The food room has departed in recent years as a source for high-quality dining in a community-focused environment. But the outbreak of COVID-19 and the social distance that occurred – along with the government mandate to close the dining room – took one of the strongest food space attributes in their social experience.
That does not mean that the food hall gave up. Just like other restaurant concepts, food halls have adapted to the new realities brought about by coronaviruses and shifted their business models to accommodate. For example, the Politan Group, which has five food halls around the US — ST. Roch Market and Auction House Market in New Orleans and Politan Row in Miami, Chicago, and Houston – pivoting on a short-term ghost kitchen model for every vendor who is interested in participating. Legacy Hall in Dallas also relies on structures outside the building with mobile orders and shipments newly developed through Grubhub. Legacy Hall also develops “quarantine kits” on the roadside, with vendors offering food packages with certain menu options at a flat rate; several celebrity-chef partners have even participated, including Tiffany Derry and Kevin Sbraga.
SocialEats in Santa Monica, California, also stepped up its efforts beyond the four walls in an effort to keep the business going. John Kolaski, CEO and founder of SocialEats, parent of K2 Restaurants, said the food room quickly adapted to all the precautions needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It stopped allowing guests to walk through the hall, and tightly control the food production area to ensure they are kept clean.
“We have to play five or six different times just to be able to keep up with the changes from what comes from our government to the health department to adjust to what we need with our staff and with our guests to ensure that everyone here or everyone who wants to come here is safe, “Kolaski said.
But keeping sales without guests running through the hall is a new experience for SocialEats. Kolaski said the team increased its shipping and shipping offers. While SocialEats participates in third-party delivery services, he said, it is also committed to in-house shipping because it helps keep some team members working.
Finally, SocialEats also ejects pages from the fast service playbook.
“We have built our own modification drive,” Kolaski said. “If [guests] order at our online store or call us, we prepare food and packaging to be sent, and they only give us a call when they sit in our loading zone. We have old places filled with cars and lined up, and can only pull and they call us and we give them food and drinks. “
One problem experienced by many full service restaurants and other operators who are unfamiliar with off-site channels is that their regular guests may not know if and when they make these channels available in a socially distant world. Kolaski said SocialEats encourages news about opportunities outside its office through social media and standard email networks, but also relies on some marketing in ancient lands. Team members walk around the community sharing a lunch menu with instructions for ordering.
“If we do something really cool and nobody knows about it, is that important?” Kolaski said.
K2 partnered with several well-known operators to serve as its vendors, including David Chang and Fuku’s chicken-sandwich concept, as well as Bryan and Michael Voltaggio and their fast fish-based STRFSH. Kolaski said he could learn from partners like them in developing best practices for times like this.
However, while vendors may partner externally with locations and other concepts, Kolaski says SocialEats has an advantage that some food spaces do not have – which helps in times of crisis and uncertainty. “Because K2 Restaurants manages all the different concepts, we can provide fundamental support which I think we note that the food room does not have,” he said.
Kolaski believes this season will teach K2 how to be more efficient in terms of the kitchen, operations, and team management. And he thinks these months will also tell for the food hall; he estimates that there will be a lot of consolidation among hall properties, and food hall developers will start looking for a single operator to run a show in their hall.
“I think for the food room to survive,” he said, “it has to depend on a smaller mix of operators and tenants to get that support and really be able to ensure that it can flex through existing opportunities like this now. “
For further insight from Kolaski about how SocialEats survives through coronavirus, streaming the podcast above.
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