The way to Austin’s heart is through its belly, am I right? We’re so lucky to live in a town with endless tantalizing tastes. But how will restaurants survive this unprecedented time? Will our favorite eateries still be there when the dust settles? I genuinely hope so, like most of us do.
My friend, Ketan Patel, inspired me to write this article. He was chatting with Marco Fiorilo from Aviary Wine + Kitchen and Christin Rowan from Nightcap. Ketan called me and asked, “Jojo, how can we help our friends at our favorite hangouts?” Great question.
From dive bar to five star, ice cream to wine dreams, lake views to cold brews, we see you, service industry. We love you. We miss you. Thanks for making Austin ridiculously special. We hope this guide to survival is helpful, and we’ll see you on the other side!
Pivot, Baby, Pivot
The word of the year for 2020 is “pivot.” Yes, it sounds jargony, but this word reinforces the fact that we must adapt–always. Whether a small business or individual, now is as good a time as any to reinvent yourself. Businesses must evolve or die out.
Below are some ways we’ve seen local businesses adapt to strengthen their roots.
Full Menu To-Go Service
Crucial Considerations for Restaurants
- There’s no greater asset than a loyal customer. Regulars who can order from their favorite spots will continue to frequent those restaurants when doors reopen. And they’ll bring friends!
- Restaurants likely have reduced kitchen and service staff right now, so they are showcasing their best-sellers. This means customers have the opportunity to try the creme de la creme.
- Phone and online ordering systems at most local restaurants were not set up for volume. Some restaurants will even need a second line. This is a gentle reminder for us all to be patient and respectful during the ordering process.
Language Matters: Takeout, Curbside, or Delivery
Here are some questions for restaurant owners to ask themselves:
- What’s our exact process flow for takeout services?
- Are our customers required to order ahead?
- Is what we offer 100 percent contactless?
- Do our customers need to pay in advance for counter pickup or curbside delivery?
- How are we communicating the process to customers?
Clear instructions save everyone time and headaches. Curbside is where customers order then pull up, text when they arrive, pop the trunk or back end from the car, and a runner places the item inside.
There’s also inside pickup, where customers order ahead, walk into a designated area, and grab the bag with their name on it. Contactless delivery should only be offered if you’re equipped for that.
If restaurants aren’t able to provide contactless curbside due to staffing shortages, explain “why” not. Austinites have an incredible capacity for empathy. More people will be willing to enter your restaurant to grab their takeout if you can explain your process clearly.
Restaurants can promote family meals as the great value they offer, no matter how you define family.
Customers get an easy dinner fix and restaurants get a large order out the door. A family meal serves as multiple meals for a couple or individual, too. I personally love getting creative with leftovers. Leftover fried chicken can turn into tacos, a pairing with brunch waffles, or even chicken salad.
We are all socially distancing, so providing experiences people can share within a household or even remotely transforms food from sustenance into fond memories. Along with cooked family meals, restaurants are having success with DIY meals. Look at Hopdoddy’s Quarantined Together Meal Kit, with all the ingredients for five cheeseburgers, truffle fry fixings, snacks, and a Nutella dipping sauce.
Yes, people still have to cook, but they don’t have to think about it. Or shop. Or prep the food. It’s a one-stop home run dinner. Several other places have this option, too. It’s solid.
Cupcake and cookie decorating kits have also been big hits lately. They’re fun and delicious! Easter celebration kits went over quite well from places like Hayley Cakes and Cookies. These are great for birthday parties, Mother’s Day, and graduation.
Eating restaurant food regularly can take its toll on both wallet and waistline. Grocery stores can feel unsafe for some of us to navigate right now, not to mention crazy wait times for supermarket delivery slots.
As an alternative, restaurants can order bulk foods and assorted goods at wholesale prices, and resell them at a reasonable price. Still a slight mark-up, but cheaper than prepared food. It works for both patron and business. Several places have seen success with pop-up pantries.
Some pop-up markets offer assorted boxes of provisions for a fixed price. Others serve as a corner store for now coveted basics like eggs, butter, and even toilet paper. Supply and demand is a real thing, folks.
Higher-end local steakhouses and seafood spots are taking the place of a local butcher shop. They’re providing quality cuts of meat and seafood for customers to cook to perfection. By showcasing recipes on their website, they can empower customers to make delicious meals with the provisions, again creating experiences and connections people are craving.
