Bring cash. Eclipse crowds may crash cloud-based credit card systems

SALEM, Ore. -- Bring cash and a book if you are planing to dine out eclipse weekend: You may be in for a long wait. 

The extra volume of Salem eclipse visitors, which is estimated to reach the hundreds of thousands, may overload internet servers, creating a challenge for restaurant owners with cloud-based credit card processing.

This doesn't begin to address the expected lines and potential food shortages at restaurants, which will now serve thousands of hotel guests and city park campers.

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Cecilia Ritter James, co-owner of ACME Cafe in South Salem and Wild Pear downtown, has been attempting to gauge how businesses will be affected by the flow of tourists.

"What we expect is that we may not be able to run credit cards for I don't know how long," she said. "I have been on the phone, actively planning and talking about this, for two to three weeks now, with my crews, with business partners, with vendors ... with our internet provider, like — what can we do?"

Bring cash

When the internet crashes in a restaurant, some credit card readers can no longer read the data on the card and make a purchase, and some read the information on the card without making sure the money goes through.

This leaves restaurant owners in a tricky spot. Either they can't take cards or they can and open themselves up for fraud.

Although there's no guarantee the internet will crash on eclipse weekend, service will likely be slow. That can slow down the processing of tabs, which could affect overall wait times for tables. Paying with cash could speed up the process.

“Yes, the internet probably will go down, but then again, I’m a doomsday guy,” said Mike Adams, owner of Adam's Rib Smoke House and co-owner of Bo & Vine Burger Bar. “If you’re going out, I would definitely have cash.”

Expect long waits

Some restaurants take reservations for dinners and events, but most of Salem's lunch and breakfast spots are walk-ins only. Restaurants with small kitchens, few tables or limited staff have focused on speeding up service.

Venti's Cafe & Basement Bar, the downtown location of the local fast-casual spot, will serve grab-and-go and quick-service items Aug. 21 as a special menu. Owner Dino Venti isn't planning to open on the weekend, but he wants to serve the community if he’s needed.

“We’re trying to stay as agile as we can and react in real time as we can," Venti said. “If it’s just a madhouse downtown, people knocking on doors to get something to eat, we’re going to open up doors.”

Some restaurants, however, are more prepared than others. The Kitchen Counter, an expansion of The Kitchen on Court Street, has its own counter service and boxed lunches separate from the dine-in restaurant.

“Our plan is to have a lot of boxed lunches, really building up an inventory,” said Jim Vu, who co-owns the space that houses The Kitchen Counter. “It’s going to be really hard if restaurants don’t already do it.”

Be open to a shrinking menu

Because of delivery restrictions and expected gridlock traffic, getting food to restaurants may be a challenge.

Restaurant owners report that food delivery trucks have changed and adjusted their schedules to accommodate the crowds and increase of orders, avoiding deliveries on weekend days and Aug. 21.

“We’ve been in constant contact with our supply chain to make sure we’re up to date with their augmented schedule," Venti said. "Everyone’s supply chain has changed.”

Ritter James plans to only serve breakfast and lunch at ACME Cafe the Sunday before the eclipse because they’re not sure if they’re going to run out of food. The week leading up, the restaurant owner will track the volume of dishes ordered and will adjust her delivery to factor in the change. Her backup plan is to run across the street to Roth's.

Planning for traffic

With expected gridlock, restaurant owners have cringed at the thought of traffic wait times, which may delay openings and closings.

Stefani Shirley, general manager at omelet emporium Sybil’s Omelettes, said she’s requesting employees arrive early to prevent a delayed 6 a.m. opening. Ritter James has opened up her house and guest rooms for out-of-town employees so they don’t have to deal with traffic.

"If I can’t get my whole staff there, if I can’t get one of my servers there, we can’t give the best service that people expect,” Ritter James said. "But all staff knows that all staff is working, nobody is off. We're doubling up shifts, adding an extra server, adding an extra host, everyone — all hands on deck."

Email Brooke Jackson-Glidden brookejg@statesmanjournal.com or call 503-428-3528. Follow her on Twitter @jacksonglidden, or like her Facebook page www.facebook.com/BrookeJackson-Glidden.

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