All across the restaurant world, owners are rushing to reassure patrons that they’re taking steps to combat the coronavirus.
Your inbox is probably filling up with emails from individual restaurants and restaurant chains, pledging to be vigilant.
“We know it’s starting to feel a little uncertain out there,” Chicago restaurant owner Rick Bayless said in an email to his customers on Thursday.
“Just know that we’re in here, continuing to deliver generous-spirited hospitality to everyone who walks through our doors.”
But fears are growing that a drop in business will harm or even kill restaurants whose margins are already thin.
There are things you can do, however, to make sure that your favorite place stays open. Here’s a list.
1) Go out and eat. The restaurant industry has been galvanized into taking steps to make their dining rooms, restrooms and kitchens the cleanest that they’ve ever been.
We know that the coronavirus spreads in two ways: from surface contact, and from airborne transmission.
At least when it comes to surface contact, you can be pretty sure that your place is wiping down as much as it can.
Likewise, smaller crowds mean less chance that you’ll catch an infection that way, even though there are no guarantees.
Of course, some states are banning assemblies of larger groups, which might affect whether your favorite is open.
But, if you are comfortable leaving the house, and they are welcoming customers, go have a good meal.
2) Honor reservations. The worst thing you can do right now is book a table and then change your mind and not show up. It’s always a bad idea but in this environment, it will really play havoc with their staff and inventory planning.
Likewise, it’s truly bad form to make multiple reservations, and then choose from one at the last minute. You’ll simply make a number of places unhappy.
“Don’t ‘ghost,’” Bayless said in his email to customers. “We kindly ask that if you choose not to join us for your reservation, please inform us in advance. It’s OK!”
3) Opt for carryout or delivery. On its Instagram account Friday, Saba in New Orleans launched a curbside delivery service.
Many other restaurants have offered them, or have pick up areas where you can dash in, get your food and leave.
It’s a better deal for restaurants if you collect carry out yourself, rather than use a delivery app. That helps the restaurant — and you — avoid delivery charges.
But if you don’t feel like driving over, delivery is your back up choice. Be sure to tip your delivery person.
4) Buy gift cards and merchandise. Restaurants collect gift card revenue as soon as the card is purchased, then mark it as redeemed once the user applies it to a bill.
If you are in a position to buy a gift card and sit on it for a while, you will be helping your local favorite get through a tough time.
Likewise, merchandise can be big profits for restaurants. They make money on t-shirts, cookbooks, mugs, water bottles, and the like. They’re walking advertisements, too, and they show that you’re lending your favorite place a hand.
5) Tip your server. I’ve seen people asking on social media whether they can send tips directly to their favorite servers, to offset the money they’re losing by the drop in patronage.
That’s a lovely idea, but the situation can be a little complicated. First, you have to know your server well enough to have their email or cellphone number.
Second, servers are supposed to declare tips as income, and pay the appropriate taxes.
If you send the money through an app like Venmo or PayPal, there will be a record of the transaction, and the server might get in trouble if they don’t later report it, and the IRS catches them.
That’s why some servers prefer to be tipped in cash.
Also, you need to look up your state’s tipped wage law, if it has one. A number of states require restaurants to cover the shortfall between tips and the minimum hourly wage, usually for employees that are working 30 hours or more per week.
If their hours get cut, they could lose out, even if you try to make up the difference.
Before you do this, make sure it’s on the up-and-up. And also, be considerate of your server’s pride if you make them an gratuity offer.
I’m an alumni of the New York Times and NPR. I learned to cook from my mom, and studied with Patricia Wells and at Le Cordon Bleu. E: email@example.com T: @mickimaynard I: @michelinemaynard Sorry, I don’t honor embargoes.
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