By Jinsy Blend
To say that it is a difficult time to be in the food and beverage industry is an understatement. With headlines, rules, and regulations changing as soon as we have eased into previous recommendations, we are struggling to keep up. Torn between abiding by guidelines and wanting to proceed with business as usual, today’s commercial kitchens must make necessary compromises to retain the integrity of their institutions while following the implications of the new normal.
As many restaurants have had to pivot, at the start of lockdown, dining in was out of the question. Restaurants had to rethink their operations entirely while closing up shop. Numerous institutions opted for takeout and delivery to stay afloat while continuing to serve patrons. Now, restrictions are loosening up and dine-in options are becoming available once again – albeit with reduced capacities. Over the course of a few months, you might have had to drastically edit your budgets and evaluate the most important aspects of your business.
Naturally, you may already be taking the proper sanitation measures to keep your establishment safe and clean. In going beyond sanitation, here is a checklist for commercial kitchens that may fly under the radar.
Consider paperless menus
Leather-bound and laminated menus are taking a hiatus while consumers prefer to minimize exposure through contact. Many restaurants have decided to print single-use menus, which are ideal for regular updates of daily specials, but can be taxing resource-wise. Printing costs can add up, and throwing away stacks of paper leaves an unnecessary carbon footprint. Individually disinfecting menus after every use could also pose potential risks for servers. Instead, commercial kitchens can opt to go paperless.
QR codes are becoming more mainstream now, as guests can simply scan the barcode with their smartphone cameras to have a personal menu right at their fingertips. For those who prefer a paper menu for a more authentic dining experience, you can still keep some disposable menus on hand. You can save resources in printing limited quantities of menus, and maximize the potential of technology with the QR code options.
Do an inventory of your equipment
In pursuit of the less is more ethos, streamlining your operations can also mean decluttering your commercial kitchens. You may have already loosened up your dining areas to keep guests reasonably spread out for social distancing, but you should also do this in the kitchen to maintain space among restaurant staff. This is also the prime time to do an inventory of your kitchen equipment in order to make room for simple and efficient operations.
Since you may have fewer hands on deck if you downsized your business, it makes sense to only retain the essentials – or equipment, tools, and appliances that can perform multiple functions. Case in point, instead of buying two items, you can opt for small rice cookers that can serve as steamers or slow cookers. These also take up less space, so you won’t be squeezing in alongside your coworkers. Similarly, your food processors should remain in your kitchen arsenal to avoid frequent touching of ingredients. When thinking about what equipment is essential, consider what will make your lives easier and safer at the same time.
Expand your payment options
Online banking made waves over the lockdown, and it may be here to stay. Minimizing contact in dining establishments can be facilitated with cashless payment methods. If this is something that you had not quite grasped prior to the pandemic, you have no time to waste in catching up. Many restaurants that have been reopening have requested that customers pay with credit or debit cards, mobile payment portals, and digital wallet apps to make transactions stress- and germ-free.
Although similar to the point we raised with disposable menus, you don’t have to ban cash entirely. This could shun away or discriminate against potential customers who do not have these financial resources or smartphones, and simply need to pay in cash. Instead of a blanket ‘no cash’ policy, make sure that your customers know that you’ve expanded your payment options so that they get more inclined to use them, if they are able to do so.
Extend your creativity with new ideas
While you may have curious customers who are willing to get a peep at your new anti-pandemic equipped establishment, some may still be hesitant to set foot inside – let alone dine in. To ensure that you are serving the varying needs of all kinds of customers, make sure that you have an array of options to cater to all. You may still carry out your dine-in operations, but you can also give patrons an opportunity to experience your restaurant without dining in it.
You can assemble meal kits or picnic baskets that give customers a chance to have a taste of their favorite dishes from the comfort and safety of their own homes. A little bit of creativity can go a long way in extending your commercial kitchen to those of your customers’ home kitchens. This may also be the time to boost your social media presence and engagement, so you can have your kitchen staff star in livestreams of cooking demos to keep your restaurant at the top of mind for loyal customers once they are ready to venture back out.
This pandemic is truly testing the tenacity and adaptability of today’s commercial establishments. Although we can’t predict how long these changes will last, we can find peace in knowing that these temporary fixes are solutions nonetheless. While it’s a far cry from previous operations, it’s still a reasonable and fair compromise if it means keeping our doors open.
The COVID-19 crisis has turned just about every aspect of daily life on its head, but at the same time, has shined the spotlight on selflessness, charity, and the ability for people to mobilize with unprecedented speed. Amidst his pandemic, an unlikely partnership has formed, one which exemplifies all three of the aforementioned attributes. LA Family Housing (LAFH) is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people out of homelessness. Redbird and its adjacent event space, Vibiana, represent upscale Modern American fare and lavish happenings, bringing more than 1,000 of LA’s finest under one roof in a single evening [remember those days?].
Now, Redbird is using its kitchen and staff to cook up more than 1300 meals each day for LAFH’s clients. With event operations suspended and a culinary infrastructure built for high volume, this fine dining establishment is seizing the opportunity to do some good in the world.
