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Guide: Restaurant Reservation Platforms during COVID-19

As several restaurants start to plan their reopening strategies during COVID-19, many restaurateurs may be interested in signing up for a restaurant reservation platform to plan out and control dining crowds, as well as to help with other priorities such as take-out.

I looked into a few platforms and found some useful information about what platforms are doing to help and how owners can take advantage of this as they manage Coronavirus.

  1. OpenTable: Arguably one of the most popular online reservation platforms is OpenTable. For years they have dominated the space, but also have been quite expensive for restaurateurs to use – which has led to their clientele being mostly high-end restaurants and diners. OpenTable is waiving subscription fees through the end of 2020 and cover fees through September 30th, 2020 as well as a 50% cover fee discount through the end of 2020 for restaurants who sign up for their “Open Door” pricing program. Standard subscription and cover fee pricing will be reintroduced in 2021. The large customer base that OpenTable has could be a draw for restaurateurs. Make sure to read the fine print though as always.
  2. Resy: One of OpenTable’s big competitors, Resy, is also offering no fees through the rest of 2020 for restaurants. It applies to both existing and new restaurant partners. They have added new features like a Mobile Waitlist, Automated Capacity Monitor, and Takeout and Contactless pickup are also in the works.
  3. Tock: Tock is a reservation and takeout/delivery platform that is ran by Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Several of the people running and advising the platform are hospitality industry affiliated names. Many of the members of Tock seem to be smaller, local restaurants. Fees start at $199 a month, Tock has waived fees through the end of May for restaurants.
  4. Yelp Reservations: One of the more expensive options has a flat rate of $249 a month, but is integrated with Yelp which is one of the busiest websites online for restaurants. There are no cover fees, setup fees, or web access fees added on for monthly service. Yelp offers table management and waitlist management. Yelp is offering 3 months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist through the end of May 2020 as part of their COVID-19 relief. Call (844) 889-1617 to sign up.
  5. Eat App: This platform has some features in place to help restaurants navigating COVID-19 including switching to reservations only, the ability to change floor plans, configure shifts to automatically restrict covers, manage capacity minute by minute, and waitlists. They also offer phone integrations, custom tags and notes, SMS capabilities, and contact list information as well as other features. Pricing starts at $129 a month which is one of the lowest in the pack.

These are just a few of the tools out there for restaurants looking to get back on their feet during COVID-19. You will also look into your POS system and see if there is features on there for reservations or if it is compatible with these services.

As always, be sure to read the contract terms before proceeding with any deal.

Good luck!

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Preparing your restaurant for COVID-19 changes

The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is drastically changing the restaurant industry like never before. Numerous restaurant chains and corporations are changing their entire business models to try and survive in this quickly moving economic scenario. Many will not survive.

Dine-in traffic is imploding as more Americans wake up to the fact that COVID-19 is very contagious and that social norms of dining out just won’t work for the forseeable future. A vaccine could be at least 14-18 months away according to some experts.

How can you prepare your restaurant for this new reality? Here are a few tips:

Pivot to delivery and take-out

Delivery was already rapidly growing before COVID-19 entered the mix. The number of people ordering on Uber EATS, DoorDash, and the like has been growing rapidly over the last few years even though those business models have yet to become profitable.

You should explore each delivery platform to see which one works best and think about how you can make the numbers add-up to make your business succeed on the platform. If you can provide your own delivery, consider that as well.

Consumers will be spending more time at home and no doubt many will not want to cook 24-7, which is an opportunity for your business to sell to customers directly in their homes.

To be successful you will need to make your list of products available to be as competitive as every chain on earth and local businesses trying to stick around all go online. You may need to simplify your menu to more profitable items and adjust with to online habits.

Make sure to calculate and ensure that there is an operational way to move forward during this time if you choose to do delivery – you will most likely need to scale labor to how much traffic you can pull. Several restaurants in Oregon recently realized that their business models were not built for delivery.

