May 27, 2022

Food delivery apps helped my restaurant survive, thrive

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Running a successful restaurant isn’t easy. The industry is notorious for razor-thin profit margins, long hours, staff turnover and ever-shifting demand. This balancing act became more challenging for me and other small restaurant owners who fought to survive during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as we were forced to adapt to indoor dining shutdowns that pushed many of us to the limit.

To weather the storm, many restaurateurs enlisted delivery services to help keep their businesses afloat — myself included. The truth is, my restaurant would not be where it is today without the help from 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 represent the majority of those in the restaurant industry, which is why I’m sharing my story and hope more people don’t rush to judgment.

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 at 67 E. Cermak Road, I work to honor the legacy of my great-grandfather and have an impact on our underserved communities. Despite being born into slavery in Lexington, Mississippi, my grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit of 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 continue to build on his legacy.

As someone who was relatively new to the industry when the pandemic struck, I found myself in a rocky situation. While food delivery is currently a popular option, pivoting to delivery in 2020 was a strategy that many restaurateurs adopted for the first time to help keep their businesses afloat. Windy City prides itself on creating an experience for our guests, but we were forced to find a way to deliver this outside of our doors because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Many small, neighborhood-based restaurant owners, including myself, scrambled to replace in-house dining with delivery and take-out. But I run a restaurant. I don’t run a delivery or to-go business. Figuring out how to recruit, vet, hire and manage delivery drivers while working with limited staff presented a huge challenge. Where would I find the time to run background checks on drivers, procure insurance policies and run a new payroll system?

I knew I could turn to delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats. I signed on to these apps so that they could assist with delivery and advertising through their platforms, which then allowed me to focus on making great food.

At a time when multiple industries are facing staff shortages, including ours, delivery apps have had no shortage of drivers ready to complete our deliveries. Now that customers demand delivery at levels far beyond those we faced before the pandemic, not having to find drivers to meet that demand is a weight off our shoulders.

Some restaurant owners may take issue with the fees these delivery services charge, but I say that’s the price of doing business. I have choices when it comes to how to make these delivery services meet my specific needs. I get to choose what level of services and fees I want to pay for, and no one is forcing me to pick one package over the other. As long as there is transparency in the fees I am paying and a mutual understanding of the services I’m being provided, it’s a partnership I’m happy to be in.

Many of these platforms 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 $20,000 in grant funding to help grow Windy City and was given a tailored business development curriculum. Through the program, I was able to identify a new in-house opportunity to grow revenue and entice customers to return to my restaurant.

The challenges of the pandemic won’t disappear anytime soon. In an industry known for rapidly changing demands, restaurant owners must be flexible and explore all of the options available to meet their restaurants and customers’ needs. Delivery apps have been part of the solution to help businesses like mine grow revenue and get exposure to new customers. They’re 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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