HOUSTON – If there is one thing you learn in the restaurant business, it’s that you have to move fast, think fast and be ready for anything to survive. Never has that been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had no idea what to do, there’s no dine-in and I got worried about my employees, they have a bill to pay also, what should we do?” said Alex Au-Yeung, the owner of Phat Eatery Malaysian Restaurant in Katy.
At Phat Eatery, Au-Yeung said his business quickly dropped a staggering 80%. Waiters like Devon Lewis and Marvin He suddenly had no one to wait on and were terrified they’d be fired.
“I was pretty stressed out,” said Lewis.
“I feel so afraid that I will lose my job, cause I saw a lot of people file unemployment, no job,” said He.
Au-Yeung said he decided in order to survive, he would need to drastically increase the to-go business.
Changes to survive
“We offered something we’ve never done before,” said Au-Yeung. “We started delivering with our in-house drivers.”
Immediately, Au-Yeung created an easy to use online ordering system, started offering home delivery, improved to-go packaging, and created many new menu items. The result?
“We were at 10% takeout (before) now we are at 50%, half and half. Big difference, big difference,” said Au-Yeung.
At the legendary Burns Original Bar-B-Que in Acres Homes, to-go orders have always been big. But, after COVID-19 hit, owner Cory Crawford worried the business could crater.
“I was thinking about this restaurant, I kinda panicked, like we are about to lose all of our sales,” Crawford said.
Crawford met with his team and started making big changes. He started selling special $5 BBQ sandwiches. He also partnered with Kroger to offer mobile pop-up restaurants at various Kroger stores.
He said he actually had to increase staff to handle all of the to-go orders and started selling Burns sauce, tea and chips at Kroger.
Instead of dropping, business at Burns Original exploded.
“Sales increased at least 20 to 30% during that time and I hired at least another 15 employees,” said Crawford.
At Brandani’s Restaurant and Wine Bar in Missouri City, the pandemic forced owner Ron Brandani to pivot on a dime.
“Our takeout business has gone up 300%,” said Brandani.
To save his restaurant, Brandani started offering larger “family meals” to-go. He also started selling wines by the bottle and even selling raw, high-grade Akaushi beef.
“We talked about how are we going to be able to keep everybody? We’ve kept all of our employees,” said Brandani.
Restaurant owners changing with the times and keeping people like Lucille Jones working.
“So grateful and so fortunate. I’m so blessed to be able to have a job due to the fact that so many people are not able,” said Jones.
5 “insider” tips for saving money on to-go orders
1. Order to qualify for free delivery
Restaurants work with apps like Door Dash and Seamless to deliver food to customers. Often, if you spend a certain amount you will qualify for free delivery. Think about shopping for several meals at a time, ordering additional food that is easy to heat up for a meal later in the week. This way you will be saving money on your to-go order and
2. Family meals and appetizers
When ordering for take-out you can save money by taking advantage of “bulk ordering” at the restaurant. Many restaurants in Houston have added “family meals” as a dining option. For example, Texas Roadhouse as family burger meals that include 12 mini burgers, a huge salad, and your choice of three sides. Torchy’s Tacos has “build your own” taco bar for take-out. Since COVID-19 hit, many restaurants have added several of these types of options to their menu. You can save a lot of money ordering food like this.
3. Buy restaurant gift cards
Many restaurants offer gift cards you can use later to order take-out. Here’s the money-saving part - most of the time, you can get a deal on the gift cards. For example, buy two $25 gift cards to get a $10 gift card free. Stores like Costco, Walmart, and Walgreens also sell restaurant gift cards that are often at a discounted price. You can also check re-sell websites for discounts on restaurant gift cards.
4. Join restaurant membership clubs
From Panera Bread to Zoe’s Kitchen, restaurants reward customers for loyalty. You can rack up points on take-out orders and even earn free meals, free desserts, or add ons to your orders. Some restaurants offer free delivery and other perks for being a member. Check with your favorite restaurant to see what they might offer! Restaurant apps often feature order deals too!
5. Consider a delivery service membership
If you are ordering food frequently, consider a subscription service or membership. This makes delivery on all of your orders cheaper. For example, Postmates charges about $5.99 for delivery on all orders. But, you can also join a membership program for $9.99 a month to cover deliveries all month long. There is a minimum of $20 per order for this.