Most delivery services will claim anything from 10%-30% on delivery fees. Consider offering a discount for take-out service to convince customers to pick-up their own orders.

This won’t be easy in the least and your business will no doubt still suffer from the lack of dine-in traffic, but if you want to survive this may be the only path forward.

Prioritize safety and cleanliness

During a pandemic virus, people are going to be very nervous about cleanliness and whether their food is being handled with care, whether it is for delivery or pick-up. Safety and cleanliness for both customers and employees will be key.

The last thing you want is for an investigation to be done into your restaurant for making people work sick and for negative press to accumulate.

At the high stress levels people are experiencing right now, the chances of this happening may actually be quite high. Consider paid sick leave and absolutely do not allow sick workers to come to work and find a way to compensate them.

Institute plans for how you will verify that your workers are healthy and able to serve and be transparent with your customers about how you are protecting their safety.

It goes far beyond just an e-mail and will need to be done regularly as cases come up in the news about outbreaks in restaurants.

Consumer confidence is the key during this time. Any indication that customers should not eat at your business may lead them running to another one or instead to the grocery stores.

Marketing + Social Media could give an advantage

Social Media will be an important way to maintain your brand and still reach customers who will be either working from home, going to school at home, or just home – depending on how economic forces change in the next few months.

Don’t forget that many platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer targeted advertising so you can reach your ideal customers. While it’s true that your budget is certainly strained, if you use it wisely it will pay off.

Remember to think about what people want to click and not just what you want to say.

Consider other ways to reach customers like e-mails and text message outreach. Most customers will have be spending more time online and you need to reach them there.

Brainstorm daily deals or packages that customers can draw on like family deals, couple deals, or themed deals.

Even if your business does end up closing during this economic time, maintaining your online presence may keep your brand alive for the future when everyone eventually gets back on their feet and outside. Come up with a marketing plan that reflects this.

If you’re a known chef or restaurant consider making videos at home with cooking tips, advice for people on grocery shopping decisions, use Facebook LIVE and Instagram LIVE, there are tools out there that you can use to try and keep your brand going in this time of uncertainty. Stay in front of the face of your customers.

Reach out to influencers and media

Influencers have already-built channels as does the media that may be locally tied to your business. Many influencer events, cross-promotions, and advertisements have been canceled as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark.

If your restaurant is going to continue fighting to stay in business, consider reaching out to influencers and to the media. Consider how you can position your business in a way that is relevant to their audience during this difficult time.

Influencers have an interest in maintaining their outreach during this time and no doubt probably have some extra time on their hands. Consider how you can reach out to them in a way that is beneficial for your business…after all you want people to reach out to your business for takeout and delivery right?

As for the media, this may become more tricky as many media companies are experiencing an exodus of advertisers due to COVID-19 which is straining their staff. As with any other time period, the key is relevance for the media. Subscribe to all media sites and channels and watch what they are talking about. Follow journalists on Twitter.

When you see something relevant to your business, reach out. There is a public interest in helping both local businesses and restaurants during this time, but first you have to reach out to get your story out there. How are you coping? What are your plans for your staff? How can they help you? Messaging is the key.

Support other businesses and organizations

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on a wide range of businesses including many local ones and organizations that are involved in helping our communities. Consider how your business can help those other groups out.

Your business will be stronger by working with others and supporting each other. Restaurants have always played a big role in the communities around them, but during COVID-19 you may need some out of the box ideas to help your fellow community partners out. They will be sure to return the favor if you do.

The “social distancing” required during COVID-19 will make people feel isolated, but if your business is proactive and tries to bring people together for a group or cause it could make a difference. Share posts from other partners in related community fields on your feed or important government updates. We are all in this together!

Questions or looking for more advice? Reach out at CarlosEats[at]gmail[dot]com or fill out my contact form.

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Do This: Order produce from local farmers this Thanksgiving in SF

This Thanksgiving consider ordering a fresh produce-packed Bounty Box from Clement Street Farmer’s Market and help support local farmers who have lost their restaurant accounts due to COVID-19 restaurant closures.

