Diners are already doing their part to help D.C. restaurants as they fight to survive the economic strife of COVID-19 by ordering take-out and delivery. Others who aren’t able to patronize restaurants right now are donating to community organizations supporting the hospitality industry, or directly to restaurants’ GoFundMe pages set up to help laid off staff.
Restaurant staff report feeling grateful for any orders that come in, but also stress that there are ways to be a better take-out and delivery customer during the crisis. Some are experimenting with to-go food for the first time because it’s their only option, while others are trying to do the work of 10 people with two or three staff members.
Chefs and owners shared the following tips to maximize impact:
Get your order in early.
You may have encountered restaurants posting messages that they’re pausing new orders because they’re overwhelmed. Don’t automatically assume they’re swimming in a money pit and don’t need more business. “Their kitchens are set up to serve dining rooms, which are normally seated in more paced ways, unlike online orders,” says Buttercream Bakeshop owner Tiffany MacIsaac. “Everyone eats at prime times. If you can order earlier or later, that’s a huge help.” She suggests placing orders before 6:45 p.m. or after 8 p.m.
Most restaurants that have decided to stay open for take-out and delivery are not operating with their full cast of employees, which can make it hard to keep up with demand if the lion’s share of customers want dinner at 7 p.m.
And there’s only so much room in the oven. “If ordering is turned off, trust that it is for a reason and we are working as hard as we can to get back online,” says Timber Pizza Co. and Call Your Mother co-owner Andrew Dana. “We are operating with one third of the staff we’re typically used to, so we are all still figuring it out!”
Cut back on special requests and modifications, when possible.
“Limit special requests and modifications,” Dana adds. “Restaurants are working with skeleton crews right now, so special requests are extra hard to fulfill. If it’s a true allergy, of course we will work with you.”
Some restaurants, like The Red Hen, list a number to call if you need to discuss allergies before placing an order.
If you can swing it, pick-up is paramount.
Food & Wine’s Khushbu Shah penned a poignant essay arguing that “it’s time to delete your delivery apps.” Because every dollar counts, restaurants have been pleading for third-party delivery apps like UberEats, Grubhub, and Postmates to reduce their rate during the crisis. Their commission typically hovers around 30 percent of a sale.
Frustrated with some companies’ lack of willingness to be team players, some cities are taking a stand. Last week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed instituted a commission fee cap of 15 percent. City Paper has contacted Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to see if such a measure is worth exploring in D.C.
When a customer picks up an order at a restaurant it eliminates the middle man and ensures that every buck goes directly to a restaurant and its staff. Espita Mezcaleria co-owner Josh Phillips urges customers to consider pick-up. “We avoid fees that way,” he says. “But if you pick up, please pay online. Any interaction we can avoid is a plus. Also, please wear a mask to keep our team safe when you pick up your food.”
“Picking up the order also allows gratuities, which are often very generous, to go to the tipped employees of the restaurant and eliminates one point of contact,” says Schlow Restaurant Group Executive Pastry Chef Alex Levin. “That’s not feasible for everyone if distance is a factor.”
If you are unable to pick up food, consider that some restaurants are handling delivery themselves. Before pulling up an app, call your favorite restaurant to determine the best approach to ordering.
Check a restaurant’s website for instructions or tips.
“Follow the directions on our website or doors so that everyone remains safe,” says Cork Wine Bar & Market co-owner Diane Gross. She adds that customers, who don’t see what they’re looking for online, should call the restaurant. “We’re happy to help people over the phone get exactly what they want. Also let us know if you’re flexible on delivery—do you need that case of wine today or just in the next two or so days?”
Answer your phone.
“If you’re expecting a delivery, do your best to make yourself available via phone during the delivery window,” says Will Hand, District Doughnut’s director of sales and marketing. “Deliveries to apartment buildings or tricky addresses leave the driver with little recourse if the customer doesn’t answer, or when the customer isn’t there to receive the food. The driver may have to wait a while, which has a ripple effect on his next deliveries. Also, add any special delivery instructions whenever possible. Everybody wins with a prompt delivery handoff.”
Duke’s Grocery managing partner Daniel Kramer calls for patience, compassion, and empathy for everyone involved—from the person in front of you in a pick-up line to restaurant staff. “Everyone is in a state of flux, especially restaurants,” he says. “The pivot from dine-in to takeout and delivery is not as simple as just putting something in a to-go box instead of on a plate. The entire operation is different and please trust that we are doing our absolute best in exceptionally difficult circumstances.”
Restaurant owners or employees with additional tips can contact Lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com