While no one can accurately predict what the long range economic effect of the Coronavirus will be on the restaurant industry, individual owners and restaurant groups agree that change is a certainty.
After a career in banking, Julia Zhu, together with partner and veteran restaurateur Howard Davis, opened Bar Roma, a casual Italian restaurant in Andersonville in December, 2016. Zhu says choosing to do an Italian restaurant when neither partner is Italian is a testimony to the cuisine’s universal appeal and diversity, plusses that are even more important now than they were when the restaurant opened.
Zhu estimates her pre-virus profit margin at about seven per cent. That’s seven cents for every dollar a guest spends. It’s a slim margin, thanks, in part, to the cost of add-on services customers have come to expect.
“Hiring an online reservation service can cost the restaurant as much as $1.50 a person,” Zhu explains. “And then there’s valet service if there isn’t enough street parking. Luckily, we don’t need it, which is a big saving. Delivery service, on the other hand, is a must.”
She continues, “Delivery and carryout used to account for 25% of our business; now it’s 100%. If we did our own deliveries, it wouldn’t reduce costs as much as you might think. In addition to paying the driver, we’d have to pay for insurance and benefits to cover the driver. Like it or not, if we want to stay in business, we have to keep pace with the new normal.”
Sandy Chen is a partner in two very different restaurants. Koi, her Evanston restaurant, focused entirely on Chinese food when it opened in 2004. As time went on, the menu expanded to include Japanese specialties, such as sushi and maki rolls. At Le Sud, her restaurant in Roscoe Village, the pre-Coronavirus menu concentrated on dishes typical of southern France.
“I think of Le Sud as a neighborhood restaurant,” Chen says. “But a lot of people-the moment they hear the food is French- think it’s going to be pricey.”
To dispel that image and-at the same time- give the chef more flexibility, Le Sud is expanding its focus to include dishes from Spain, Italy, and various other countries bordering the Mediterranean.
“It will take us time to create the new menu,” Chen says. For now, with our business limited to carryout and delivery, we’re going to focus on moderately priced family meals.”
Complete with sides and a baguette with butter, the meals are designed for a family for four, with prices beginning at $50 for a chicken dinner. Appetizers and desserts are available for an additional cost. Wine prices, which are also listed on the to-go menu, have been cut as much as 50%.
Bar Roma, 5101 N. Clark Street, 773.942.7572
Koi Fine Asian Cuisine, 624 Davis Street, Evanston 847.866.6969
Le Sud, 2301 West Roscoe Street, 773.857.1985