Orders must be placed by this Tuesday, November 17th for convenient pick-up on Sunday, November 22nd at the Clement Street market. The cost is $30 per box. Limit of 2 per customer.

CalFresh/EBT participants can use their funds to purchase a Bounty Box at a 50% discount, $15.00 per box.

Bounty Box sales have brought over $215,000 directly back to the farmers’ pockets.  Since April 2020, AIM (Agricultural Institute of Marin) has curated nearly 10,000 Bounty Boxes.

The Bounty Box is available weekly on-demand (no subscription necessary) and is filled with fresh, nutritious and seasonal produce Bounty Box items are sourced directly from the farmers who participate at AIM’s Clement Street/SF, Marin Civic Center, and Grand Lake Oakland farmers markets.

Find more information at bounty-box.org.

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NEWS: Golden Gate Restaurant Association statement on the closure of indoor dining in San Francisco

San Francisco, CA: “We are very disappointed San Francisco has announced closing indoor dining effective Saturday, morning, November 14th. Although our foremost concern remains with the health and well-being of our community, we do anticipate immediate negative effects; including more restaurant closures, both short-term and permanent, significant job losses, and numerous employees losing health insurance coverage.  

We are also concerned the level of financial stress on employees and their families will result in increased mental health issues as well as stress related illnesses. With winter on the way, limited indoor dining represented the only real hope for many restaurants to survive the next three months. As we have said before, the majority of restaurants simply cannot make it financially on takeout alone. With the uncertainty around further federal support, San Francisco restaurants, their employees, and their families will suffer greatly. 

We understand the rate of cases increasing (the slope of the curve) is steeper than our last wave in the summer, and that this caused real concerns by Dr. Aragon and Dr. Colfax as to the possibility that our healthcare system could easily become overwhelmed. While there seems to be no reported causal link between dining inside in San Francisco restaurants and the increased San Francisco case numbers, we continue to remind our members to follow all COVID-19 safe practices and guidelines. 

Given that our industry is being asked to sacrifice financially, we call on our city leaders to help our industry survive by offering immediate financial aid to our restaurants and our employees. We also call on Congress to pass the Restaurants Act now to provide critically needed dollars to keep restaurant workers employed.”

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Krispy Kreme launches caramel glaze flavor

Krispy Kreme’s new Caramel Glazed Doughnut and Salted Double Caramel Crunch Doughnut are available starting Monday, November 9th for a limited-time at participating shops across the U.S.

What’s new?

  • Caramel Glazed Doughnut: the classic Original Glazed® Doughnut covered in rich caramel glaze. ​
  • Salted Double Caramel Crunch Doughnut: the Caramel Glazed Doughnut dipped in rich caramel icing, and sprinkled with salted crunch topping.

“There are a lot of caramel lovers out there and if you’re one of them, this doughnut is going to blow your mind,” said Dave Skena, Chief Marketing Officer of Krispy Kreme. “It’s incredibly delicious and you’re going to need to take a moment for yourself and just be one with caramel awesomeness. It’s been a year, to say the least. You’ve earned it.”

Share your caramel glaze moment with Krispy Kreme’s Caramel Glazed Doughnuts by using #KrispyKreme and tagging @krispykreme. For more information about the new Krispy Kreme Caramel Glazed Doughnuts, please visit www.krispykreme.com/promos/caramelglaze.

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NEWS: Metropolitan Ministries says need for holiday assistance soars way beyond projections

Metropolitan Ministries was expecting a big challenge and preparing to serve as many as 40,000 families this holiday season due to hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The need is even worse than anticipated, and the nonprofit now expects those numbers could climb to 50,000 families in need of aid. 

With CDC recommended precautions in place, Metropolitan Ministries opened its first-ever online registration process on October 28. Flooded with requests for help, the host server crashed in the first few hours and continues to be inundated. A more robust system had to be implemented to handle the volume.  

