By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
“It’s been a very busy summer,” says long-time Log Jam Restaurant manager Tony Grecco.
Despite occupancy limitations due to COVID, “we were filled up for what we could do all through July and August.”
The biggest change, other than 50 percent maximum occupancy, Mr. Grecco said, was with the Log Jam’s signature salad bar.
“We get a lot of calls every day,” he said. “The two questions are, do you have outdoor seating, which we don’t, and do we still have the salad bar?”
Now, rather than diners serving themselves, the wait staff shares the list of offerings, customers select items, and the servers fill plates for them.
“It’s not a hit for the staff,” Mr. Grecco acknowledged, “but it is working and the customers are happy we have a way to do the salad bar. That was probably our biggest obstacle of coming back.”
Last spring, when the pandemic lockdown limited restaurants to take-out service only, Mr. Grecco said he had to let go most of the staff, many long-tenured.
He said he is pleased that in June, when the restaurant reopened for indoor dining, “Everybody got their jobs back.”
“Actually, we needed more people,” a problem most restaurants he’s talked to had, especially given that J-1 International students were not allowed this year.
“We were able to, we are still staying open every day, 11:30 to 9. We have a great core staff, and everyone came back. It was finding the extras we need in the summer, or training them in June or July when we are busy, rather than in May, like we would usually do.”
Mr. Grecco said that even at 50 percent capacity with social distancing, they have about 150 seats and they ran at capacity throughout the summer.
“The clientele in the summer is definitely mostly 90 percent not from this area. It’s downstate, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania. It usually is in the summer.”
He says, “This area was packed all summer. Lake George was crazy. I was in Lake Placid; it felt like New Jersey.”
“We were pretty much full every day,” Mr. Grecco said.
One innovation that worked and he expects to keep: One menu, with the same offerings all day. Previously they had separate lunch and dinner menus, and closed the dining room for an hour and a half to switch service.
“We went right through. It was much easier,” Mr. Grecco said. “It streamlined things and gained us some business in that extra hour and a half. It helped a lot.
“You do [an extra] $500 to $1,000 of sales a day, over a whole month that makes a difference.”
Seating by reservation only, Mr. Grecco said that once they reached capacity, they had to just turn people away, rather than have customers arrive without a reservation and wait for a table.
“Normally,” he said, “the front door is mobbed. Now we told people we are full, we are all booked, and maybe they could make reservations for the next day.
“It went very smoothly, spread things out a bit, and we didn’t have that controlled chaos at the front door.”
Meanwhile, he said, “takeout continues to be more than we normally do, though it has slowed down some since Labor Day. Before this year, it was minimal, maybe one a day, or zero…Now it’s 20 or 30 orders a day, 50 to 60 dinners, and big orders.”
Mr. Grecco said, “Business has definitely dropped off quicker than it normally does in the fall. The crowd is older, less families. We are preparing to do 75 percent of what we normally do. Technically, it’s enough that it gets to about what we would usually do in the fall. I’m expecting the weekends to stay strong, even with events like the Balloon Festival not here.”
He said, “I’m a little leery about the Christmas season. We usually do a lot of big gatherings, for businesses and families. We don’t have hardly any holiday parties booked, and probably won’t. But I think we will hold our own. We’ve weathered the hardest part of the summer.”
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