Restaurants across the DC-area are preparing for the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus. But there is one faction of the industry that could see growth: delivery. Business owners are already expanding to-go dining options, from casual spots like Clyde’s to James Beard-nominated dining rooms such as Centrolina, and taking steps toward making doorstep service safer and more effective for customers.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates 20 restaurants and bars in the DC area, plans to launch takeout and delivery at all of their venues for the first time early next week. That includes finer dining spots Iron Gate, Hazel, and Vermillion. In addition to increasing health measures inside the restaurants, NRG chief strategy officer Amber Pfau says the team researched different third-party delivery services and decided to partner exclusively with DoorDash and Caviar (the two merged last year) because “they were the most prepared out of all the companies. We want to align ourselves with a company that’s messaging they’re being proactive and careful.”
Meanwhile DoorDash and Caviar, along with other delivery services like Postmates, are promoting “contactless delivery” functions where customers can request food be left at the door, and post photos of the drop location through the delivery app. A spokesperson for DoorDash/Caviar says the parent company is “testing enhanced features for contactless delivery to be rolled out shortly.”
NRG also plans to promote takeout for those who don’t want to use a third party service, including posting to-go menus on the restaurant websites and adding little treats or notes to orders “to make people feel special when they’re feeling awful,” says Pfau. The takeout and delivery menus closely reflect the regular dine-in ones, minus a few delicate items like oysters. Red Apron is also planning to offer special large-format dishes for those who want to feed a family or have food for several days.
All of that being said, the company doesn’t plan to cancel events such as new beer release parties at Bluejacket, and Pfau says they haven’t noticed a drop in regular business.
“I don’t want people to feel they shouldn’t come to the restaurant. Everyone is just bracing and preparing,” says Pfau.
Clyde’s Restaurant Group is taking a similar tact and just launched delivery via Caviar at almost all of their DC locations, including the Hamilton and Old Ebbitt. (The one exception is 1789.) They plan to roll out similar options soon in Maryland and Virginia and are exploring direct delivery in addition to third party services. Molly Quigley, director of communications, says the restaurants have experienced travel-related cancellations from large groups and conferences.
“We feel that is important to meet our guests where they are most comfortable. While our bars and restaurants are open and our staff is taking additional health measures beyond our rigorous safety standards, we understand that right now some people might be more comfortable eating at home or at their desk,” says Quigley.
Fears about Covid-19 are also impacting meal subscription services. Healthy Fresh Meals, which provides office catering, is offering individually packaged meals instead of buffet-style platters. Meanwhile Vegetable + Butcher, a health-minded meal delivery startup, plans to expand their repertoire so subscribers can receive seven meals a week.
As was the case before Covid-19, even fine dining restaurants are offering delivery. Chef Fabio Trabocchi sent out a health update from his restaurant group as well as reminder that his high-end spots deliver, including Wharf hotspot Del Mar for those craving a $98 seafood paella. In response to fears about the virus, chef Amy Brandwein plans to launch delivery from Centrolina via Caviar as well as her Italian market for imported pastas, sauces, and fresh meats and seafood. In her tony CityCenterDC ventures, she’s cut early morning and late evening hours as dine-in traffic potentially wanes. She’s also increased the distance between tables.
“They’re very generously spaced out,” says Brandwein.