NEW JERSEY — Restaurant staff are up against more than the flood of holiday reservations and takeout orders this winter. A rise in New Jersey coronavirus cases and temperatures too low for most outdoor dining are creating the perfect storm in an already tough year for the state’s eateries.
We asked people in the restaurant business how patrons can help their local spots weather winter in a pandemic. Here is what they told us:
Order directly from the restaurant.
Although third party delivery services might entice people with a restaurant’s menu and photos as they search for food in their area, people who work in restaurants said these apps and websites like DoorDash, Seamless and UberEats can hurt their bottom line. It’s more beneficial for them when you order directly from the restaurant’s website or call in the order.
“I dislike all third party delivery services, since they cut significantly into the already razor thin profit margins of restaurants,” said Mike Proske, owner of Tapastre and Project P.U.B. in Somerville.
One restaurant manager said services often take a minimum of 30 percent of the restaurant’s sales.
“We lose money unless we mark the prices up by a percentage to try to balance out the costs, but these third party companies are constantly checking to see if the prices on their site match the prices on our menu; and they will change the prices back if they aren’t the same.” Plus, the restaurant has had many customers place orders and not receive the correct food because the service didn’t ring it in correctly.
A server at another restaurant said third-party services “ask us as a business for an additional 30 percent to be listed as a primary in the area.”
Follow the rules.
When interacting with a server or walking around the restaurant space, it’s essential to wear a mask for safety and courtesy reasons.
“Having to wear a mask and also police people to wear theirs is very frustrating,” one bartender said. “I’ve actually had people not tip because I’ve had to ask them to put their mask on if they’re standing up, walking around or not seated.”
It’s also important to follow other regulations the establishment has to comply with.
“As for not having any bar seating, this actually means you cannot put anything on the bar as a customer and I cannot serve you anything over the bar — not a menu, not a bill, certainly not food and drinks,” the bartender said.
“People tend to think putting their empty glasses on the bar or walking up and flagging me down when I’m behind the bar means they’ll get served faster. We can actually get fined for customers placing drinkware on the bar, so please, please just stay seated and believe that we will get to you as fast as we can.”
Tip well, even for takeout.
A manager at Turf Surf and Earth in Somerville recommends tipping 20 percent for good service, 25 percent for great service and at least a few dollars for takeout.
Preparing takeout orders is labor-intensive, she said. “You’re not being served, but everyone is still working so hard and working together to make sure your food is prepared the way you like with the correct toppings and bagged securely so nothing falls. Then they organize it all and keep it safe and warm until you arrive.”
A server and bartender said that about 75 percent of people with takeout orders don't tip, “even though as workers we’re still running and preparing orders as usual, on top of running the restaurant and serving our indoor dining customers. We are working our butts off during a pandemic.”
The food service industry is under significant restrictions in these times and many people are relying on tips to be able to afford their bills, so it’s important to not let minor slip-ups affect your tip.
“If someone makes a minor mistake, be compassionate and understanding and let things go. Be generous and kind and help others who are struggling,” one owner said.
A “please” or “thank you” goes a long way, the Turf Surf and Earth manager said. “Our employees are missing out on family time by being at work, we get overloaded with family orders and they are working late hours … it’s hard to keep up with so many things at once while also answering phones, tending to tables, cleaning properly — especially now — and getting everything out on time with a smile.”
Lilian Pien, owner of the Japanese restaurant Akai Lounge in Westfield, said that extra patience is appreciated, especially on busy days.
“We used to be 70% dining in and 30% takeout,” Pien said. “And we can manage the flow of dining in customers through reservations. Now that we are 90% takeout, it’s much harder to manage order flow because customers all order at the same time. Since we can’t hire extra chefs for just 6 to 7:30 p.m., we really need customers to please be patient, order in advance or after the takeout rush hour.”
Get the word out.
Restaurants are struggling, and it can make a big impact when you use social media to post about the food and experience and encourage others to try a new local spot.
Proske offered a creative way to spread the word and encourage business: “Organize a group who will all order from a given restaurant on a single day and rotate through your favorite local spots.”
Additional reporting by Jackie Lieberman.
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