To meet the need, Metro has turned itself inside out and expanded its reach to six counties through 65 distribution partner locations in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, and new this year, Manatee and Hernando counties. Nearly half, 23,000 households, will be served through the partner sites and 1,200 homebound individuals will receive deliveries. 

The demand for nonperishable food is a real concern amid the pandemic. Food collection drives are down by 50% versus 2019, and the ability for the Ministries to make bulk purchases is more limited. 

The only way that Metropolitan Ministries can meet the need is with the support of the Tampa Bay community. Food donations can be dropped off at the main holiday tent in Tampa or at various partner locations.  

Most needed items: canned yams, stuffing, cranberry sauce, boxed potatoes.

Metropolitan Ministries accepting donations via Amazon and other retailers shipped directly to the holiday tent at 2609 N. Rome Ave., Tampa, FL 33607. 

For information about locations and how to help go to metromin.org/holidaycentral   

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Why #ImVotingFor Joe Biden

4 years ago Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. After a quite insane general election, what came after was 4 years of complete chaos. As a millennial who lived through the 2008 financial crisis, the economy was finally improving in the mid 2010s.

The years were filled with contention. On the first day of Donald Trump’s election my friends reported being attacked in public with racist attacks and being told to “go back” to where they came from despite being Americans.

It was a preview of what was going to come. We saw white supremacists organized and marching in Charlottesville and in other cities in what eventually led to this summer filled protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Trump refused to condemn these vile people. Never in my life as a Puerto Rican have I faced discrimination until Donald Trump became President. Suddenly simply wearing the Puerto Rican flag was met with sneers and looks and rude comments about how I’m supposedly not American.

Hurricane Maria and Irma came and killed thousands in Puerto Rico. Donald Trump and corrupt conservatives in Puerto Rico colluded to declare the disaster a success story (I will never forget the paper towels), but the people who live in Puerto Rico know that their people were abandoned and left to die by the most powerful country on earth. Murals around the island show the deep pain the island was left with as they saw their own die without help. George Bush did more for Haiti than the United States did for a dying Puerto Rico.

Hundreds if not thousands of little children have been separated from their parents in immigration camps and the number of scandals including the sterilization of women are massive human rights violations. Many people were brutally sent to their death despite begging and pleading to be saved. What happened to America saying immigrants are our neighbors? All America was founded by immigrants. It is the one thing that makes us unique.

Finally as we entered the final chapter, Coronavirus came to the United States. The first major pandemic to plague this nation since the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Over 235,000 Americans are now dead from COVID-19 and at least 9 million Americans have been infected with the virus. The White House knew it was coming, but chose not to tell the public to avoid “alarm”. They did warn their donors to brace for impact though.

As a food writer, I have been forced from the thing I love which is dining at restaurants and forced to choose between my health and my family’s health. Thousands of people have lost their businesses and millions have been laid off. Over 20 million Americans are unemployed that we know of. Americans are begging for food in massive lines.

At least in 2008 I could go get a burger inside a restaurant while the economy was imploding without feeling like I was going to become sick.

We are now at 100,000+ cases of Coronavirus occurring with no end in sight. Millions are being evicted. Republicans refused to pass stimulus aid to help the economy, but made time to add Justice Barrett to the Supreme Court. This isn’t sustainable. We cannot continue like this.

Joe Biden is not a perfect man. I disagree with him on a number of issues like immigration and fracking, but here is what I do know. I know Joe Biden will listen to Dr. Fauci. He will listen to our healthcare experts and do what he has to do to restore the health of our country that has been so horribly disrupted by COVID-19.

He will pass stimulus aid and help our ailing economy and not just help the rich who have escaped the pandemic economy unscathed. We face numerous challenges including massive death of Americans and Joe Biden is the only candidate who is equipped for this job. He has done it before.

The Obama Administration left a pandemic team behind in 2016 that Trump dutifully disbanded in 2018. This entire pandemic was completely avoidable. We need to bring the pandemic under control or our economy will not recover or grow. We need leadership back in our government. We need to listen to our scientists again.

