Lily Dorstewitz, Staff Photographer
For the past year, restaurants have shifted their operations to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. An S&P Global Market Intelligence article found that from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2020, restaurants were one of the top five industries most affected by the pandemic.
Gov. Ned Lamont issued Executive Order 7D on March 16, 2020, banning restaurants from providing on-site service. June 17 marked the beginning of Phase II of Reopen Connecticut, which allowed restaurants to provide indoor and outdoor dining as long as they abided by strict safety guidelines. In New Haven, restaurants have integrated delivery into their services, innovated their operations and used promotions to survive.
“Restaurants have adjusted to the conditions, made things safe and come up with ways to do much more takeout than before,” said Garrett Sheehan, the president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
One change New Haven restaurants have taken on is bolstering their delivery services as their customers increasingly choose to-go options.
“We have seen a huge trend of takeout dining as opposed to in-house dining,” Eileen Bryant, the general manager at Sherkaan Indian Street Food, said.
Justin Udry is the manager of marketing and technology at Junzi Kitchen, an eatery on Broadway that serves Northern Chinese bings, noodle bowls and tea. He said that since the onset of the pandemic, the eatery has also shifted its operations to rely more heavily on delivery and to-go orders as individuals practice social distancing.
Udry noted that Junzi was well-positioned for the transition, since it already had its own delivery platform in place before the pandemic hit. Other restaurants that did not have a to-go infrastructure had to make larger changes.
“A lot of restaurants had to invest a lot of time and energy into sourcing packaging and figuring out how they can adapt their operations,” Udry said.
Junzi uses a range of delivery methods, such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats, among others. Although Udry recognized that third-party platforms are a “necessity” to be discovered by customers, he told the News that restaurants can be hurt by the commission fees the platforms charge.
Beyond shifting to takeout, restaurants have also taken creative approaches to draw in business.
“Businesses have been forced to innovate in different ways that they never anticipated, and some of those ways have been proven to be very successful,” Sheehan said.
Junzi created the “Share a Meal” program in the beginning of the pandemic to provide meals for frontline health care workers. Sherkaan recently experimented with their menus and introduced Indian pizzas.
Bryant said that another key aspect of business has been outdoor dining.
Bryant said this shift has been “a blessing and a curse at times,” since frequent snows have disrupted outdoor reservations on Sherkaan’s off-street patio.
Restaurants have also had to find new ways to reach customers. Bryant told the News that Sherkaan utilizes social media, email blasts and promotions held by the city to expand their customer base. Recent campaigns include “Eat New Haven,” which encourages people to patronize local restaurants, and “New Haven To Go,” which featured specially priced menu items.
“Promotional opportunities always help us get our name out there … while also being a great way to be involved in the community,” Bryant said.
Sheehan noted that the safety measures restaurants have implemented — such as plexiglass dividers — are essential for consumers to feel comfortable dining in.
“What makes all the difference in the world for restaurants is if people feel comfortable going there to eat,” Sheehan said. “It’s going to be important to build the base of customers back in for these restaurants so that they’re sustainable for the long haul.”
Earlier this month, Lamont announced that the state was lifting all capacity restrictions for restaurants after March 18. An eight-person table limit and 11 p.m. curfew will stay in place.
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