Foods & Culinary

NYC’s upscale take-out and delivery bubble is emptying

As the weather warms and the number of indoor restaurants increases nationwide, the New York City take-away-and-delivery bubble begins to burst. Several upscale restaurants – most recently the trendy red sauce spot Carbone and the two-Michelin-starred Momofuku Ko – have suspended take-out and delivery services to focus on expanding outdoor and indoor dining. Others, including Miss Ada, Llama Inn, Llama San, and Atoboy, offered takeaway or delivery during the pandemic but have since retired those services.

“We never liked the business,” said Juan Correa, co-owner of the renowned Peruvian restaurants Llama Inn and Llama San, in an email to Eater. “The business fees are prohibitive, the food is not good, and frankly my team is tired.” Correa is not alone in his worries. The decision to end takeout and delivery is taking place amid a major shift in the hospitality industry where business owners are willing to sacrifice another potential source of income to focus on the customers sitting in their dining rooms.

In the final year of the coronavirus, restaurant owners across the city reconfigured their business models and turned to untapped revenue streams to help them stay afloat. For many high-end companies, this means making unprecedented take-away and delivery forays, and bringing a Michelin-starred meal sets, $ 800 sushi sets, and homemade Korean barbecue to New York for the first time .

The result of the pandemic-inspired innovation? New York City’s takeaway and delivery choices have never been so good – and may never be again.

Cooks work in Llama San's open kitchen while guests dine at tables in the back room

The dining room at Llama San was photographed in November 2019

Louise Palmberg / Esser NY

Neither Momofuku Ko nor Carbone offered takeaway and delivery before the pandemic. Both restaurants launched their services last year, initially to stay afloat and later to add to their outdoor and indoor operating results. Other restaurants that fall into this category – too good to take away in normal times, but too tenacious to fail during the pandemic – are now taking steps to return to “normal”, which often means life before take-out and delivery .

“It’s time to become the restaurant we were in before,” adds Tomer Blechman, the head chef behind the Israeli restaurant Miss Ada in Fort Greene completed The take-out and delivery program earlier this month will focus on reopening the dining room.

Blechman said it was necessary to offer takeaway and delivery options at the start of the pandemic when government-mandated restaurant closings prevented indoor restaurants from serving indoor customers. “It was 100 percent of our sales,” he says. However, over time and the reopening of New York City for al fresco dining, those services made up a smaller proportion – about 25 to 30 percent – of Miss Ada’s business and more of a headache.

During the pandemic, a select group of foods – stews, biryanis, enchiladas, and other cheeky creations – stood out from the crowd because of their shelf life for take out and delivery. Blechman serves many of these products in the form of mezze, containers of hummus, kebab, and whipped ricotta cheese, which “travel really well,” he says. But packing other dishes, including the restaurant’s harissa chicken and za’atar salmon, two of the most popular orders, “didn’t feel good.”

“I usually touch every plate that comes out of the kitchen,” he says. “Whether I run it, plate it, or cook it, I can see it and know it’s right.” This level of consistency and care was not possible with more temperature-sensitive dishes, especially after half an hour on the way.

Blechman said his employees also encountered issues with takeaway customers and third-party deliverers crowding Miss Ada’s front door and entering the restaurant to inquire about orders. There just wasn’t enough space in the restaurant’s dining room to serve customers and process orders, he says. The return to the “normal” became a choice between food and delivery.

“It was a tough decision to cut it off,” says Blechman. “We had a really good run with the delivery, but we want to make sure the people in the restaurant get the best service and food. We look forward to getting back to normal. ”

A dining table with several dishes, two orange drinks with ice cubes and a few decorative, palm-sized cacti

Ugly Baby has reopened for indoor dining in Ril, the first indoor service in more than a year

Jessie Jacobson/Eater

Not all restaurants are making such efforts to leave the take-out and delivery programs they created during the pandemic behind. “If you’re considering a wider choice of restaurants, I wouldn’t expect it to work in the same way,” says Scott Landers, founder of Figure 8, a company that consults restaurants on how to do take-away and delivery able to offer.

As the number of indoor restaurants increases, more high-end restaurants are likely to end their takeout and delivery offerings, especially those places that got their name from dine-in service, he says.

Yet many others, including those who work outside of store fronts with narrow walkways and smaller indoor dining rooms, have permanently changed their business models during the pandemic to include takeaway and delivery. “Some restaurants have made major investments in delivery and see it as part of their long-term business,” says Landers.

One such restaurant is Ugly Baby. When the Carroll Gardens Restaurant reopened for indoor dining earlier this month – its first indoor service in over a year – Chef Sirichai Sreparplarn brought back an expanded version of the take-out and delivery menu he introduced during the pandemic. And it’s supposed to be here to stay. “We plan that take-out and delivery will be an integral part of our business in the future,” a spokesman for the restaurant told Eater.

This is partly because Ugly Baby was able to avoid some of the problems restaurants like Momofuku and Miss Ada got out of the take-out and delivery game. In addition to the open-air kitchen, which is visible from the Ugly Baby’s dining room, the Thai restaurant has a second kitchen on the ground floor, where employees can process take-away and delivery orders without affecting the indoor service.

According to a restaurant spokesman, the dining room of the Ugly Baby offers space for 20 people with an indoor capacity of 50 percent. Even so, leaving behind takeout and delivery is not enough, even if the restaurant wanted to. “A Stop-G measure has been initiated, but we have to continue working for take-away and delivery,” says the restaurant spokesman.

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