I am tired of worrying if my family is going to die from a plague that the White House recklessly has allowed to swallow our nation for their own greed. I am tired of worrying for my own health.

The virus is not a hoax. The doctors are not profiting off death. This is not the flu. We are dying.

That is why #ImVotingFor Joe Biden and I encourage you to do the same.

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NEWS: Reservations now available for SF Restaurant Week opening and closing dinners

San Francisco, CA – Reservations are now open for Eat Drink SF’s opening and closing dinners for SF Restaurant Week at The Vault Garden, Oct. 23, and at EPIC Steak on Nov. 1. Menus and pricing details are below. 

Opening dinner: A Taste of San Francisco Friday, Oct. 23, 5 to 8 p.m. The Vault Garden, San FranciscoThis socially distanced outdoor dinner features a collaborative multi-course experience designed by all-star chefs Robin Song of The Vault Garden, Jason Halverson of Hi Neighbor Group, Staffan Terje of Perbacco and barbacco, Reem Assil of Reem’s California, Belinda Leong of B. Patisserie and Routier and Angela Pinkerton of Pie Society and Pinkerton Confectionery. This one-night-only meal includes a welcome beverage and two desserts. $175, including all taxes, fees and gratuity. Tickets on OpenTable [View the menu here]

Closing dinner: A Waterfront Surf and Turf Experience from Waterbar and EPIC Steak: A Night of Gratitude Sunday, Nov. 1, 4 to 8 p.m. EPIC Steak, San FranciscoIconic San Francisco Bay views and live music from The Henry Coopers accompany a welcome cocktail and a sumptuous five-course surf and turf menu from the culinary teams at EPIC and Waterbar, led by acclaimed Executive Chef Parke Ulrich. Courses include Maine Lobster Beggar’s Purse, Venison Carpaccio & Crispy Oysters, Roasted Bone Marrow and Dungeness Crab Gratin, Classic Beef Wellington & Smoked Uni and Fall Apple Galette. Specialty cocktails featuring Maker’s Mark and Sipsmith Gin will also be offered.$127, including all taxes, fees and gratuity. Tickets on OpenTable.

Virtual events with ChefsFeed Eat Drink SF 2020 is coming to your home thanks to ChefsFeed. The line-up will include Kim Alter of Nightbird, Simileoluwa Adebajo of Eko Kitchen, Samir Mogannam of Beit Rima and Rebecca Pinnell, formerly of Bon Voyage! Details coming soon.

Find more information visit them online at sfrestaurantweek.com.

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NEWS: Early voting starts today in Hillsborough County

Vote By Mail has been breaking records in Hillsborough County this election, but it’s not the only option. For voters who prefer to vote in person, Early Voting begins Monday in Hillsborough County. In Hillsborough County, Early Voting is open for 14 days, from October 19 through November 1, 7AM to 7PM, including weekends.

Hillsborough County voters can choose from any of 26 Early Voting
locations to vote. This is different from Election Day, when voters must vote in the polling place assigned to their precinct. Each Early Voting location will also have a curbside, Vote By Mail drop-off tent for voters who want to turn in their Vote By Mail ballots in person.

“We are a large county and I want our voters to have plenty of options, so I’ve added extra sites and we will be open the maximum number of days and hours allowed by law,” said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. “In these uncertain times, I encourage voters to vote early if you can. If you get sick, or someone you care for gets sick, you may not be able to vote on Election Day.”

Early Voting for the General Election includes two new sites, at Amalie Arena and Raymond James Stadium. The voting sites in those locations will be similar in size to other large Early Voting sites in the county,
including the sites at several libraries and the University Area Community Center.

The elections office has taken extensive measures to ensure the health and safety of in-person voting, and has posted a video preview on the 2020 General Election page of their website.

Only a limited number of people will be allowed inside to ensure social distancing, and surfaces will be cleaned throughout the day. Poll workers are required to wear masks at all times, and face shields or plexiglass barriers will provide additional protection.

