Farlow's On The Water - It's about making people comfortable

March 5, 2021 at 11:33 a.m.
Farlow's On The Water - It's about making people comfortable
Farlow's On The Water - It's about making people comfortable

By Sharyn Lonsdale

On a sunny Friday afternoon at Farlow’s on the Water, you would never know that the restaurant industry was experiencing a crisis. Diners filled the popular Englewood restaurant while others waited for a table. Florida enjoys weather that allows outdoor dining in February and less strict COVID era regulations than many states, but plenty of restaurants in Florida have sadly failed this past year, while Farlow’s has not only survived, but thrived.
Owners Keith and Laurie Farlow are passionate about the hospitality business and about their 17-year-old namesake. That passion has helped Farlow’s earn the top spot of the 80 Englewood restaurants on TripAdvisor.com, as well as dozens of local and regional honors. But big crowds and awards weren’t enough to keep any restaurant open in March, 2020 when COVID-19 forced all dining rooms to close. Like most other restaurants, Farlow’s transitioned to take-out and delivery but the owners were busy behind the scenes, planning for a safe reopening.
Laurie and Keith Farlow recounted all the changes and improvements they made to meet and surpass safety guidelines. Their efforts earned Farlow’s the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) Seal of Commitment. The entire staff of more than 100 was required to attend in-restaurant or video training. Staff was, and still are, required to wear masks and have their temperatures checked. The Farlows upgraded the air-filtering system, invested in the highest-quality sanitation products and in monthly deep sanitization and installed glass partitions between indoor booths. They added dedicated bussers whose only job is to sanitize tables and equipment. “It was the safest way to know we were doing things at the highest standard,” said Laurie Farlow.
With all the safety protocols checked, Farlow’s then faced the greatest challenge most restaurants have had to deal with this past year - reduced capacity. How do you keep your staff employed and make a profit when your restaurant is only
25% full?
By putting tables in the garden area and on the boardwalk that was once reserved for waiting customers, they maximized space while maintaining social distancing. As capacity restrictions were lifted in Florida, Farlow’s could safely seat 287 diners. “We got back to full capacity by doubling the square footage,” said Keith Farlow. Those boardwalk tables are very popular, but are not usable in bad weather.
Oh, and about reservations. Remember when Farlow’s would only take them for larger dining parties? Now you can make a reservation for any size party, and you should.  Keith Farlow said that while many diners were happy to be able to finally reserve a table for two for dinner, those who walked in with no reservations could face longer waits or not get a table at all.
The Farlows also did a lot of ordering. “We ordered all new tables for outside and then every one had to have an umbrella,” said Laurie. In December, they realized all those new outdoor tables also needed heaters. The problem was, said Laurie, they could only buy two at a time. “I started telling everyone, if you find any heaters, I’ll buy you dinner.”  With the help of her hair stylist’s husband, her manager’s sister, and everyone she knew with a Costco membership, Farlow’s got its 22 heaters. When the weather got warmer, they added misting fans.
Meanwhile, Laurie Farlow was involved in an upgrade of her own, moving from three years as vice president to President of the Gulf Island Coast Chapter of the FLRA. The non-profit trade association represents 10,000 restaurants, lodging establishments and industry suppliers around the state. As the chapter president covering Charlotte and Glades County, Laurie joins her fellow leaders, advocating for the hospitality and tourism business as it slowly recovers and rebuilds from the ongoing pandemic.
 “Restaurants seem to be doing better,” said Laurie, “but hotels are still challenged.” She said she hopes that her chapter can resume in-person fundraisers for scholarships and culinary education in May. Farlow is in good company. Her vice president of Restaurants is Sue Atamanchuk, co-owner of the Lock ‘n’ Key and Sandbar restaurants in Englewood.
Any restaurant owner would be smart to learn from Farlow’s example. Keith Farlow said that even when the restaurant is allowed to go back to “normal,” he foresees keeping the built-out seating in the garden and the boardwalk, which have become very popular, as well as the new reservation policy. “Once you’ve gone to reservations, I don’t see how you go back,” he said.
Since reopening in May in time for Mother’s Day, Farlow’s is now open every Sunday. And at a time when many restaurants are laying off staff or struggling to keep workers on the payroll, Farlow’s is hiring.
 “We have to plan for how we do this work in the new world,” said Laurie Farlow. “It’s about making people comfortable. Hospitality is the sense of the joy you get being around others who enjoy going out.” She looks around her restaurant where diners occupy every table all the way to the water’s edge, big blue umbrellas sheltering them from the sun. “You can’t get this anywhere else.”
Farlow’s on the Water, 2080 S. McCall Road, Dining and Take-out Hours: 11 am to 9 pm, Mon.- Thurs., 11 am to 10 pm, Fri. and Sat. and 11:30 to 8 pm., Sunday. Entertainment Wed.-Sun. evenings. Reservations strongly suggested. Farlows delivers from 3 to 8:30 pm Mon. - Sat and 3 to 8:00 pm Sunday. Guests are asked to wear masks when not at their table. For more information, menus and to order online, visit farlowsonthewater.com. Phone: 941-474-5343.