A half and half pizza picked up from Sisters Pizza in Hillcrest
Last week began a terrifying ride for the restaurant industry as public policy coping with the Covid-19 pandemic moved quickly from sanitation and social distancing advisories, to a full prohibition of dining in restaurants. The industry landscape shifted so quickly, restaurateurs have had to adapt on the fly. Some restaurants have closed indefinitely while the community health crisis unfolds. Some may never re-open. Some have already re-opened with limited hours and carry-out menus.
I was picking pizza when word came down Governor Gavin Newsom had directed all California restaurants to operate at no more than half capacity — that policy lasted two days. I passed my credit card across the counter, signed my name on the touchscreen. The cashier and I shared a moment of anxiety, from our prescribed six-foot distance. The threat had gotten real. What would come next for restaurants in these unprecedented modern times, when every communal surface, every sniffle leads to anxiety?
A week later, Californians have been asked to stay at home and isolated from one another, except for certain exercise and essential business. As of press time, restaurants are still considered essential businesses, along with grocery stores, and for the moment it looks as though restaurants may remain open in the event San Diegans are ordered to shelter in place. Which is important news: grocery stores are having a tough time keeping items in stock, and grocery delivery services were operating on a three-day delay. Restaurant take-out and delivery will serve immediate needs..
Call your favorite local restaurants or check their social media to see whether they’re open, and what their take-out policies are. And remember, restaurant workers are assuming a lot of risk to keep their public fed, often with reduced hours and income. Whether your order take out or delivery, tip better than usual. Take precautions while unpacking your take-out, and more than ever before: wash your hands before eating!
Here are your options, as they stood at press time:
Some restaurants have switched to delivery only, but most serve in-person take-out. The big news here is that the California ABC has relaxed regulations to allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages to-go. Booze sales are restricted to bottles and cans, while beer and other fermented beverages may be sold in growlers. The same take out rule is in effect for local breweries and distilleries.
The best practice for take-out to complete and pay your order online if possible, as it eliminates the need to pass cash or card between hands during pick-up. Even if your favorite restaurants have never offered online ordering in the past, check again. Many have scrambled to add the function for this very purpose. The alternative is to give your credit card payment during a phone order.
Many restaurants will take to-go orders out to your car to limit exposure as much as possible, and those who are will be advertising curbside pick-up.
Meaning they’ll send a server out to your car with your to-go bag: just call them when you park.
As with online ordering, that restaurant that never offered delivery may do so now, as a means of repurposing workers. But right now, the infrastructure of third-party delivery services could be the thing that keeps a lot of local restaurants afloat. Grubhub, Seamless, Doordash, Postmates, and Uber Eats are all offering no-c ontact deliveries. Because full payment goes through online, the driver can effectively leave the bag on your doorstep.
The delivery apps Grubhub and Seamless (really the same company) were the first to announce they’re suspending the commissions they collect from restaurants for this service, which could prove relief to restaurants needing cash flow to pay their employees. DoorDash has followed suit. Uber Eats has waived delivery fees for the consumer.