Safety and sanitizing: The El Azteco way

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It was difficult at first for El Azteco general manger to get adjusted to not having people dine in. But after nearly three months, Johnny Vlahakis gets to see his loyal customers again.

“Customers love the patio especially during this time of the year, but once we opened back up, people were lined up at the door,” said Vlahakis.

El Azteco, like many other restaurants in Michigan and across the country, had to adjust once restaurants and bars could reopen, especially with making sure customers feel safe.

One way El Azteco made sure its customers felt safe was by focusing on cleaning and sanitation.

“We’ve been doing real intensive cleaning and following CDC protocols, like having employees wear masks and gloves and regularly washing their hands,” said Vlahakis. “We added eight extra hand sanitizing stations where there are common areas and we require customers to wear face masks when they enter, and take it off when they sit down.”

He also added that once customers get up, staff members bus and clean off tables.

The biggest tool that Vlahakis and his staff use to clean the tables whenever they can is through a company called Enviro-Master.

            “We do a full clean at night when we close and once we open back up through this company,” said Vlahakis. “They do a deep clean with a disinfecting enzyme, and once that settles you can spray disinfectant spray to fight off any virus. We wanted to go above and beyond to make sure everyone feels safe.”

Another way El Azteco tried to make customers feel safe is making sure to limit contact of any sort through a QR code, digital menus that enable diners to scan and access it on their mobile phones.

“The QR code is just one less thing for people to worry about,” said Vlahakis. “We offer three menu options with the QR code, disposable menus for one time use and regular menus where we clean both sides after use.”

El Azteco has been a popular restaurant in East Lansing for over 40 years. Photo by Austin Winslow.

While the adjustment has affected most for the El Azteco staff, bartender Jimmy Monaghan might’ve been hit the hardest.

“I was working here last year, usually 15-16 barstools at the bar,” said Monaghan. “Now, we can’t have bar stools because of social distancing.”

For Monaghan, he said he loved being a bartender because of the social atmosphere that comes with it.

“I miss being able to have conversations because most of the time I’m just sitting there making drinks not talking to anyone,” said Monaghan. “It’s a close bar, and making drinks still seems kind of weird.”

Monaghan also said that the El Azteco staff uses a group messenger to make sure they follow protocols.

“We have a message group that sends out reminders to constantly wash your hands, so we wash our hands way more,” said Monaghan. “The idea is to make sure there’s no contact between two people at all.”

Not that workers at El Azteco didn’t clean and sanitize before, the constant ability to wash hands come from the difference in tables per server.

“There’s much more of an ease of pace to wash your hands or disinfect tables inside and on the rooftop when you’re not working four to five tables at a time,” said Monaghan.

Unfortunately for Monaghan, it seems he will need to wait to serve his two favorite drinks at a packed bar: A Coronorita, a mix between a margarita and beer, and a Tequila Sunrise.

But that doesn’t mean customers can’t appreciate drinks directly from the bar, or even the restaurant environment in general.

El Azteco has guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 outside the entrance Photo by Austin Winslow.

El Azteco has tried to make sure that no matter the current situation customers can feel safe when they dine in, according to long-time El Azteco lovers and Ingham county residents Maeve Parker and Laura Knaggs.

“I’m very excited that one of my favorite restaurants has been taking COVID seriously,” said Parker. “I’ve been here twice in the past few weeks because their system allows customers to stay safe while having their amazing food.” Parker currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Knaggs also said that the job and the adjustments the staff does allows her to feel safe during the pandemic.

“I’m glad to be able to dine in again and the staff is doing a great job of following COVID guidelines and keeping the staff and customers safe,” said Knaggs.