Supervisor Latimer asks that all voters wear masks and will have them available for voters, if needed. And, voters will get their own combination stylus/pen to sign in and mark their ballot.

“With ongoing cleaning and limited capacity, in-person voting will go a little slower, but once voters are inside the polling place, they should be able to move through quickly,” said Supervisor Latimer.

Voters should bring a Florida Driver License or other acceptable photo and signature ID for voter checkin. If they forget their ID, they can vote a provisional ballot to be verified by the elections office. The full
list of accepted IDs, along with a list of Early Voting locations, can be found on the Early Voting page of VoteHillsborough.org.

“The drive-up Vote By Mail drop-off tents are a contactless way for voters to cast their ballot in person, so I expect this option to be popular. We’ve sent out more than 405,000 Vote By Mail ballots and we want to
see those voted ballots come back in,” said Latimer.

Voters can still request a mail ballot online at VoteHillsborough.org or by calling (813) 744-5900.

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List: Tampa Bay + Orlando Restaurants maintaining social distancing rules despite Governor DeSantis

For some strange reason the Governor of Florida decided to move Florida into Phase 3 of the reopening from Coronavirus. There are no statewide rules on capacity or restrictions in restaurants in bars. Just weeks ago bars and breweries were closed due to the spike they contribute to the pandemic.

Governor DeSantis is now calling for packed football stadiums in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 15,000 Floridians and over 219,000 Americans in just a few months.

Some restaurants and bars said they will still maintain rules though and the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County have pledged to maintain things like mask rules in place (for now). Here are some of the places that are pledging to maintain rules:

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NEWS: Golden Gate Restaurant Association creates new dining program for 2020

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in San Francisco is announcing a new dining program to support the local restaurant program which has been struggling due to COVID-19. The dining program is called: “Eat Drink SF Presents: 10 Days of Dining, Culture, and Community”.

The program will begin with an opening dinner on Friday October 23rd and run through Sunday November 1st.

The itinerary will explore neighborhoods throughout San Francisco with a focus on outdoor dining, Restaurant Week-style prix fixe menus., exclusive to-go options, virtual demos and forums as well as ticketed outdoor seated dinners, while keeping a focus on the current SF Department of Public Health guidelines.

Eat Drink SF has been around since 2009 and was created to celebrate the SF Bay Area restaurant community as a “world-class culinary destination”. This year proceeds will go entirely to participating restaurants, chefs and bartenders without an additional charitable partner involved.

The first event will be at The Vault Garden in San Francisco on October 23rd from 5:30PM to 8:30PM (reservations soon to come). The final event will be at EPIC Steak in San Francisco on November 1st from 5PM to 8PM.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has existed since 1936 with a mission to “celebrate and empower the restaurant community through advocacy, education, marketing, events, and training”. It is a San Francisco-based membership organization comprised of restaurant members of all sizes and profiles.

For more information visit them online at eatdrink-sf.com.

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Statement: Small Businesses Aghast at Trump stopping COVID Relief Negotiations

Today President Trump announced an end to the stimulus talks with no hope before Election Day. Main Street Alliance Executive Director, Amanda Ballantyne shares this:

“For Trump to stop negotiations on urgently needed relief, stating he will only resume negotiations after he “wins” the election shows callous disregard for millions of Americans suffering extreme financial hardship. The President appears willing to take the economy down with him if he fails, at this point.

Small business owners across the country are aghast at the short sightedness of this refusal to move an aid package. The failed leadership of the Trump Administration to control the pandemic and keep the economy on track will drive many small business owners to close and lead to prolonged economic hardship for working families in this country. Main Street Alliance members and small businesses across the country have been clamoring for months that additional support is necessary to avert a prolonged, protracted, costly and livelihood destroying economic crisis.

Small businesses have waited far too long for needed relief, and the consequences of delay have meant hundreds of thousands of closures impacting the labor market and economy. This is no time for political brinksmanship. Senate Republicans must come to the table and take action.”

Main Street Alliance is a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues.