To do my bit in supporting restaurants right now, I’ve been ordering from them once every few days for the last couple weeks. More times than not, it’s been a logistical circus that winds up costing a lot of money and, especially lately, unnecessarily putting workers’ health at risk.
Case in point: Tuesday night I ordered online from a local burger place. While the system gave me a “curbside pickup” option, there was no curbside at which to actually park once I arrived at the restaurant. Rather, I joined a crowd of other people clustered in front of the restaurant. A lone worker frantically ran in and out of the restaurant calling names as she tried to determine which order belonged to which customer. No one wore gloves and no one was standing six feet apart.
The inconvenience of the experience is the least problematic part of this example. Far more unsettling are the financial and health risks of running an off-premises business when you’re not an off-premises restaurant. Through no fault of its own, that burger place is not equipped to efficiently manage the volume and logistics of a curbside business. It’s never had to until now.
Restaurant owners and industry folks have long argued that the dine-in experience differs greatly from a to-go operation, and that one can’t simply flip a switch and be asked to transition from one to the next without a hitch. And yet that’s exactly what thousands of restaurants across the country are at this moment being forced to do. And what you get is a scene like the other night, where there isn’t enough staff to even pick up the phone, let alone manage the influx of orders going out and customers waiting. Staffers are interacting with way too many people than could possibly be safe, and everyone’s health is at risk. There’s also evidence that an off-premises strategy isn’t even financially fruitful for many restaurants.
Is it really worth it or is there another way to support restaurants that desperately need a lifeline as dining shutdowns and COVID-19 ravage the industry?
The answer, fortunately, is “yes.” Shortly after states began mandating dining room closures, charities and funds began popping up online. Last week I wrote about virtual tip jars for servers and bartenders out of work right now. And some of these funds go directly to restaurants themselves.
The James Beard Foundation has launched a Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund that accepts donations from corporations, foundations, and individuals to provide micro-grants to independent food and beverage businesses.
Dining bonds and gift cards are another route. The Dining Bonds campaign was started by a group of industry professionals to get immediate relief funds to restaurants. It works like a savings bond: guests purchase a bond at today’s value rate and can redeem it for full face value at a later date. Support Local lets you purchase restaurant gift cards from independent businesses in a number of cities. They can be redeemed now or, if you’re not feeling up for off-premises, later on, when dining rooms open again.
Initiatives like these aren’t a magic bullet. But they do provide some other avenues for supporting restaurants, whether you’re trying to avoid other people or just looking for a way to give a little extra help.
Running a Restaurant? We Want to Hear From You
If you’re reading this and also happen to be a restaurant owner, operator, or worker, help The Spoon help you. We’re currently collecting stories, tips, and ideas about what it’s like to actually live and work in the restaurant biz during this strange, unsettling time.
That includes anything from new strategies to make delivery and takeout more efficient to how you’re keeping yourself and your workers safe. And, this being The Spoon, any stories of how you’re using tech to help cope with this situation are most welcome. But before the tech comes the people, which is why your voice is the most important piece of our ongoing coverage and narrative.
It’s Almost Here: The COVID-19 Virtual Strategy Summit
If you’re a restaurant, food business, or food tech company, join us next week for a virtual summit on how to do business in the age of coronavirus.
On Monday, April 6 The Spoon will host the COVID-19 Virtual Strategy Summit for Food and Restaurants. No travel required to get there and 100 percent socially distant, this online summit will features talks and fireside chats from leading experts including:
- Chef Mark Brand – Founder of Save-On Meats and creator of the Token Program to feed those in food insecure situations
- Caesare Assad – CEO of FS6
- Sara Roversi– Founder of the Future Food Institute
- Dana Gunders – Executive Director of ReFED
- Phil Lempert – the SuperMarket Guru
- Paul Freedman – Professor of History at Yale University and author of American Cuisine: And How It Got That Way
- Ryan Palmer – Partner at Lathrop GPM and chair of firm’s Restaurant, Food, and Hospitality group
Keep on truckin’,