Updated: Apr 17, 2020
It was probably my fourth pickup or so for the day and as I exited the parking lot of the restaurant, my brain remarked how seamless pickups seemed to be going for the day…even for Grubhub. As I rolled into traffic and took my place in line, I realized that for almost a week or so this had been the case.
Over the previous two weeks, the stores I walked into took on a different appearance, as tape went up along with chairs on tables; that then got pushed against the walls, and labeled with a typed or hand written social distance sign.
The counter distance gets longer while the number of employees shrinks, along with my wait time to a mere few minutes, or none at all. The reduced wait time is in direct proportion to the number of tables left in the restaurant.
The employees are finally treating me like the customer…who I am; who I have been, all this time. The person handing the bag of food, I recognize as a server past-obviously picking up hours now as a hybrid host.
I feel for the folks whose jobs have been displaced because of COVID, so when I get a decent tip, I hand them a few bucks. They look at me with apologetic (almost pleading) eyes, replacing the ignoring eye-rolls of pickups past…if there was eye contact at all; why…I feel almost human…in the essential sense, of course.
There seems to be a sea change; a real transformation in the business, in a very short period of time. The manager no longer looks past me, she prioritizes me. My cloak of anonymity slips away as she recognizes me and double-checks my order before handing it to me.
A make-shift delivery cabinet is hastily installed to handle the delivery orders for the gigs.
These are not good times. Scarves, bandanas, and surgical masks cover faces, lessening exposure. Where did my city go? I now live and work in Gotham where facial alchemy is countermanded by jokeresque masks. The necessity to shade our humanity is a sad commentary. To see us welcome it by donning custom veneer can be viewed as either curiously adaptive or, sadder still; a social divulgement of self-reflection.
But the invisible enemy is exposing things about our business. It’s shining the light of relevance and purpose on the service we’re providing while offering a life-line to owners and managers that viewed our existence as parasitical just days ago. A ping to my phone beckons me to pick up at a restaurant that a week prior was denoted by Grubhub as not being a partner restaurant and cautioned me to “use the customers name” and not Grubhub’s, and oh yeah…pay with the company card.
But now the restaurant is a partnered, signed store. A valued restaurant confrere. Parasite is now host. Hugs and kisses.
Many restaurants will close permanently because of Covid, according to The National Restaurant Association. And honestly, those are gunna be ones that should have gone a while back, but Covid weeded them out. Many a restaurant will take their place.
New concepts are being dreamt about while we shelter in place. We've been accustomed to the weary, old paradigm; we just aren’t sure what we want, but we’ll find out.
A Domino’s store doing the COVID dance.
Change was inevitable. Picture the exhausted restaurant model as an old building that keeps getting more dilapidated - stays vacant, weeds grow around it, tree and grass roots split pavement, etc. One day the landlord dies - his family sells the property and voila-caterpillar meet butterfly.
That’s what’s going to happen industry wide; new owners, new visions. Covid just sped up the process; that Darwin thing. The way it should be. As iron sharpens iron so will it be said that in 2020, the restaurants that were tested positive by Covid were the ones to survive.
The irony in this whole thing? The inflexible, haggard, template of the restauranteur couldn’t be shaken by the internet of things that rocked the brick and mortars, put publishers in red ink, bagged grocers, unplugged cable, and took newspapers from headlines to a mere footnote. Their fait accompli? Their fly in the soup? The death of the industry as we know it? Their own oxymoronically titled Department of Health-and a little assist by a thing fearfully embraced as Rona.
The internet needed help to rewrite the restauranteurs’ carte du jour. That help didn’t come in an app or from a Sand Hill address. No, in this golden age of driverless cars, touch screens, virtual reality, and trips to Mars, etc., turns out after all there "wasn’t an app for that.”
Help came in the form of something far more primitively powerful...