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TAMPA — There are 100 vacant rooms at the Epicurean Hotel this week.
That means just 37 are filled and a lot of the staff has been called off work.
It also means the Epicurean has lots of extra toilet paper. Eggs, too. So, the hotel’s operators at Mainsail Lodging and Development have decided to get creative to retain a little business. They’re about to launch a grocery store drive-through at the boutique hotel in Hyde Park.
“I want to keep as many people employed as possible,” said Mainsail chief executive Joe Collier. “Even if we break even, I want to keep the hotel open and we’re going to do that.”
Across Florida and the country, hotels with low-occupancy have been pushed into mass layoffs and closing their doors as would-be travelers stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19.
St. Petersburg’s Magnuson Hotel Marina Cove filed a notice with the state that it laid off 55 workers. The Grand Orlando Resort laid off 102 and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota 114. Thousands and thousands of other hospitality workers have been put on furlough.
The Rumfish Resort on St. Pete Beach is closed and TradeWinds has shifted all of its bookings to the Island Grand property next door. Tampa’s 444-room Grand Hyatt Hotel is scheduled to stay closed until May 1. The Wyndham Grand in Clearwater Beach isn’t taking new bookings. The Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor won’t open again until April 30 at the earliest.
“It’s affecting everybody,” Collier said. “I know airlines and hotels have gotten just crushed, but I also know everybody is being affected by this in some fashion.”
He hopes the new grocery launch not only keeps employees on the payroll but also serves as an inspiration for people to cook five-star meals at home.
“People are going stir crazy,” he said.
Among his few hotel guests are those opting to self-isolate in style, or who are from nearby suburbs and like staying somewhere it’s easier to walk and bike outside.
As room stays continue to dwindle, Collier said, he and his team are continuing to brainstorm ways to diversify and adapt to what the community could use during the crisis. If the drive-up grocery orders are a success, Mainsail plans to expand the option to the Fenway, its boutique hotel in Dunedin.
The new service begins 3 p.m. Saturday. The full list of available items will be available on the Epicurean website. Shoppers must call ahead to order from the online list. Once they’re in front of the hotel, they call again for an employee to bring the order to the curbside.
It’s a low-contact option for extending the time between runs to the store, Collier said.
On Friday, the kitchen staff was busy preparing the inventory — dairy items, eggs, prime cuts of meat from Bern’s, salads and sauces.
And, of course, toilet paper.
“I don’t want to be known just as the toilet paper hotel,” he said, “but if you’re desperate, we’ve got you.”
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