“Table for two, please,” has for over a month now been replaced with, “Do you deliver?” due to the COVID-19 crisis. With worldwide COVID-19 diagnoses about to hit 2 million at the time of writing, that’s going to remain the top question the foodservice industry will get for a lot longer. With in-unit dining options eliminated in most states and major cities right now, restaurant of all kinds, from independent establishments to staple chains, have needed to adapt quickly to expand their take-out and delivery options to better suit consumer needs and demand.
Some people are not willing to give up their daily latte, lunchtime deli sandwich, or Friday night takeout meal, while others are actually depending more on food-to-go than ever before to avoid supermarkets where basic supplies are low and risk of infection is greater. These extreme changes mean that restauranteurs need to get creative to continue to bring in money and keep a public that’s bored inside fed, happy and comfortable the best way they can.
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FOCUS ON DELIVERY
According to a recent New York Times article on how COVID-19 is changing the way Americans are spending money, Uber Eats, GrubHub, and other food delivery apps have seen huge spikes in purchases. While there is a complete drop-off of dine-in spending, delivery and pickups in general are way up and helping to keep the industry afloat.
Uber Eats reported on the top menu items being ordered by consumers across 35 states as they self-quarantine in their homes. Some don’t come as a surprise – like French fries being the most popular and how you can keep Pennsylvanians inside, but you can’t keep them away from cheesesteak – however one normally chart-topper for delivery is conspicuously missing: pizza.
The delivery service also reported that the top ordered drinks across the board are soda, Thai iced tea, Horchata, iced coffee, and lemonade; and popular desserts include tiramisu, baklava, cheesecake, banana pudding, and churros.
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FREE AND CONTACT-FREE
Another way delivery is forced to evolve is with many places waiving fees for delivery to encourage sales, which is especially prevalent in leading chains. Restaurants are also offering a solution to those afraid to interact with a delivery driver with “no contact” delivery, where food is left at the door. The DoorDash delivery app now defaults to “no contact” for safety and convenience for its customers, but it is also encouraged to remember that “free” should not be used as an excuse not to tip drivers for their service.
Some restaurants are taking “no contact” delivery to new levels. If you order no-contact, “cat”astrophe delivery from Crust and Crumble in Asbury Park, NJ, your pasta order will be delivered and left at your doorstep by a giant black cat (costumed mascot). In San Francisco, to avoid having people picking up food in the store, Creator offers a no-contact pickup system where hamburger orders are hermetically sealed and placed inside an elaborate pressurized transfer chamber to be delivered to the outside of the store on a self-sanitizing conveyor belt.
EVERYBODY'S DOING IT
No one is exempt from COVID-19’s influence, which means some Michelin-starred and upscale/fine-dining restaurants are also pivoting and changing their menus to fit to the takeout lifestyle. One way they are doing this is by offering simpler, delivery-friendly foods. Alinea in Chicago is offering a weekly three-course comfort food takeout menu, including revolving options like beef short rib, coq au vin, mashed potatoes, side salad, and crème brûlée, for about $40 per person, a deal unheard of two months ago at Alinea. Cote, an upscale Korean steakhouse in New York City, along with their regular menu, offers a pickup-only “steak care package,” which includes four one-pound ribeyes, four pints of assorted side dishes, and house salt blend and ssamjang sauce for $180 plus tax.
While restaurants are given some leeway in still being able to make sales as essential businesses, bars reliant on BevAlc sales are suffering without a customer base, forcing owners and staff to get creative. In Chicago, trendy bars like Violet Hour and Big Star are offering cocktail kits to-go to try to give their patrons the same experience at home. Other places like Jersey City’s Cellar 335 offers special incentives with their orders: buy $50 worth of alcohol, get a branded tiki glass free, or Harry’s Daughter, also of Jersey City, offers rum mixed drinks in large, plastic take-out containers for a reduced forever-happy-hour price. There are also delivery app options for alcohol sales, like Drizly that works with local wine, beer, and spirits shops as a third-party seller and deliverer and has said they are poised to outpace growth target for an entire quarter from sales in March alone.
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