The journey restaurant owners and workers have made in the past 14 months is well documented – from need to Make a case for outdoor dining and dealing with incredibly high expectations for dinner to Dealing with the enforcement of masks when their rooms began to open again. Stories like this from restaurant owners and workers (and the broader industry conversations that have inspired them) are a reminder of how difficult it is to work in restaurants – this year and always.
So we asked restaurant owners to be open about everything, focusing on where they are at this moment of the national reopening: Tiffany Derry of Roots Chicken Shak and the upcoming Roots Southern Table, both in Texas; Douglass Williams of Mida in Boston; and Michael Schall, the owner of Locanda Vini e Olii in Brooklyn.
Below you will find easily edited excerpts from the conversation that are part of our conversation Eater Talks series of eventsas well as a full video recording. For restaurant owners looking for more helpful information, see our statement on the $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. And for diners looking for ways to support the restaurant community, check out Eater’s How to Help guide.
Restaurant workers have mixed feelings about getting back to work.
Tiffany Derry: “I had an employee that we just hired who made $ 8.75 an hour in the last two years at his last restaurant where he was an assistant manager. You can’t really do anything with that. Obviously he was trying hard to get on board [with us] where he would almost double us.
But the truth is, right now it’s not necessarily all about the money. I think there is a lack of trust in the industry, the fear of “I have to find something more stable that won’t shut me down”. And I think people are realizing they need a lot more. “
Michael Schall: “It’s tough in New York. We struggled to find people both in front of and behind the house. Some people have left town, but I’ve spoken to a few people who just think they don’t want to work in restaurants anymore. But we were able to keep our employees. During the winter, even before I knew what was going to happen, I knew we couldn’t afford to lose our kitchen team. So I told them that I would guarantee their salaries over the winter. Because of that, I’ve pushed this food program and meal sets – just found things that keep them busy, whether to repaint our outdoor structure or how to find hours to keep them on. Because I knew that once we got through it, we might not get it back. “
Derry:However, I believe that people will come back. I think that in a few months it will calm down and we will get an influx of people trying to work – and hopefully they don’t jump around anymore than in the past. “
The closure forced restaurant owners to rethink the old ways.
sound: “We lost some employees, but that coincided with the fact that we were streamlining our processes. Before the pandemic, we had six to seven cooks in the kitchen for a full house, and now we have four; We used to have six to seven servers on the floor, now we have four. Our restaurants have been in operation for over 20 years and it was a machine where everything was exactly where it should have been and which moved seamlessly. Then March comes, it’s like a bomb went off. When we got back it felt like we were picking up the pieces of this old restaurant and figuring out: do we want to do things the way they were? Or could there be a better and more efficient way to provide service while still maintaining hospitality and compassion? “
Douglass Williams: “COVID has taught us a lot about surgery and what is needed and how to trim the fat where we don’t need it. We were pretty lean and mean already, we thought we were this little engine that could – and we still are. But now we have to grow into a new version of ourselves. ”
One thing restaurants are re-examining: third-party delivery services.
Williams: “[When the pandemic started] we already had Grubhub and all that stuff; It wasn’t a huge part of our sales, but it didn’t have to be as we ate indoors on a regular basis. … Hopefully it’s not forever a part of our business that we have to rely on as the main part of our sales. It got us through and did its job during the pandemic; Now that we come out, we see that [share of revenue from third-party delivery] shrink again as we watch the indoor food increase. “
sound: “I decided about two weeks ago to get out of Grubhub, Seamless, Caviar and Doordash. They took up 20 percent, and as we get busier now that it’s nicer, my kitchen was supported with all these orders from the platforms that we don’t make a profit on. Because 20 percent, if you’re lucky, is really your profit margin on an order. Why should my kitchen have to rely on all of these things, even when I reach customers? Now that we see the other side, it’s like holding on, I don’t want to spend so much anymore, and there is an alternative that is much friendlier to restaurants. “
Derry: “We always push everyone through our website because that is the best value for us compared to the other websites. I think you just have to find out if it is worth it for your business or not. For us at the moment it’s worth it as it’s a big part of our business. And we’re just figuring out which sites we’d like to stick to the most. “
Reopening also means redefining the customer’s standards.
sound: “The customers are also from the field. There are many new rules that are new to everyone. As much as we need them to obey the rules, we must also try to approach them as compassionately as possible. Coming together as we are all together and still able to offer hospitality feels different now, but I think it is possible. We had to reinvent everything from our menus to ordering online. ”
Williams: “It’s about making it feel as safe and normal as it needs to be. We try to do it the best we can for the person who feels this at least Feel comfortable in a particular situation and try to make our decision about how to proceed The Person feels. I think that attitude worked well for us. It’s less about how each person walking through the door might feel about a [mask] mandate [or another policy];; It’s all about us as a community. “
Observe the entire panel conversation::