COVID-19 has changed the landscape completely, as delivery and carryout dominate the scene.

There’s a shift happening in the restaurant business right now and it’s completely unprecedented. Firstly, unless you offer take out or delivery, you’ve likely been ordered to close down. If you do serve off-premise meals, you’re probably serving only a fraction of the meals you used to.

Coronavirus has everyone up in arms, wondering where they can go, what they can eat. The entire industry, and its customers, is reeling.

And while the situation changes every day, some restaurant operators are adapting.

Nick Kokonas, co-founder of Alinea in Chicago, operates Tock, a reservation system for restaurants. In the past six days, he’s built Tock To Go and is unable to keep up with demand as restaurants shift their model to offer to-go and delivery only.


He has 430 restaurants waiting to start selling via Tock, he says, around 40 percent of which is new business since the coronavirus took hold, he says. In addition, “30 to 40 restaurants contact us every hour and we’re working 24/7 to both get them going and show them current best practices of what the community is doing around the world to try to reemploy people.”

Masseria, a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant in Washington, D.C., is one of the restaurants that has launched a delivery program, but it’s in-keeping with the usual food the restaurant offers.

Guests can choose from three tiers of dinner: Dinner for two ($85); dinner for two with a paired bottle of wine ($135); dinner for two with a paired bottle of vintage wine ($225).

Owner Nicholas Stefanelli and his team are creating a new Masseria a Casa menu each week (name of the new program). The first week included Long Island duck confit; slow-cooked veal and Sunday ragu.

Inside Masseria A Casa, A Michelin Starred Fine Dining Restaurant In Washington, D.C

Every day, Masseria updates what’s on the menu.

Stefanelli has opted not to partner with a third-party delivery company, but is instead using his entire staff—and himself—to deliver meals, using the restaurant’s catering van, their personal cars, and even a Vespa. Meals are delivered between 4 and 6 p.m. “We’re down a lot of people right now but we’re trying to grow this with a core staff and layer in more people as we grow it,” he says.

The restaurant is getting the word out via social media and an email blast to its database. Every day it updates what’s on the menu.

The way Stefanelli sees it, he has two responsibilities: To his staff and to his customers, but he admits it’s hard to keep up with the speed of changes. “We lay out one set of plans and then it changes, but you have to just rip the Band-Aid off.”

Canlis in Seattle may be credited with kicking all this off. This Pacific Northwest institution switched from offering fine dining to a drive thur and delivery service, which is a complete change of business.

The parking lot has been reconfigured to accommodate five drive-through lanes, and the restaurant offers food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menus are short: three items plus ice cream for lunch, all priced at $14 or under. For dinner, Canlis offers one family-style meal per day, and it’s delivered within 20 minutes—or that’s the goal. Dinners are meals such as prime rib with twice baked potato, salad, sourdough focaccia; and whipped mascarpone with blueberry-poached pairs for dessert. Dinners are $60 per person, and wine can be paired with them, but dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.

The restaurant’s doing what it can. As Canlis’ website states: “Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now. Instead, this is one idea for safely creating jobs for our employees while serving as much of our city as we can.”

Also in Seattle, fine dining Filipino restaurant, Musang, has created Musang Community Kitchen to provide food for those in need. While the restaurant is forced to be closed, it’s both providing food and accepting donations.

It started off serving 100 meals a day and most recently it served 200. These are available for anyone, no questions asked, owner Melissa Miranda says. She’s trying to look out especially for those in the restaurant industry who’ve been laid off; she’s been delivering to local hospitals to take care of front line workers; she’s partnering with local schools to get food to children. All meals come with a bag of groceries from the donations. The meals are mostly the same food as that served in the restaurant.

An Empty Table With Wine Glasses With A View

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Miranda prefers that anyone wanting a meal call ahead so she can limit the contact people have while waiting outside the restaurant. No one’s allowed inside.

In Miami, Ember is offering delivered meals, but has also launched a to-go butcher shop, offering cuts of meat and vegetables so people can cook at home with high-quality ingredients. Also in Miami, Abaco Wines & Wine Bar is open for appointments only, to offer no-contact wine to customers.

Emilie’s, in Washington, D.C., has already gone through a few iterations of the new business normal, but for now it’s settled on pickup. Instead of offering its full menu, it’s focusing on sandwiches, salads, rice bowls and noodles “because the high-end, nicely plated dishes don’t carry well,” says Johann Moonesinghe, one of the restaurant’s investors.

However, what’s been a surprisingly big seller are market-type items like bread and jams, which are made in-house, he says. “There’s been a shortage of these things so we’re looking at what people in the neighborhood need.” This also means the restaurant can continue to keep the baker employed.

The restaurant is only doing pickup and eschewing its usual business with Uber Eats, “to avoid the 30 percent fee,” he says. “We need every dollar of revenue.”

Emilie’s is just trying to maintain a placeholder on the business, Moonesinghe says, and exist in “survival mode,” without making a profit. “It’s about keeping the business on life support and then, when things are back to normal, we can ramp back up again. We’re trying to minimize the difficulty of that re-opening.”

Stefanelli is also not even trying to turn a profit. “We’re just trying to keep our head above water.”

“Everyone’s afraid to gather in restaurants but we’re trying to bring a little happiness and keep the wheels turning,” he says.

The beverage side of the coin

It’s not just the comfort of food Americans are craving in these uncertain times. Some of us could really use a drink. The D.C. Council passed an emergency bill on Tuesday to allow restaurants to sell alcohol via takeout or delivery, which should add a nice boost to many checks.

Consumers can’t just order a bunch of alcohol and get tanked; they have to order some food, too.

One of the restaurants taking advantage of this new rule is Tiger Fork, which is partnering with its neighbor sister restaurant, Calico, to offer cocktails in juice pouches, similar to those used by Capri Sun. It’s offering some cocktails from each restaurant, including an adult fruit punch, a lavender lemonade and a whisky-ginger-lime cocktail. It’s also offering its traditional Chinese medicine cocktails, which tout benefits like immunity or anxiety relief. The cocktails cost $8 to $12. Bottles of wine are 50% off, and the restaurant offers discounts on sake.

Consumers can’t order the booze through Tiger Fork’s delivery service, Caviar, so many customers are calling the restaurant to add it on to their delivery, says owner Greg Algie. And almost every order contains a drink order, too, he says.

In Chicago, fine dining restaurant Alinea, which is offering one dish per day plus dessert for $34.95 per person, is offering margarita kits, and co-owner Nick Kokonas reported on Twitter that the restaurant’s sold $5,600 worth of them.

Maybe in the new normal, drinks will be a nice new addition to delivery orders.

Chef Profiles, Consumer Trends, Feature