The Restaurant Scene: Carryout
Tuesday at 5:15 pm
No segment of the economy has been harder hit by the pandemic than restaurants. Limited to “carryout-only” for months, followed by the addition of outdoor dining, followed by the addition of limited dine-in service, chefs and restaurateurs have reinvented themselves time and again to survive.
For Bistronomic, a French bistro located just a block west of the Water Tower, carryout was a new option, something the restaurant had never done before. Chef/ owner Martial and his wife Laurence spent the weekend before the quarantine rules went into effect weighing the options, and by Tuesday, March 18, they had a new strategy.
“We decided to focus on French comfort food, dishes like coq au vin and beef short ribs,” Martial says. “We also decided to do complete three-course dinners, with everything done in portions large enough for two. Since the entrees could all be reheated, the format also worked for people dining alone.”
Because the restaurant had never done carryout before, getting the message out was crucial. They could reach their existing customer base via their email newsletter, but to survive, they had to bring in new customers. Enter social media, an option they’d never really explored before. Time was limited, so they did what a lot of parents do: they asked their children for help.
Working together, the family used Instagram and Facebook to develop a marketing strategy that paid dividends from the get go. Current plans include continuing both the marketing plan and the carryout service- which now includes access to the entire menu-after the virus subsides.
When I wrote about Prairie Grass Cafe at the beginning of the summer, chef Sarah Stegner, who together with chef George Bumbaris owns Prairie Grass Cafe in suburban Northbrook, was doing Zoom cooking classes, in addition to the restaurant’s carryout and limited onsite service. Building on the success of the classes, they’re frequently offered in conjunction with a meal kit.
Meal kits are one of the restaurant industry’s newer concepts. The amount of required cooking varies, as does the number of courses. A recently purchased kit from Alinea, for example, included a green salad, dessert, two sides, and two ready-to-grill kabobs per order.
A lot of restaurants, including Prairie Grass, will be offering kits for the Labor Day weekend. Options are typically listed on the restaurants’ website, and most have to be ordered by Thursday or Friday.