13 Mar Jonathan Cartu Declare: Bay Area restaurants turn to delivery, takeout amid coronav…
As more and more people work from home or stay there because of the coronavirus, Bay Area restaurants are trying to figure out ways to offset massive drops in business. Some hope delivery, takeout and curbside pick-up will ensure they can remain open.
At some restaurants, delivery already seems to be a shining light — restaurateur George Chen, for example, said delivery is up 15% at his San Francisco restaurant China Live in Chinatown even though dine-in business is down.
In response to the coronavirus, Postmates is waiving all of the fees a business would normally have to pay to use their third-party delivery services in the Bay Area.
“It’s trying to find this balance of being responsible and safe, but also making sure we’re able to stay in business and employ the people we employ,” said Lex Gopnik-Lewinski, owner of Augie’s Montreal Deli in Berkeley.
For people staying at home, delivery offers a way to get a restaurant meal with little human interaction. For the restaurants, they hope to stave off full-on temporary closure, as two Oakland Chinatown restaurants recently did. In Seattle, the hardest-hit American city, a restaurateur closed 12 restaurants.
Even fine dining restaurants that would normally never box up their intricate dishes are giving it a try. All Alexander’s Steakhouse locations in San Francisco and Cupertino are in the process of signing up with several third-party delivery apps, as well as the Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in Palo Alto. The restaurant group’s director of public relations Marilyn Skinner said the restaurants are typically frequented by tech workers who are now staying home. Soon, they’ll be able to eat Alexander’s Steakhouse’s $225 kobe beef on their couch.
Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Lord Stanley began offering takeout for the first time this week. That includes the entire a la carte menu: hen of the woods mushroom tempura with smoked mayonnaise; Dungeness crab chawanmushi with nori and crispy capers; pan-fried kanpachi with kohlrabi, cucumber and curry broth. Chef-owner Rupert Blease is even toying with the idea of offering a tasting menu format in the future if there’s demand.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to do the exact same thing as we’d do in the restaurant.’ Plating is going to be very different,” he said. “We’ll put in a pamphlet for how to put the dishes together with reheat times if there is any need.”
Blease doesn’t want to put Lord Stanley on third-party delivery websites — and neither does South of Market sandwich favorite Deli Board, out of fear of what might happen to the food as it travels between the restaurant and the customer. That said, companies like DoorDash and Grubhub have announced they provide drivers with health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and allow customers to request drivers leave their food outside their door.
“We always tried to stay away from these delivery apps, but now it’s become apparent it’s necessary for our survival,” said Shawn Camacho of Mission District restaurant Prubechu, where business is down 50%.
Prubechu launches delivery for the first time next week via the delivery app Caviar, owned by San Francisco’s DoorDash, as well as a streamlined online ordering and pick-up system, taking advantage of the restaurant’s parking lot. Customers will be able to order from a limited menu — empanadas, caramelized potato soup and new Chamorro Express Bowls featuring fried chicken, barbecued pork ribs or charred cabbage over red rice — and have the restaurant bring the food to their car.
Similar to Prubechu, Augie’s Montreal Deli has an order-by-text-message option that allows customers curbside pick-up so they never leave their car to get a sandwich. Dine-in business at the deli is down 80% from last week. San Francisco wine-focused restaurant the Morris is launching curbside takeaway for its entire menu as well as retail wine with at least two hours notice; customers can order via email.
Meanwhile, some restaurants are temporarily transitioning to takeout-only operations. C&M Restaurant in Oakland Chinatown, Oakland beer garden Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack and Oakland’s Monster Pho have shuttered their dine-in areas completely but are still offering to-go roast duck, pizza and Vietnamese noodle soup, respectively.
Yet some are surprised they aren’t seeing the demand for takeout and delivery they anticipated, including San Francisco mini-chain Escape from New York Pizza, which has its own drivers and doesn’t charge delivery fees.
“It seems people are also afraid of having anyone else delivering their food or introducing anyone else in their home,” said Korey Reynolds of Bay Area chain Tacolicious, where delivery orders are down 25%.
He noted how people have been clearing out the shelves at grocery stores — and may balk at the cost of ordering delivery through a third-party app at a time of uncertainty.
“As they’re staying home, they’re also looking at the economic downturn and the stock market,” he said. “They’re thinking, ‘Maybe instead of ordering delivery where I end up paying 30% more than if I went into the restaurant, we’ll just cook here.’”