Want to help your favourite local and independent restaurants recover from the extinction-level event that’s been COVID-19?
Freelance food writer and former cook Corey Mintz has three suggestions.
Delete delivery apps from your phone, pass on It Spots and change your attitude when you walk through the door.
Mintz is not a fan of third party delivery apps. “In my opinion, they are a predatory enterprise that has figured out how to use technology to get between restaurants and their customers and then sell the customers back for a cut of the action. From my perspective, that’s a scam.”
The tech companies behind these apps charge commissions of up to 30 per cent from restaurants with razor thin profit margins. To make matters worse, chain restaurants and fast food outlets are being charged lower, or even no, commissions. So your family-owned independent restaurant is subsidizing delivery service for Taco Bell and McDonald’s, says Mintz is his book The Next Supper: The End of Restaurants as We Knew Them and What Comes After.
Along with deleting delivery apps, don’t follow the crowds to the latest It Spot restaurant that’s all over social media thanks to a well-financed, media-savvy hype machine. Don’t be fooled by social media influencers who’ve been comped a dinner in exchange for raving about the restaurant. “At any given time, there’s an It Spot restaurant in your town. The status of the It Spot – impossible to get a reservation because everyone wants to eat there right now – never lasts. The crowd always grazes toward another spot, newer and more ‘it’ every six months.”
Skip the over-priced “Insta-bait” meals that photograph nicely but taste awful and instead spend your money with the restaurant owners who’ve served you well over the years. “When your friends ask you to check out the new It Spot, remind them of a restaurant where you all shared a wonderful, memorable evening.” Says Mintz. “Remember that dinner and how good a time you had. They deserve your patronage. They’ve worked for it. Not only can I guarantee you’ll have a better time at a good restaurant, rather than a new restaurant, you know it too.”
If you’re looking for a new restaurant to add to your list of favourites, venture out to the strip malls of suburbia and on the edges of town. That’s where you’ll find immigrant-run family restaurants that can afford the cheaper rents and serve up meals you won’t find anywhere else. “The latest downtown restaurant, with its million-dollar renovation and dynastically certified chef, seem so pale, pompous and unimportant by comparison.”
And finally, fix your attitude when you return to your favourite restaurant. “The most important action we can take to contribute to a more equitable restaurant industry is to let go of the idea that the customer is always right,” says Mintz. “That attitude, philosophy and prevailing power dynamic is one thing about hospitality that we not only must change, it is shockingly within our power as diners to do so. Asking and expecting working people, who are doing so much, to do one more thing is not a right to which we are entitled.”
Mintz says the pandemic has been an extinction-level event for restaurants. He predicts we’ll be left with fewer and smaller restaurants that employ fewer people. He hopes the era of chef-driven restaurants is over and we start paying more attention to how staff are treated and who’s supplying the food that’s served on our plates. Mintz also makes a strong case for eliminating tipping and instead charging higher prices that let staff earn a living wage.
“COVID-19 has been a nightmare for restaurants. The businesses that survive, and those that sprout in the soil after this calamity, must be better than what came before. I think there is a better future for restaurants. And we can be part of making it happen.”
Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.