After the start of state-mandated shutdown on dining in at restaurants and bars in response to the novel coronavirus, several neighborhood establishments are contending with offering delivery for the first time. Now, they are facing a slew of unexpected challenges — from changing their menus to figuring out new logistics on a split-second basis.
“If you’ve decided to stay open, you are now, whether you like it or not, a ghost kitchen,” says Scott Landers, the founder of delivery consultancy Figure 8, whose clients have included fast casual pizza shop &Pizza and Mexican-American chain Mexicue.
For some of the city’s newly opened restaurants, the biggest challenge will be finding a customer base that didn’t exist before. Myo Moe and her partner Daniel Bendjy opened their highly anticipated Burmese restaurant Rangoon in Crown Heights just four weeks ago, and while the neighborhood has been very supportive, they say, the duo is unsure about staying afloat in the coming weeks. “This has hit us like a ton of bricks,” says Bendjy.
Rangoon is currently only available for takeout, but Bendjy is in the process of reaching out to third-party services like Grubhub for delivery, while Moe is tweaking the menu to make it more delivery-friendly. The hope is to add lunch for takeout and delivery, too.
But it’s less about turning a profit and more about staying afloat; they had to lay off their team of seven and will be managing the kitchen and operations between the two of them. “We are just trying to survive however we can,” Moe tells Eater.
New menus are also a matter of importance — many restaurants that rely on dine-in customers don’t currently serve food that’s delivery or takeout friendly. Businesses that relied on composed small plates or family-style shared plates have to do some adjustments, like celebrated Gowanus Oaxacan restaurant Claro.
The restaurant, known for dishes like a raw tuna tostada, will be offering items like a chicken soup, a baked potatoes dish, and two types of mole, one with braised short rib and another with chicken thighs. The restaurant is also selling masa by the pound for homemade tortillas; it’s all on Grubhub, with plans to be on Caviar by the end of the month.
Williamsburg Vietnamese restaurant Bolero will offer delivery for the first time this week, but it’s posed a challenge for owner and chef Matt Le-Khac, who says the family-style meals at the restaurant were all about bringing people together.
“It’s a strange feeling to have built the Bolero experience to bring people together around food and the atmosphere of the restaurant, sharing family style when now it’s the very thing that this city needs to avoid,” Le-Khac writes in an email to Eater. Le-Khac is considering sharing a link to his favorite 60s Vietnamese music that plays in the restaurant so people at home can listen to it while eating Bolero food.
Landers says that restaurant owners pivoting to delivery have to figure out who their immediate neighbors are — a reality that has changed now that many regular commuters are staying home all day — and how to build a menu that caters to them, plus marketing and logistics to run the operation.
Some delivery services are waiving the 20 to 30 percent commission fees that they typically charge restaurants to operate on their platforms, but even those financial breaks are fuzzy, Landers says. Though Grubhub announced that it will be “temporarily suspending” fees for “impacted independent restaurants,” it’s unclear what qualifies as an independent restaurant and when Grubhub will eventually come to collect.
Even restaurants that have done some delivery in the past are worried that the complete pivot to delivery and takeout for the immediate future might spell doom for their business.
Jackson Heights restaurant the Queensboro has been a neighborhood favorite for the past two years, but owner Dudley Stewart says delivery was never a big part of their business. Close to 90 percent of the shifts at the restaurant will no longer exist in the coming weeks as the restaurant transitions, Stewart says.
“This crisis is going to be an extinction event for restaurants and bars in the city,” Michael Fuquay, a co-owner of the restaurant tells Eater. “NYC restaurants are part of the vulnerable population right now. We’re scared of what’s to come.”
The common thread among all these restaurants is the level of uncertainty, and many of them fear they might not make it through this crisis without some type of assistance from the government.
“We’re very scared of what’s coming up,” says Fuquay. “We need our elected officials to step in and put in some extraordinary measures.”