Running a successful restaurant is not easy. The industry is known for its razor-thin profit margins, long hours, employee turnover, and ever-changing demand. This balancing act has become more difficult for me and other small restaurateurs who have struggled to survive during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have been forced to adapt to indoor restaurant closures. that have pushed many of us to the limit.
To weather the storm, many restaurateurs have turned to delivery services to help keep their business afloat, myself included. The truth is, my restaurant wouldn’t be where it is today without the help of delivery apps, and the cost of doing business with them is a small price to pay for what I get in return. I think experiences like mine actually make up the majority of those in the restaurant industry, which is why I’m sharing my story and hope more people don’t rush to judge.
The success of many small business owners is deeply personal. I am no exception. As the owner of Windy City Ribs & Whiskey, a small community bar and restaurant located at 67 E. Cermak Road, I work to honor my great-grandfather’s legacy and impact our underserved communities. Although he was born into slavery in Lexington, Mississippi, my grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit selling land and whiskey helped him create wealth for his family. It is a great source of pride to honor my family’s rich history, and I am committed to continuing to build on its legacy.
As someone relatively new to the industry when the pandemic hit, I found myself in a tough spot. While food delivery is a popular option right now, pivoting to delivery in 2020 was a strategy many restaurateurs first adopted to help keep their business afloat. Windy City prides itself on creating an experience for our customers, but we’ve been forced to find a way to deliver it outside of our doors due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Many small neighborhood restaurateurs, including myself, have rushed to replace on-site dining with delivery and takeout. But I run a restaurant. I do not run a delivery or take-out business. Figuring out how to recruit, vet, hire and manage delivery drivers while working with a limited staff was a huge challenge. Where would I find the time to do driver background checks, take out insurance policies, and run a new payroll system?
I knew I could turn to delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats. I logged into these apps so they could help with delivery and advertising through their platforms, which then allowed me to focus on making great food.
At a time when several industries are facing staff shortages, including our own, delivery apps have no shortage of drivers ready to make our deliveries. Now that customers are demanding deliveries at levels far beyond what we faced before the pandemic, not having to find drivers to meet that demand is a burden on our shoulders.
Some restaurateurs may dispute the fees charged by these delivery services, but I say that’s the price you pay for doing business. I have a choice when it comes to having these delivery services meet my specific needs. I can choose the level of services and fees I want to pay, and no one is forcing me to choose one plan over another. As long as there is transparency in the fees I pay and a mutual understanding of the services provided to me, this is a partnership I am happy to be in.
Many of these platforms have also supported businesses like mine during the pandemic. For example, I applied and was selected to participate in DoorDash’s Main Street Strong Accelerator program, which was designed to support women, immigrants, and people of color who own restaurants. I received a $20,000 grant to help develop Windy City and received a tailored business development program. Through the program, I was able to identify a new internal opportunity to increase revenue and drive customers back to my restaurant.
The challenges of the pandemic are not going away anytime soon. In an industry known for its rapidly changing demands, restaurateurs must be flexible and explore all available options to meet the needs of their restaurants and customers. Delivery apps are part of the solution to help businesses like mine increase revenue and get exposure to new customers. They are here to stay and so am I, in part thanks to them.
Terri Evans is the owner of Windy City Ribs & Whiskey.
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