Take It Online
Quite a few local businesses are tailor-made for online tastings and classes. Below are some who appear to be rocking it.
- Antonelli’s Cheese Shop – I’m not the only one entranced by these virtual cheese classes. They moved cheese classes online to much success (more than 2,000 people have taken these classes already). Customers register and pay for the class online, pick up the cheese and other goodies at the cheese shop, then take a virtual class, live, online.
- Delysia Chocolatier – This award-winning local chocolate company has moved its popular tasting classes online. Order the chocolates ahead of time, then participate in the classes virtually. For Mother’s Day, they’ve partnered with Slate Mill Wine Collective for a wine and chocolate tasting class.
- Bake Austin – Pascal is a master at teaching baking and cooking. She has the most interesting Spring Break cooking classes and summer baking camps for kids (and occasionally adults) out there. When spring break fell by the wayside, she adapted and moved her classes online. She technically offers them for free, though donations are highly encouraged. She says it has been a lifesaver for her and her business, and keeps her busy during quarantine days.
- Winemakers, wine folks, wine clubs – Pick your favorite Texas Hill Country winery and check if it is doing online classes or tastings yet. I know Dandy Rosé has held one, as well as Pedernales Cellars.
Don’t Forget the Booze
Apparently Texans have been leading the way nationwide with alcohol purchases during this pandemic. Sorry, not sorry. Give the people what they want!
Some restaurants and small businesses have done a great job of providing DIY cocktail kits, and selling beer and wine both to-go and via delivery. This is a great way for restaurants, bars, and other small businesses to make some money with these higher profit-margin sales and bring much needed cheer to patrons’ homes.
Everybody Loves a Deal
Customer service and client appreciation matter. Many of us are in uncharted and challenging financial waters. That’s why many restaurants are offering gift cards at a discount. It’s genius! A discount makes it possible for everyone to win.
Discounted gift cards are an opportunity for customers to invest in their favorite places, and it’s also an opportunity for restaurants to instill a promise of service during brighter days to come.
The ATX Kit popped up in the middle of the chaos to support small, local businesses who usually sell their wares in coffee shops and cafes.
Buy a kit to support up to 10 local businesses. ATX Kit also sets aside 10 percent of each purchase in order to donate kits to local hospitals.
The large kits includes:
- Blueberry cardamom organic oatmeal by Oatmeal & Co.
- Beef jerky by Old Gambler Jerky
- Granola snacks by Granarly Granola Snacks
- Sea salt sourdough crackers by The Sourdough Project
- Honey by Austin Honey Co.
- Chili lime cashews by Brenham Kitchen
- Basil lemon tea concentrate by Lost Pines Yaupon Tea
- Double shot espresso by Steamm Espresso
- Stroopwafels by Stroop Club
- Mild tomato salsa by Beba’s Fresh Salsa
Watch our Instagram page to see the ATX Kit goodies soon!
Of course, Austin takes care of its own. Several businesses like Baton Creole, Home Slice Pizza, Tso Delivery, Greenbelt Kombucha, Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, and Rambler Sparkling Water, Easy Tiger, and Aviary Wine + Kitchen jumped in to offer goods, products, free meals, deep discounts for healthcare workers, first responders, or service industry workers.
These local companies jumped in right away, and Austin jumped right in to support them, through donating to their efforts to feed healthcare workers, first responders, essential workers, and service industry folks.
Crema Bakery is one of my favorite examples. Crema was one of the first restaurants to offer free meals to anyone in need (to the extent they could weekly). They also opened up a pop-up supermarket for essentials, added family meals, and now sells cookie decorating kits.
They are not snoozing on the pivot by any means. Since we first reported on Crema and their good deeds, they’ve been all over the news. People are supporting them and their good deeds, with business and donations. It’s so heartwarming. They are busy enough now to start hiring people back! What a cool story. Call it karma, call it community, call it what you will, but it is so fantastic to see Austin support those who have our back in the worst of times.
We Believe in You!
Austin restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, bars, and bakeries have opened their hearts and doors to us bloggers at The Austinot. We’ve been grateful to be invited to speak with you, dine with you, spend time with you, listening to your stories. THANK YOU from the bottom of our Austin-lovin’ blogger hearts.
A special shout out to my Austin Food Blogger Alliance, where I crowd-sourced several of the photos, and to Ketan Patel for the idea and his help!
@theAustinot wants to know:
What have you seen restaurants doing to stay afloat in this challenging time?