Few restaurants are spared from the struggle the global pandemic has created. And while patrons alone cannot save their favorite spots, we can do our best to support them.
“The majority of restaurateurs are not breaking even, let alone making money. They’re open to pay rent, to support their workers,” says Ellen Yin of High Street Hospitality. “Right now, every little piece makes a difference. Dining at the restaurant if you feel comfortable is great. Ordering directly is great. And most of us are looking at Caviar and other platforms, and that adds up, too.”
The bottom line: Purchase food in whatever way allows you to feel comfortable. But in doing so, there are steps you can take to better benefit the restaurant. Whether ordering takeout, dining in, or looking to show support in other ways, here’s what owners across the region want you to know.
Third-party services like Caviar and Grubhub take a commission from restaurants, which can range as high as 30%. In Philly, City Council authorized a temporary 15% cap on third-party delivery fees, but restaurant profit margins are slim and it remains a painful cost to absorb. Call or check the website to see if ordering directly is an option, especially if you’re planning to pick up.
“Your fees then — as a restaurant — are your credit card fees, which are up to 3% vs. 30%,” says Chad Rosenthal, owner of The Lucky Well.
Yes, delivery costs restaurants more than other options. But maybe you’re not comfortable dining out yet, or there aren’t reservations available at your favorite spot. If delivery is the only option, don’t think twice: Go for it.
“If you’re afraid to come out, I understand, and it’s well worth the percentage we pay [to third parties],” says Good Dog Bar owner Heather Gleason.
Some owners say it’s hard to break even with delivery, let alone profit. But it’s not as much about the money right now.
“Relationships with guests have to be long-term,” says Branden McRill of Fine-Drawn Hospitality, a group that runs Walnut Street Cafe, Sunset Social, and The Post. “If they want food delivered to their home, we want to do that. The money is a tertiary thing at this point.”
You decided: Friday’s a Pizzeria Beddia night. So book those pies the day before.
“You get what you want before sell-out, and it helps us control the flow of orders in a tightly staffed kitchen,” says Nick Kennedy, Pizzeria Beddia partner and co-owner of Suraya, Condesa, and R&D.
Ordering during off-peak hours also benefits busy kitchens. And if you’re feeding a crowd, call as many days in advance as you can.
Many restaurant owners have had to adjust their business models to delivery.
“Even the delivery carriers weren’t ready for this, and that’s something we don’t have control over,” says Kennedy. “Go into it with understanding and a little buffer time.”
Build in time for reheating, too, he says.
Is it rude to order a single item? Most restaurant owners say any order is currently a good one.
“If you just want to order rice, any little thing helps right now, anything,” says Tuna Bar owner Kenneth Sze.
You can critique a restaurant for its takeout, and you should, says McRill, but under the light that we’re in a pandemic.
“You have to put on a different hat. Everyone’s struggling to figure it out, operating with 70, 60, 50% smaller teams,” says McRill. “If something’s not perfect, realize everyone’s doing the best they can.”
Being punctual is always respectful. And now it’s crucial.
“We have very limited tables, and it’s so hard to move things around,” says Sze. “We also have walk-in [customers] — when they see empty tables and they’re waiting, they get angry.
Rain might ruin outdoor dining, but it doesn’t have to ruin a good meal.
“All my chefs are still here, so takeout helps cover our costs,” says Sze. “But it also helps me mentally. The pandemic is getting to me, and it’s touching and motivating when customers show support.”
Can’t keep a reservation? Ask around to see if anyone wants your table.
“It’s like if you had tickets to a baseball game — you’d give those tickets to someone if you couldn’t make it,” says McRill.
If you must cancel, give as much notice as possible. With seating limitations, last-minute cancellations are not only rude but detrimental.
“We still have people that don’t call to cancel, and that’s painful,” says Yin. “We have 20-some seats. If two people don’t show up, that’s 10% of your seating capacity.”
Be respectful of timing. Owners need to seat as many people as possible during a shift. Enjoy your meal and then leave.
“It’s not the time to linger like we used to, which breaks my heart to even say,” says Spice Finch owner Jennifer Carroll.
It’s OK to tell your server if something’s not right. It’s actually preferable.
“No one wants to have a negative review right now,” says Yin. “If you’re not happy about something, say so. We want to resolve the problem.”
Restaurant staff are taking risks because their livelihoods depend on it.
“Try working in front of a hot stove for eight hours with a mask. It’s really hard,” says Kennedy. “A simple ‘thank you’ is greatly appreciated and gives meaning in what we’re doing.”
Gift cards are like mini, no-interest loans. If everyone redeems them at the same time, there’s the potential for future cash-flow challenges. But most owners view them as positive.
“We’re just not making the money that we need to, period, and they give needed cash,” says Jill Weber of Sojourn Philly, a group that runs Cafe Ynez, Jet Wine Bar & Garden, and Rex 1516.
If you have the means, donations are welcomed, too.
“If you look at it as an experience, like going to the Barnes or the orchestra, you can write a check,” says McRill.
The Restaurant Act is a bipartisan bill that would provide $120 billion in aid to independent restaurants.
“Many of our local representatives have cosponsored the Restaurants Act, but it doesn’t count until they vote yes,” says Yin.