Lina Lin

Lina Lin, owner of Panda House on Nogales Highway, said she is considering closing the dining area and focusing on pick-up and delivery-only.

Restaurants in Green Valley and Sahuarita are seeing a drop in business as concerns over coronavirus grow. Some are looking to mitigate the lull with ramped-up take-out and delivery business while others are considering closing until things return to normal.

During the Monday lunch rush, Panda House on Nogales Highway had one customer in the usually crowded dining area. Owner Lina Lin said this had been the new normal since Friday, when a wave after wave of event cancellations crippled Green Valley's busy season.

She said the restaurant had to cut server and kitchen hours because of the drop in business. Lin said they are still getting pick-up and delivery orders and hope to grown that business while people hunker down at home.

Lin had President Trump's press conference on a TV near the front counter Monday as she handed out pick-up orders. She said government advice that people should avoid gatherings with 10 or more people would make the drop in business worse. 

It's not just local restaurants.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero has mandated that all large dining areas close through the end of March, though drive-through and takeout serves are not affected. The mandate reaches to bars and gyms. Phoenix and Flagstaff have made similar decisions. 

But Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy said he wouldn't go that far, instead pushing a narrative to encourage social distancing. 

MOD Pizza, McDonald's and Chipotle, all with locations in the area, are among national chains that have closed dining areas and shifted to drive-thru and take-out service.

MOD announced it is transitioning to take-out-, pick-up- and delivery-only service starting Tuesday. Chipotle closed its dining area and is only serving drive-thru customers.

McDonald's is closing dining rooms at its corporate-owned stores and is urging franchise stores — which make up 93 percent of all locations — to follow suit. The Green Valley and Sahuarita McDonald's are franchise owned. The Sahuarita McDonald has closed its dining room but the Green Valley location is still open and hasn't received word about when, or if, they will close the doors, according to an employee.

To-go orders and delivery options are becoming one way for restaurants to weather the storm.

Coyote Grill's Chef Marc Panas said they'd seen a small dip in customers since last Wednesday, but still had a good weekend crowd.

With COVID-19 worries growing and more advice from officials to self-isolate, Coyote Grill is looking at ways to compensate for any dips in dine-in service.

"We're trying to promote (take-out) as we speak on our website to let people know that if they're concerned about coming in to eat and so forth that they can pick up," Panas said. "And we're trying to work with a delivery service to get food out to people who are incapacitated or don't feel comfortable about leaving their house."

El Patio's owner Jose Luis Lopez said he had noticed a decline in patrons as well.

"It's been slightly below normal, but still, we have our normal crowd come in," he said.

Lopez said they had seen more take-out than usual, but they don't have any plans to start delivering.

"It has slowed down but it's not a hit as far as we're still running well," he said. "At the end of the day, people still need to eat as much as they need to be confined and social distancing and all that the media says."

Lopez said he thinks the Green Valley lifestyle of going out to eat will continue despite concerns. But granted that the president's advice to avoid restaurants and gatherings of 10 or more people might affect business.

"Obviously, what the president does say will influence the crowds, but I intend to be here open and willing to serve the community," Lopez said. "I guess that's people's prerogative if they want to really risk it or not."

Several states have ordered restaurants and bars to close but have allowed for carry out.

At Manuel's, the owner's son Manny Solorzano said there has been a slight drop in dine-in customers, but there had been a small increase in take-out. Manuel's doesn't deliver.

Manuel's hasn't had to cut worker hours, but Solorzano said they are considering closing the doors for a while, but nothing is final yet. However, they are taking it day by day before making any final decisions, he said. 

Solorzano said that if they should decide to close the doors they wouldn't start delivery service or switch to take-out only. 

Movie theater

And it's not just restaurants starting to notice smaller crowds.

Rene Saspe is the assistant manager at Desert Sky Cinema on Duval Mine Road. He said they noticed fewer people Saturday.

"That's when we really noticed the difference," he said. "Because Saturday we usually have a lot more people. The first showing we had here was only about 19 people. Usually, it's about triple that, about 60 people in the morning. And then it would go up from there."

Saspe said after speaking with the owners Monday, the cinema plans to reduce ticket prices for all showings starting Wednesday, but wasn't sure how much.

"There are good days and there are bad days, especially with movies," Saspe said. "But people are still coming in, just not as much."

Back at Panda House, Lin said they'd seen a one-third decline in customers and isn't sure if they will continue to keep the dine-in area open.

"We talk about it, but we're trying to focus more on to-go," she said. "Lunch is pretty quiet, not a lot of dine-in."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732