“The second it became clear about how serious this [crisis] was, we immediately thought about how we could take care of our employees and contribute to the community,” said Amy Knoll Fraser, Co-Owner of Redbird and Vibiana. She runs the restaurant and event space with her husband and Executive Chef, Neal Fraser.
Knoll Fraser was introduced to Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President and CEO of LAFH, through foodie event host Billy Harris.
“It was a Wednesday, and I was talking to one of my board members. We knew that with their kids being home and loss of employment, access to food was going to be challenging for our clients,” Klasky-Gamer said. LAFW refers to the individuals and families they serve as clients. “He said let me make a call. 90 minutes later, I was talking to Billy [Harris] and he put Amy on the line.”
“By Friday night, we had 1300 meals. It was amazing.”
Logistics came together at breakneck speed. LAFH’s long-term food partners came through with ingredients fit for nutritious meals, alongside other food suppliers bringing inventory from restaurants that couldn’t make use of it. Redbird hit the ground running, preparing hundreds of meals at a time with whatever made its way into the kitchen.
“We do 600 events a year. We’re set up for volume,” Knoll Fraser said. With her calm demeanor, you’d never guess she’d handled such a massive undertaking in such a short amount of time. “To be able to pull this off for our culinary team is not as challenging as it sounds.”
A 10-person kitchen crew churns out meals as efficiently as a NASCAR pit crew changes out a car, with a facilities manager responsible for packaging everything as it comes off the line. Meals are packaged in double portions where possible to save on plastic. Most of this work is completed by 11am.
Two trucks ship the food to LAFH’s main campus in North Hollywood. By 2pm, it’s loaded up in cars that drive out to clusters of clients sprawled across LA. The goal is to have every meal delivered to some 450 clients and their families by 4:30pm. And while the operation runs like clockwork, it’s perhaps an even bigger shift for LAFH as it is for Redbird.
“We’ve never delivered food to [clients] before, and it’s the same families we’ve worked with for years,” Klasky-Gamer said. “This is something we want to keep up. They’re not getting access to healthy meals, even in the best of times.”
The benefits are tallying up for LAFH. They’ve increased their engagement time between clients and their ‘housing navigators,’ or those responsible for helping individuals and families secure permanent housing. They also opened three new shelters in less than two weeks, with a forth coming as of the time of this writing.
“We’ve never done anything like that in that time frame. Developing protocols and staffing structures is a very different operation that we’ve had in the past,” Klasky-Gamer said. “We’ve brought all these people inside that we’ve been looking to do for years. We had washing stations outside encampments within 3 days…we were never able to do that before.”
For LAFH, the COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for swift movement. For Redbird, it’s another example of the team’s ability to handle just about anything the times throw at them, as well as a chance to give back to the community in a new and different way.
“Homelessness is something we’ve been trying to figure out how to help with for a long time. We were in talks with the Mayor to create a chefs collective and a fundraiser,” Fraser Knoll said. “We want to figure out how to keep a program like this going. It’ll be challenging once we’re back at full speed, but having it in some capacity would be great.”
For more information on how you can help or to donate, please visit LAFH.org.
Restaurants at The Point, an iconic shopping mall in El Segundo, have responded to Coronavirus-related limitations by converting to takeout and delivery. Fitting to The Point’s chic and modern appeal, these eateries and drinkeries represent several of SoCal’s favorite new hautespots, as well as timeless brands that are in the same boat as far as retaining business amidst the pandemic.
For those in the South Bay looking to get a Taste of The Point during their quarantine, here’s a way to enjoy high-end pasta, farm-to-table sandwiches, organic bowls and even margaritas to-go:
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
Born in Austin, Texas with new life in California, Hopdoddy serves angus and American grass-fed Kobe beef, chicken and sushi-grade tuna, baked-from-scratch buns, hand-cut Kennebec fries, farm fresh salads, and handcrafted milkshakes. They’ve created a series of meal kits for those looking to replicate their meal with the freshness of dining in, as well as offered up their standard menu--including signature drinks--for takeout and delivery. Website here
Tocaya’s is bringing its signature ‘Modern Organic Mexican’ to households. Patrons frequent Tocaya for its tacos, burritos, bowls and salads that are rooted in traditional Mexican recipes and incorporated into versatile dishes that accommodate vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dietary needs, among others. Tocaya is now offering prepped ingredient kits, family meals, as well as their standard menu for takeout and delivery. Website here
This celebrated eatery features scratch-made pizzas and pastas, as well as other decadent Italian favorites. They’re continuing to push their mission for guests to ‘savor every bite, sip, and moment’ by offering their menu for takeout and delivery. Website here
Known for fresh sandwiches, family-owned Mendocino Farms is offering its menu for takeout and delivery. Please note that during Coronavirus-related limitations, Mendocino Farms has modified its standard hours to close at 8pm. Website here
With culinary temptation a lot less accessible than usual, now may be as good a time as any to go on a juice cleanse. Pressed Juicery’s premium juices are available for takeout and delivery. Website here
The ‘Original Craft Coffee,’ Peet’s has been brewing since 1966 and seeks to continue providing a daily pick-me-up for regulars who have made their shop a home away from home, those meeting with other online vs. at one of their tables, and anyone who would otherwise stop by. Patrons can enjoy Peet’s to go, via mobile ordering. Website her
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.