Restaurants Serve Up More Than Meals as Customers Must Eat at Home
by: Jennifer Waters | CoStar News | April 21, 2020
Financially starving restaurants are turning to new ways to keep cash registers ringing as dining rooms close to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That means menus now feature $5 dinners, free caviar or Michelin three-star meals made to reheat at home.
Sure, curbside pickup and delivery have taken on new levels of popularity not even considered a month ago as consumers keep craving their favorite restaurant meals or simply grow tired of cooking. But who knew Panera would be as willing to sell a whole loaf of bread and avocados as it would a more profitable roasted turkey and avocado BLT?
Or that Capital Grille would hawk a 22-ounce bone-in prime ribeye steak — raw — packaged with house-made seasoning and steak butter to prepare at home? At the start of the 2020s, this kind of culinary outreach would’ve been considered blasphemy to high-end dining establishments that give their service and ambiance equal weighting to the gastronomy coming out of their kitchens.
Abnormal times call for atypical and innovative behaviors as more than 1 million U.S. restaurants struggle to stay in business as COVID-19 takes tens of thousands of lives.
Restaurants that turn themselves into mini grocery marts create a twofold reward, said Melissa Wilson, a principal at Technomic, a restaurant industry tracker and consultant.
“It’s a pretty good traffic generator because consumers are frustrated with the patchwork of availability of many things in the supermarket,” she said. “It gives restaurants a way to monetize their ingredients. Plus it keeps the supply chain going.”
Before the coronavirus, new restaurants, food halls and food trucks were popping up as cash-rich gourmands gobbled farm-to-table handheld chow and complex multi-course epicurean plates. The restaurant industry was on track to post $899 billion in annual sales in 2020, a 4.2% increase over last year and a better-than-52% hike from 2010, according to the National Restaurant Association. The group hasn't offered any new forecasts for this year.
The future holds the answer to the numbers. But until then, here’s a look at what some restaurants are doing in the pandemic:
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Einstein Bros. Bagels bills itself as “your neighborhood bagel shop,” but is now selling meal kits designed to keep children entertained for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner. For $9.99, there’s the Take & Make Bagel Pizza Kit that includes six fresh-baked bagels, pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni.
A Hot & Ready Brunch Box that feeds six to eight costs $29.99 and includes six fresh-baked bagels, a tub of shmear of your choice, one farmhouse egg sandwich, two bacon and cheddar egg sandwiches, four blueberry muffins and four orders of twice-baked hash browns.
Located in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, this popular Latin restaurant has turned into a specialty pantry, offering skirt steak, ribeye, marinated pork chops, frozen arepas and tortillas. There’s frozen pão de queijo that can be baked at home and chilaquiles meal kits. Colonia also seeks donations for soup for a Brooklyn Hospital staff member. The caveat here is that there is a $50 minimum on deliveries.
The fast-casual restaurant known mostly for its bakery goods and fresh sandwiches and soups is operating what it calls Panera Grocery, “from our pantry to yours.” As expected, it includes the ingredients one would find at its restaurants: baked breads, bagels and cream cheese. But you can also pick up yogurt, a gallon of milk, a bag of tomatoes or a carton of blueberries.
Chicago’s only three-star Michelin restaurant with celebrity chef Grant Achatz manning the kitchen has yearlong wait lists to venture into one of the restaurant’s three distinct dining rooms. But with those rooms closed, Alinea is offering comfort food designed to be reheated.
The menu changes daily, but it’s likely to include something such as coq au vin with a side of mashed potatoes and a salad dressed in mustard vinaigrette and a dark chocolate pot de crème. A night out at Alinea could cost north of $395 per person; a night in with Alinea’s coq au vin is priced at $39.95.
Some two dozen restaurant owners in the Thai Town area of Los Angeles known for its large Thai population, have assembled a joint discount menu with dishes for as little as $5.
Some of the East Hollywood neighborhood’s most popular eating establishments such as Pa Ord, Lacha Somtum, Sanamluang Café and Sapp Coffee Shop are in on the deal. At Sapp, for example, the $5 dishes include pad see ew and chili garlic with basil over rice, a meat dish offered with pork, chicken or beef.
Regalis Foods, an importer of exotic fungus and seafood to some of New York and Chicago’s most revered restaurants, is looking to unload an overstock of black kaluga caviar before it goes bad this summer. Through its Instagram account, it is giving away an ounce of the opulent roe with orders of $250 or more of products usually sold directly to eateries. Sysco and US Foods, the nation’s two largest wholesale food providers, are offering products too.