“I don’t think we’re basing our decision to open the dining room on the government mandate. Obviously that’s the greenlight to do it, but we’re not going to just hit the gas pedal right away. We’re going to try to take a look at the broader picture of things. Being in [Florida], there’s a big push to reopen the economy, but maybe that’s not the smartest thing to safeguard our employees and their health,” Meyer says. “And it’s a business decision. We can’t turn a profit with seven seats.”
Size may be to Boia De’s detriment for dine-in service, but it has been an asset in terms of maneuverability. The restaurant, which just marked its first anniversary in June, metamorphosed over the course of two days into an exclusively off-premises operation—no analytics reports to run, no hoops to jump through, Meyer says.
Boia De’s medley of high-end Italian dishes was distilled and tweaked to not only simplify back-of-house prep, but to also offer options that would travel well. So while items like the beef tartare (hanger steak, tonnato, shallot-garlic crumble) were ferried over to the takeout menu, others like the tortellini in brodo with duck consomme and foie were omitted.
Meyer and Giangrandi also added new items, plus one throwback hit, namely La Pollita Fried Chicken. Prior to opening Boia De, the duo had already made a splash in the Miami dining scene slinging chef-prepared tacos and fried chicken from their food truck, La Pollita. They also had experience with all-day menus through a consulting project for a hotel.
“I think that background was really helpful. … We had some recipes and some ideas already that we knew were successful,” Giangrandi says.
Ingredient prices have also played a part in carryout menus. In San Francisco, the longstanding Pier 23 Cafe Restaurant & Bar typically serves a wide array of seafood, from raw oysters and ceviche to clam chowder and grilled octopus, in a scenic spot overlooking the bay. The restaurant employed dedicated takeout windows to adapt to dine-in bans and streamlined its menu not just to fit carryout, but to also make the business more cost-effective.
“We’ve been forced to limit our menu, and due to erratic price changes in produce, meat, and fish it’s hard to determine what will make sense for our future menu. Of course, we’ve maintained our faves like Fish & Chips, fish tacos, Crab & Shrimp Louie Salad, and they’ve done well as takeout items,” says marketing manager Lei Levi. “Overall, what this crisis has taught all small businesses is you have to be nimble, informed, … and open to change if you want to survive.”
While the pandemic forced all restaurants—independent and chain—to adopt many facets of the quick-service model (streamlined menus, portable dishes, quicker throughput, etc.), some changes went beyond the boundaries of foodservice altogether. For instance, many operators have expanded their offerings to include fresh produce, nonperishable goods, and other sundries that were historically in the grocery realm. Restaurants that already did retail, or at least had the foundation for it, found it to be a lifeline when their dining rooms closed and menus tightened.
In Nunnelley, Tennessee, Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile adapted to the dine-in bans by leaning into its roots. The property, which dates back to the 1920s, was originally a general store. When Mee McCormick and her husband Lee took over in 2015, they transformed it to include a restaurant and biodynamic farm, but the couple never abandoned the mercantile side.