Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael McHenry about the state of restaurants in Salt Lake City. Investor in several local favorites, Provisions, Oak Wood Fire Kitchen and Dirty Bird and Ginger Street and a member of the Executive Board of the Utah Restaurant Association, McHenry has a good micro-and macro-view of the restaurant business during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Keeping our community safe is the overarching principle,” McHenry says. “Then focus on the economics.” McHenry pointed out that because the independently owned fine dining scene is a relatively young industry in Salt Lake City, it’s more vulnerable.
Just like everyone else, McHenry’s restaurants are closed to seated dining and has switched to solely third party delivery and pick-up. The change means changes throughout the restaurant. To survive, according to McHenry, restaurants need to have one essential quality: “The ability to pivot.”
“Normally, in a kitchen you work close with co-workers—social distancing is not a thing when you’re working the line in a kitchen. So to maintain proper distance, we’ve marked out where you need to stand with caution tape.” (Much like the lines in DABC stores have been marked.)
“We’ve also reworked entries and dining areas, designated areas for third party delivery and pickup. Anytime someone crosses the service barrier, they have to wear gloves; when they re-enter the restaurant, they dispose of those gloves and wash their hands. We’ve had to stagger our activities, prep and line cooking sections.”
“Revenue is down 80 percent so we only need 1 person where we used to have 3 or 4 people. Just three weeks ago, restaurant positions were hard to fill—staffing has been a problem for months all across the country. Now we’ve had to let go lots of our staff,” McHenry says.
“Our Ginger Street location was designed for takeout, but at Oak and Provision we had to implement takeout and delivery suddenly, within the last 10 days. But I want to make sure the neighborhood is aware that we’re going to be here.”
McHenry says he doesn’t expect Americans, who eat out an average 18.2 times a month, to change their habits quickly, in spite of the Internet being flooded with recipes right now. Still, fewer people know how to cook than a generation ago and “Not everyone has a large pantry or likes to cook,” he says. “We just need to make sure people know they can still enjoy a restaurant meal as often as they like.”
“We have to innovate,” McHenry says of the restaurant industry. “Nine percent of the restaurants closing now will not re-open. Hundreds of restaurants have closed here and thousands of industry workers are out of work.”
Because America has shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, unemployment has skyrocketed during the pandemic. We’re trying to keep that core group employed.”
And despite the advent of GrubHub and DoorDash, most people perceive delivered food as lower-priced—like pizza.
“Some of our restaurants have curbside pickup; others, like Provisions, delivers its own food. Every restaurant encloses a handwritten note with every pickup, to add the restaurant-style personal touch missing from the pickup experience. Oak Wood has shifted to a family meal menu and added a BOGO for pizza.”
Delivery is always free and McHenry re-negotiated with Door Dash and Grub Hub.
“My message to Salt Lake City is: Get out. Order online. Pick it up. Spend money on your local favorites. And buy gift cards for any upcoming occasion.”
For a list of restaurants offering pickup or delivered food, go to https://www.saltlakemagazine.com/restaurants-offering-pickup-or-delivery/
And please remember, Salt Lake magazine is a small local business too. We’re doing everything we can to keep you up-to-date on the local businesses you love and how they’re faring in these difficult times. We’re also doing everything we can to add some fun and color into your quarantine. To subscribe to SLmag, go here.