Making ends meet with the ebb and flow of business is a daunting task for restaurants in ordinary times. The extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic have seen eateries facing down the twin pressures of decreased revenues and high delivery costs.
Billy Yeung is a manager at China Town Chinese Food in Doral whose family has owned and operated restaurants for 20 years.
“Our first two months after the pandemic kicked in were very slow and likely the worst in all our years of business. Merchandise vendors didn’t have much stock available for us as they were unable to buy from farmers and other producers, and so their prices doubled and even tripled the norm,” he said.
His mother said things have taken a turn for the worse.
“In normal times, we’d be paying $35 for a box of 15 dozen eggs. At one point recently, the cost became $80,” said Josephine Yeung, who oversees merchandise at the restaurant.
Billy Yeung notes China Town has partnerships with ordering and delivery services including BeyondMenu, GrubHub, Postmates and DoorDash, along with their lofty commission rates.
“DoorDash and Postmates are pretty similar at around 30%, so they’ll take 30% of the ticket. BeyondMenu hovers around 10% and GrubHub tends to take roughly 15 to 20%,” he said.
The restaurant has seen a healthy rebound from its low points early on, with business easing back into stable territory, according to Yeung.
“At the start of the summer, with PPP loans and government subsidies filtering out, business saw an upswing again, and the continued reopening of the local economy has allowed us to regain our momentum,” he said.
Yeung ties China Town’s endurance to public awareness of their consistency in remaining open for takeout and delivery with a full menu during the earliest months of the pandemic.
“I feel like promotions from online companies tended to point out that we were constantly open, and we were, even as businesses around us adjusted their operations. We’re also not doing any kind of outreach or incentives to our customers, and so if they order, that’s that,” he said.
In neighboring Miami Springs, Christos Meletis is a general manager and co-owner at My Little Greek Deli, soon entering its 12th year in business. He speaks to the family-owned diner’s powerlessness early on in being swept up in the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“The first two weeks of the pandemic were definitely shell-shocking because people didn’t know what to do,” Meletis said. “Even now, staying afloat has meant we’ve cut payrolls and reduced our hours of operation, for instance. We had five employees in the kitchen before and now there’s two. I myself am working more hours. I didn’t want to raise or lower costs.”
In keeping with that, Meletis said the restaurant has instead resorted to occasionally introducing special menu items that reflect elevated market costs.
“We actually haven’t adjusted our prices in four years. We introduce new plates with a higher price, but customers view them more along the lines of new menu items,” he said.
My Little Greek Deli currently has partnerships with DoorDash and Postmates, which Meletis said accommodate their clientele but, much like China Town, can be troublesome on account of the commissions and overall experience.
“I won’t take it away because it’s still a convenience to customers, but as a business owner, I’m inclined to see it as a total sabotage. It’s 25% of revenue that can be put toward something else in the restaurant,” Meletis said.
“Drivers also work other services and go make other deliveries while my food comes out in 20 minutes. Customers become frustrated when they don’t get their meal and it’s cold or soggy,” he said, recommending ordering directly for pickup.
He notes that in-person capacity limits have been reached several times as the restaurant bounces back and gives some credit to a healthy social media presence since March. “Our Instagram has been more active than usual. For the first two months, we offered a small discount on takeout provided customers placed and picked up orders in person. Overall, we’ve seen a good increase.”