Craft Pride Taps,” Thomas Galvez

June 8, 2020; Eater, “Austin”

Sometimes, the minimum just isn’t enough. When it comes to ensuring staff and customer safety in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, that’s the precise conclusion dozens of restaurants and bars in Austin, Texas have reached. They have banded together under the auspices of a nonprofit entity to take extra precautions in a time of deep uncertainty for both customers and workers. With the battle cries of “Back to work safely” and “Feed Austin Responsibly,” the group is pledging to go beyond the state and city’s minimum requirements to reopen.

While not as extensive as the much-discussed 23-page reopening plan Wynn Resorts rolled out in Las Vegas, the Good Work Austin Re-Opening Agreement draws from best practices, requiring things such as single-use menus, social distancing of staff, and tracking the names and contact info of all customers.

According to Good Work Austin, in the last two weeks of March, over 3,000 bars and restaurants in Travis County closed the majority of the their business, with some operating on a skeleton crew for take-out and delivery. This resulted in layoffs or reduced hours for 43,000 employees. In a town where half the housing is occupied by renters and the average 864-square-foot apartment rents for $1,600, the pinch was no doubt felt fast by the workforce.

Good Work began in 2018 as a group of businesses working with the City Council to write Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. Stepping outside the Chamber of Commerce structure, which typically opposes anything seen as a cost or burden to a business, the group continues to work together proactively on behalf of their worker force and the economy. Essentially, it is a group of for-profit businesses working together under a nonprofit for the greater good of the community and economy.

Austin has long touted a strong economy and a high quality of life. In the last decade, it was consistently named the fastest growing city in the nation as an educated and youthful workforce flocked there for tech jobs, a diverse music scene, and sexy see-and-be-seen events and festivals  like South By Southwest. While the city’s motto has long been “Keep Austin Weird,” in a nod to its eclectic hippie vibe, this latest creation being served up is anything but weird. It makes complete sense and is a nod to the ethos it was steeped in.

The restaurants and bars that Good Work comprises are sticking together for Austin’s sustainable future, aiming to reopen safely to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 and addressing longstanding issues like the need for a more robust employee wellness plan for tipped and hourly food service workers. The big dogs like Restaurant Association and the Chamber of Commerce should take note of what a small and scrappy nonprofit with heart can accomplish.

You can see the full Re-Opening Agreement below.

Good Work Austin’s Re-Opening Agreement

  1. Reservation sites and websites will include notices that diners cannot enter the restaurant if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. We will deny service to guests who do not follow our clearly stated guidelines.
  2. Employees will be counseled on appropriate behavior at and away from work by a medical professional to make sure that they are not putting our community at risk.
  3. Staff temperatures must be taken daily. Anyone with a 99.6º or higher temperature will be sent home.
  4. Staff who have experienced COVID-19 symptoms will be sent home and must fulfill one of the following options: 1) receive a note from a doctor allowing them to return to work; 2) receive a negative result from a COVID-19 test; 3) complete a 14-day self-quarantine.