HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- More than 770 days after it closed when the governor suspended indoor restaurant dining at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue reopened its western Henrico dining room Wednesday.
"It actually feels really good," said Buz and Ned's owner and pitmaster Buz Grossberg as he spoke with the first customers who came in shortly after 11:30 a.m. "Because, you get to socialize with customers and that's one of the best parts of this business."
The restaurant, along with almost every other restaurant in Virginia, pivoted to takeout food in March 2020, at its West End and Richmond locations.
The move to reopen the West End location comes roughly two months after the owners closed the original spot in Richmond, one that had been opened since 1992. He said they had wanted to reopen dining at the West End location sooner but they could not get enough staff to do that.
Instead, they decided to change the restaurant's business model.
Instead of a traditional waitstaff, the Grossbergs placed QR codes at each table.
Once seated, customers scan, order, and pay. They are called to pick up their orders once the food is ready to be served.
"I think that this is going to be a major shift for the restaurant industry in this direction," Jacob Grossberg, Buz's son, said "QR codes are a little bit less server intensive."
Buz said the move away from a traditional waitstaff and toward QR codes was one he made with trepidation. He said he did not want to lose the interaction between customer and server. He was also aware of technical issues that could arise.
Sure enough, the QR codes weren't working properly at 11:30 a.m. when the restaurant reopened.
As staff stepped in to help customers, one potential customer left after being told about the new setup.
"We need to attend to those people who have never done it before," Buz said. "For the older generation who refuses to do it. We'll make exceptions."
The new setup wasn't a concern for Jane Hasty and her husband. The North Carolina couple considered themselves longtime customers.
"Absolutely. Whatever it takes to eat here. Whatever it takes," Hasty said.
As the restaurant entered its new normal, Buz said they are focused on getting back to pre-pandemic levels.
He said while the layout may have changed, the food has not.
"I'm doing 100-percent of the cooking and it's pretty damn good -- if I do say so," Buz said.
Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue is located at 8205 West Broad Street in Henrico County.
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