Lessons Learned: What Some Restaurant Owners have Done to Adjust

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Approaching four months into the pandemic, I checked in with some area restaurateurs to see how they’re adjusting and what lessons they’ve learned to keep up with the changing demands.

Alex Martinez of Stefano’s Trattoria says he’s learned that the right packaging is key for takeout. “Shortly after closing the dining room, we recognized the importance of going from styrofoam to plastic microwaveable containers,” he said.

Martinez also said that he learned that delivering food is not easy if you’ve never done it before. “This can be challenging when you have no experience,” he said. Like so many other restaurant owners, he sees third-party delivery apps as necessary. And online ordering, too.

He also says his staff has learned that the timing for getting food out is different because instead of everything going onto a plate it has to be placed into containers and bagged, which is time consuming.

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Denny Tornatore of Tornatore’s Cafe & Pizzeria does not use third party delivery services, such as Grubhub, Postmates or UberEats. Besides taking a great deal of the profits – as much as 30 percent of each order – “when their drivers mess things up the customers call you and complain,” he said. So his staff has been doing the delivery and it has been going well. For those customers who come to the restaurant to pick up their orders – Tornatore’s dining room is currently closed – he tries to discourage them from coming inside the restaurant and to pick up at a tent outside the front door.

And to generate extra revenue, Tornatore’s has been offering frozen dinners and pizza kits to make at home.

Tornatore’s is also offering gift card deals. Gift cards are a good way for restaurants to generate some upfront cash, but Tornatore cautions consumers to buy gift cards from restaurants that are likely to still be around after the pandemic.

On the subject of delivery, Delaney’s Tavern is shifting to using staff to deliver food beginning next week. More on that later.

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Greg Richie said he saw a 90 percent drop in takeout orders at Soco as soon as it was allowed to have on-premise dining. “It seems places whose food, price points and concepts were designed for takeout being a main business focus are fairing the best - sandwich shops, pizza, etc.,” said Richie. “A big part of a restaurant like ours is the service, atmosphere, [and] beautifully presented food.”

Before it was allowed to reopen, Soco was offering wings, curbside ice cream cones and crispy chicken sandwiches to target that market need.

At Se7enbites, owner Trina Gregory-Propst said she’s added 15 new outdoor tables. Inside, all staff are masked and she keeps a log of every staff member’s temperature. She also said that she is exceeding the safety measures required by the CDC. “Sanitizing measures that I feel show good concern and safety measures that make sense for public dining,” she said.

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Joey Conicella, co-owner of Hungry Pants, said: “I am focusing on communication with customers and our digital audience. This means consistently posting on social media, updating hours, linking to online ordering, sending out e-newsletters, keeping the restaurant's voicemail up to date, investing in banners and signs, responding to reviews, direct messages, and special requests right away. This is a best practice for us during pre-covid times, but it's more important than ever before.”

He added that customer service and quality control are paramount because restaurants are competing for a smaller pool of customers. “Make sure the food you're serving is perfect,” he said. “Just because restaurants are at 50 percent capacity doesn't mean guests should be getting a 50 percent experience.

“It will remind people why they love eating out so much.”