To address diminishing reservations due to Covid-19, some restaurants are thinking outside the box
by KATE KRADER / pic by BLOOMBERG
THE coronavirus has already had a huge impact on the hospitality industry in general, but some sectors have been hit worse than others. Restaurants in Chinatowns across the country are shuttering, at least temporarily, as some places reporting declines in sales of as much as 80%.
In Seattle, the disease caused by the virus has escalated so quickly that Starbucks is considering limited seating and drive-thru only. The city’s most famous chef, Tom Douglas, has announced that he’s temporarily closing 12 of his 13 restaurants after a 90% drop in business. In New York, the James Beard Award-winning chef Tom Colicchio reports that his business has gone down 70%.
To address diminishing reservations, some restaurants are thinking outside the box. At 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, Illinois, owner Amy Mills is taking precautions such as banning cellphones. “I’m a big believer in their influence, but they are one of the biggest carriers of germs,” she says.
Another way to adapt has been to introduce delivery for people who are staying home. Here are some of the ways that restaurants are getting food and drink beyond their own walls.
Grato in West Palm Beach, Florida, has started delivering orders to waiting vehicles outside its restaurant, curbside. The full menu of Italian dishes is available. Chef Clay Conley also added a family-friendly heat-an-dserve spaghetti and meatballs dinner with salad that feeds four.
Forget Uber Eats
At Restaurant Iris in Memphis, chef-owner Kelly English is rolling out medium-and large-format meal delivery. But unlike most places, he’s not contracting with a third party.
“Uber charges us 30% of the bill, and they charge consumers, too,” he says. “If we do it in-house, we can give more people work.” He’ll offer a limited menu — “people who are stuck at home aren’t looking for a gastronomic experience” — such as pan-roasted chicken with andouille, and braised short ribs with rosemary jus.
One of New York’s more innovative food operators, Sushi by Bou, will start offering nigiri for home consumption. Chef-owner David Bouhadana, who has put restaurants in unconventional spots such as hotel rooms, is offering omakase boxes for delivery that will include toro, hamachi, hand rolls and other options.
“For us the delivery industry has been looked at in a negative way, taking our profits and sometimes billing fake fees,” says Michael Sinensky, whose Simple Venues owns Sushi by Bou. “But right now, beggars can’t be choosers as far as where the revenue comes from, so here we are.”
Food Trucks Dispatched
In Seattle, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria is expanding the reach of its pizza truck. The mini-chain has begun creating family meal packs — lasagna with garlic bread, for example — and dispatching the truck to supermarket parking lots and other places that are easy for customers to access.
After a slew of cancellations, the wine bar Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels decided to bring a grassroots approach to its downtown New York location. It now delivers farro salad and cheese-and-charcuterie platters to places that are a 15-minute walk away, and it also eschews app delivery services. “We’re not on Seamless or Caviar — that’s not our vibe,” says events and communications manager Sarah Stafford. Thanks to a loophole in the bar’s liquor licence, it can deliver beer along with the local favourite, cacio e pepe popcorn.
Premium steak has never been a good delivery option: It’s difficult to nail down the temperature, given transport times. But Corrida in Boulder, Colorado, is getting into the beef delivery business. It’s cooking steaks to requested temperatures; then the delivery person stays while the customer checks how “done” they are.
Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill is also starting to deliver half-pound prime fillets and boneless rib-eye. To go with the steak, bottles of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir can be ordered as well.
New York’s Il Buco restaurants are amping up delivery of their cozy Italian menu “to
deal with the current shift in business due to the coronavirus”, says owner Donna Lennard. Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria is adding a comfort dish that, she says, speaks to the fraught moment: Bone broth. The restaurant is also offering a 10% discount to customers who come in and pick up their orders.
Peking Duck at Home
Among the specialties at the high-end Chinese restaurant Hutong in New York (located in the courtyard of the Bloomberg New York office) is crispy-skinned Peking duck. It’s the kind of dish that attracts a lot of attention when it’s served tableside. Hutong has announced it will now start delivering the duck, as well as the signature deep-fried softshell crab, for free in Midtown. — Bloomberg