With rising concerns about public interaction during the coronavirus outbreak, Chef Daniel Kedan took to Facebook on Thursday urging customers to try takeout from his Forestville restaurant instead of staying away altogether.
“If you are not comfortable dining in at this time, please call in a to-go order (yes our entire menu is available to go!), or buy a few gift certificates now, that you can redeem in the summertime when we are a lot busier,” said the owner of Backyard.
It’s just one strategy many Sonoma County food industry players are proactively taking to buoy in an already-difficult situation.
Operating on thin margins, most suffered significant financial losses during the 2017 and 2019 wildfires and subsequent power outages. With tourism lagging, COVID-19 is yet another hit.
“Hospitality based businesses are going to be hit the worst in this. We’re trying anything to keep business coming in. I’m not sure how we as restaurants will survive another catastrophe,” Kedan said. “We will be pushing (our whole menu) to-go so we can keep people employed,” he added.
“Just over here holding my breath wondering what will happen,” said Samantha Ramey of Estero Cafe in Valley Ford. “I’ve heard from other (restaurant) owners that sales are down approximately 30 percent. We haven’t seen that, but obviously we have no idea right now,” she said.
Ramey and her husband opened Americana in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square last week, and though she is concerned, she said that they too will begin focusing on trying to offer pickup options.
Catering companies are already seeing huge impacts.
“Our cancellation rate is unprecedented,” said Tim Duffield, Senior Catering Manager for the Flamingo Hotel. “Even during the fires we didn’t see a cancelation rate that we’re seeing now. I’ve canceled 70 to 80 percent of the events over the next two weeks,” he said.
That included a planned catering event for 150 people on Thursday that was called off with less than 24 hours notice. Most of the food had already been prepared, he said. The client paid for the food and decided to donate it to a local charity.
At Ulia’s Delicatessen in Santa Rosa, foot traffic has dropped and two events were canceled, but business catering has skyrocketed. Office workers uncomfortable with leaving work and busy healthcare workers have put in hundreds of orders recently, according to Andrea Bostrom, catering and marketing manager at the deli.
“We have we have an order next week that goes up to about 500 people,” Bostrom said. The deli also had an order of 300 sandwiches for on Thursday.
Just Leave It Outside
Delivery is an option many restaurants already offer and others are seriously considering.
Companies like Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Food Jets and PostMates deliver food for restaurateurs, but it can come at a high cost.
“We were talking today about having a curbside pick up. But man, setting up delivery is a whole other ball of wax. Kudos to those who can swing it,” said Davis. Delivery services charge business owners up to 30 percent of the total bill. With slim profit margins those extra costs can crush small businesses.
With so much uncertainty, reservations from out-of-towners are also a concern. Reservations for dates weeks or months away are already dropping off, according to Dustin Valette of Valette restaurant in Healdsburg.
Throughout the day Thursday, local restaurants simply addressed stringent sanitation policies and safety measures via email or on social media.
“Relax your mind and feed your soul. We’ll continue to focus on a clean and safe meeting place so you don’t have to. A friendly reminder that we’ll always be here for you. Come let us share our love through delicious food and warm hospitality,” said Dino Bugica of Diavola and the Geyserville Gun Club on social media.
Alisse Cottle of Brew Coffee and Beer House suggests customers purchase a golden latte.
“We are so thankful that our community continues to support us and let us feed and nourish you during these stressful times. We are happy to take call-in orders for you to swing by and pick up if you wish. We recommend a @sisterharvest botanical cocoa or golden latte to nourish and boost your immune system.”
Or, you could always eat a cookie.
“We are going to be promoting that we ship and deliver,” said Tracy Mattson of Cookie! Take a Bite. “Cookies can make things a little better,” she said.
Restaurants could still be in for a rough ride. In Seattle, well-known chef Tom Douglas has announced that he is closing 12 of his restaurants temporarily, according to the Seattle Times. He reported that his sales were down 90 percent since the outbreak which has all but shut down that city.
Here’s what other restaurants are saying…
Don’t want to dine out with the crowds? Then order take out from La Gare,” said a post from the longtime Railroad Square restaurant. They’re offering both their regular and gluten-free menu with the perk of VIP pickup parking in the alley next door.
Susie Pryfogle of TIPS Roadside restaurant in Kenwood said they’re already letting nearby residents in Oakmont, Kenwood and Glen Ellen know that they’re offering takeout and delivery from their restaurant.
“While we’re so grateful for all of our customers that are supporting TIPS Roadside every day, we also recognize there are many in our community that are increasingly worried about venturing out. We’re excited to begin our local delivery service so that those customers can still enjoy amazing food from the comfort of their own homes,” she said..
“Stockhome is getting signed up,” said Andrea Lunsford Sundell of her Petaluma restaurant that’s popular with families. She’s planning to use the Petaluma Food Taxi, a local delivery service.
“McNears is going to be sending menus for 10 to 100 for lunches for Petaluma businesses delivered and dropped or served with 24 hours notice. the meals we will be serving are buffet style. We will deliver them and serve the meals or not, depending on what the customer wants. our menus will be published tomorrow,” reports Ken O’Donnell.
Dry Creek Kitchen will be doing more “to go” options
Delivery of chocolates, toffees and other treats: Rainy Day Chocolates