Dogwood Illustration (Tania Lili) Dogwood Illustration (Tania Lili)

One good thing? Figuring out a seamless online ordering system.

Dolce Vita Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar has been open for business for 25 years in Fairfax, and they weren’t going to let a global pandemic fully shut them down.

Dolce is one of many local restaurants that has shifted to contactless takeout or delivery to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The restaurant industry has taken a major hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, as bars, restaurants and other non-essential businesses have had to close their doors under stay-at-home orders, reports indicate that the hospitality industry accounts for more than half of all job losses in the United States. 

We talked with Meghan Schulze, one of Dolce Vita’s managers, to hear firsthand what it’s like to adapt an entire business to a pandemic. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Dolce Vita staff together before the shutdown.

Dogwood: When did Dolce Vita have to close down?

Meghan Schulze: We closed down our dining room a little bit before Governor Northam gave the order not necessarily by choice, but because people had kind of already been staying away from restaurants in general. It’s just kind of really, wiped out any hopes of having any growth.

Dogwood: So you have a really small crew, what is that change like?  Are you doing delivery and pickup options for your guests? 

Meghan Schulze: So we have our executive chef who kind of manages the kitchen and orders all of our ingredients. We also have three on staff cooks who just know operations like the back of their hands. So they’ll come in and they’ll prep ingredients. Of course, they’re not working the hours they used to because we had to cut down on our service hours in general. We do both in-house delivery and then we also use DoorDash.

Dolce Vita delivery vehicle.

Dogwood: Does your team have any extra precautions in place to keep the restaurant clean and make sure the operation is virus free?

Meghan Schulze: Yeah, everyone wears gloves all the time. We just came in to an order of masks that we’re having delivered this week to provide for our staff.  Also we’re basically just using all of the downtime that we can to continually sanitize everything like phones, computers, doors, any kind of table space or countertops. We’re also exchanging gloves consistently.

Dogwood: Has there been anything that really stood out to you as especially challenging or sort of unforeseen during all of this?

Meghan Schulze: I think the hardest part for us has been just trying to figure out how much food we need to order each week. You know, not ordering too much because we don’t have the money that we used to have, but also not ordering too little because we want to make sure that we have the supply for the demand. 

Dolce Vita staff is taking extra precautions for contact-less pickup and delivery options.

Dogwood: What about any positive things about this shut down that you weren’t expecting? 

Meghan Schulze: Well we finally got to set up with  an online ordering system that we’ve been trying to do for a couple years now and that has made everything super simple. When an order comes in online, we already know it’s paid for, we already know that they want it dropped off on their door, we don’t need to talk to anyone, we don’t need to have anyone sign anything. Everyone’s under the same understanding that there should be as little contact as possible. 

We also just have this awesome team we’ve been here for 25 years and It’s really, really cool to have a staff who not only understands every single menu item but then also we have longtime guests who have also been coming in since the beginning. And they still want to, support us and get gift cards. 

Dogwood: So how are you keeping yourself sane through the shutdown?

Meghan Schulze: Being here and busying myself with work has actually helped a lot. It would be hard for me to be at home day in and day out without seeing anyone else, so being here with these guys and being in it together and figuring it out together has been really, really great for my mental health.