rainbow Lodge is offering a deal that doesn’t even require people to get out of their cars. Starting today, diners can browse through the menu via the restaurant’s website, then call in an order and pick it up via the valet parking line, along with a $20 gift card for their trouble.

At beloved deli Kenny & Ziggy’s, which does a lot of corporate catering business, the restaurant is encouraging its customers to stay away from self-serve platters and move toward the restaurant’s “individual, sealed box lunches.” For those who are actually dining at the restaurant, owner Ziggy Gruber has “suspended” the use of the restaurant’s tableside pay devices in favor of paying at the counter.

Some restaurants have taken less effective, and more inflammatory, measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. According to Houstonia, Houston-born chain Jenni’s Noodle House has announced via social media that anyone “coughing or sneezing” at any of its locations will be asked to leave, despite the fact that sneezing is not listed as a symptom of the virus by the Centers for Disease Control.

At present, there are multiple confirmed and presumptive diagnoses of coronavirus in the Houston area, including 2 confirmed cases in Harris County and six presumptive positive diagnoses in Fort Bend County.