Take-out food during the coronavirus crisis
Only one thing is certain about the future of restaurants amid the coronavirus crisis: Takeout, delivery and curb service will get better. It has to.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms in mid-March, the industry went on hold, with a million workers at risk.
The only food that restaurants could sell would have to be taken home. No waitstaff, whether polished or annoying. No grand decor or ear-breaking noise levels. No brilliantly plated entrees or squiggles on small plates.
Nothing but the food.
“It’s culinary Darwinism,” one restaurateur told me: Evolve or die.
Meanwhile, many eating venues scrambled to enter an area they long avoided — takeout. It’s hardly new. Fried chicken, barbecue and pizza, fast-food drive-throughs are part of the landscape — and our GI tract. In the last decade, UberEats, GrubHub, Door Dash and kin have brought any restaurant to the willfully homebound. And smart chains like Bloomin’ Brands began to build curbside and express service into their restaurants.
Amid the pandemic, the quick and the savvy quickly switched to takeout only, including Outback, Carrabba’s, P.F. Chang’s, the D’Amico group, Bartaco, Denny’s, Bulla Gastrobar, American Social and more.
Some even renamed their operations. Miami’s Brad Kilgore turned chef-driven Alter into Alter Q, including porchetta and bean stews and a takeout butcher shop.
Tampa star chef Ferrell Alvarez has made Rooster & the Till into Rooster Redux, serving $20 three-course meals (salad, roast chicken thighs, cauliflower brunoise with chocolate-chip cookies) and faves from his other two spots.
Naples’ Vincenzo Betulia cooked up short-rib tortelloni and foie gras emulsion to go at Osteria Tulia and steak frites at his brasserie.
Forget small plates. The focus is on entrees large enough to feed a family and starters in party sizes — comfort food as well as a full box of chicken from Miami’s hot Yardbird, for example, or Montego Bay chicken and sides from Clearwater-based Rumba.
Even white tablecloth Bern’s Steak House in Tampa has takeout, including Chateaubriand beef tips and white truffle mac and cheese as well as fine steaks. Bern’s Haven offered Korean shrimp rolls and coal-grilled octopus to go. Classy Campiello in Naples is doing its cavatelli with country pork ragu, for one or the famiglia. In Miami, Peruvian Pisco y Nazca had its glamorous ceviches and as well as chicken chaufa for families.
New Trends ...
More Than Tonight’s Meal
Bay Star Restaurants in Clearwater is selling fresh produce from suppliers and uncooked steak, as does the mighty Bern’s.
Brad Kilgore’s Alter Q also has a big range of dry goods, from flour to trash bags.
Look for restaurants to sell more specialty products for home cooking after the shutdown as well.
Opening the Cellar
Gov. DeSantis gave restaurants dispensation to sell wine and liquor stock to the public, and restaurants across the state did so for takeout at 50% off and much less. Let’s hope this experience teaches them that markups have been way too high.
New Brick and Mortar Recipes
Quick thinkers put up tents and party awnings in empty parking lots to create an instant drivethrough lane for curbside pickup.
New restaurants will have to include larger, more attractive areas for carryout customers.
The innovative headless kitchen (all kitchen, no tables) is now alive in places like Orlando’s nine-menu Kitchen AF, Ghost Kitchen and at Outback/Carrabba’s Express in Tampa.
Serving the Servers
The most unusual and generous response came from Bakan, a cool, artisanal Mexican restaurant in Wynwood, Miami. It closed its doors and offered no takeout, choosing instead to use all its food to prepare meals for its employees. Bakan has joined chefs Brad Kilgore, Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz and other Miami food stars in a Go- FundMe campaign to support unemployed restaurant workers.
In the Driver’s Seat
Some restaurateurs are buying mopeds and tiny cars for their own fleets to take control of the process, cutting out the percentage charges of delivery services and putting at least some unemployed servers to work.
Pricing for the Times
Prices have to be lower, for now and during recovery. Family bundles from $30 to $55 feed four to five. A bistro supper for two to go may cost less than a single entree and drink did B.C.\
Do you tip the delivery person or the one who brings it curbside? If so, how much? Some restaurants note that prices now include a percentage shared with all kitchen and crew. Encourage that to continue.
Successful operators will try to bring the restaurant experience home, too. Maybe a surprise serving of house-baked rolls, breadsticks or potato chips, bubble gum, tea bags. Or inedible fun, crayons, recipes, postcards or links to the chef’s favorite tunes or TV binging. Not just a sad sack.
Bigger servings need bigger containers, including casseroles, pie tins and now-hip sheet pans (aka hotel pans). The artful garnishing on restaurant plates will give way to better-looking bags.
Look for smart branding to replace generic white and plain kraft brown. Or they’ll be brightened with stenciled brands or crayon work.
Styrofoam is out of fashion, but paper’s putting on the style in stripes, check colors and prints, including Asian designs and faux newspaper.
Containers are changing shape, from boring into elegant pink macaroon boxes, ubiquitous bowls, tall soup buckets, nifty gable boxes and French fry cones — a full spectrum of color.
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