Suburban restaurants are cooking up creative ideas in response to COVID-19
With restaurants shuttered to curb the spread of COVID-19, suburban owners and chefs have been cooking up ways to continue feeding their customers and keep the orders coming.
Even before Gov. J.B. Pritzker temporarily closed Illinois restaurants, calls for social distancing had the staff at Weber Grill, which has locations in Lombard, Schaumburg and Chicago, looking for ways provide the restaurant experience for people staying home.
While Weber Grill has been offering delivery for years through GrubHub and DoorDash, most of those orders were placed for single meals. Starting last week, Weber Grill rolled out a pair of family packs available via DoorDash or curbside pickup that serve four to five people at a significant discount from the a la carte prices. The $49 classic dinner pack includes meatloaf, beer can chicken or a mix of both, pretzel rolls with cheddar and whipped butter, and a choice of two sides such as garlic mashed potatoes or steamed broccoli. For $79, you can upgrade your entrees to grilled marinated strip steak and plank-grilled salmon.
"Obviously, with the way that things have been happening, we want to be able to offer options for our guests," said Weber Grill marketing director Dan Rosier. "This allows everybody to stay home. They can have a Weber experience in their dining room and escape from frozen meals and leftovers for at least one meal."
With restaurants closed for dine-in service through March 30, spots throughout the suburbs have been coming up with creative solutions to serve customers and their employees.
Sullivan's Steakhouse in Naperville is offering doorstep drop-off deliveries while Perry's Steakhouse & Grill in Oak Brook has started offering a daily two-course lunch for $29, a three-course menu for $45 and a four-course menu for $50 for curbside pickup. Also, Perry's Reserve Wines will be 50% off with the purchase of food.
Osteria Trulli in Arlington Heights had done delivery though apps before, but now restaurant staff is providing the service and will even bring you a bottle of wine, checking ID at the door.
"Maybe some people call for pasta with shrimp and ask 'Do you have any wine to go with.' 'Yeah, we have a bottle of sauvignon blanc,'" said chef and owner Giovanni DeNigris. "Anything to round up some dollars through this economy. I'm not going to close. I'm going to keep my staff."
Weber Grill is also trying to cater to customers who enjoy cooking by offering grill-out packs for curbside carryout. They include everything you need to make burgers and steaks at home including patties, buns, cheese and seasoning. A pack of eight burgers is $39.95, six 7-ounce filet mignon steaks are $89.95, and a mix of four burgers and four sirloin steaks is $59.95. Grilling instructions are included and additional tips and tricks will be available online.
"We saw a connection with our guests not being able to come into our restaurant, but they want to at least do something fun and more of an experience," Rosier said. "We thought, why not let them pick up great burgers and steaks from Weber, take them home and they can grill themselves."
Even restaurants that already did plenty of delivery business are changing things up. Lou Malnati's started contact-free delivery over the weekend and is now doing curbside pickup for online orders.
"Our lobbies are often very full of customers waiting for food," said owner Marc Malnati. "We've decided the best way to keep our staff safe is to do all curbside. All our customers feel safer not having to walk into a room with 10 or 15 to 20 people waiting for a pizza. We'll bring frozen pizza out to the cars and salads and dressing as well. We'll bring everything out to people."
The company had previously offered curbside pickup at its Schaumburg location due to limited parking, but has never provided the service at this scale. The new curbside program combines experience from that program with the recently launched Skip the Line function in the Lou Malnati's app, which allows customers to prepay and use the app to notify employees when they arrive for pickup. Malnati is anticipating high demand and will be keeping several hundred Chicago-area waitstaff employed throughout the crisis by having them work as delivery drivers or handle carryout orders.
"We're anticipating opening a few of our suburban carryout stores that currently are only open evenings during the day," he said. "With kids home from school and people needing to eat, we feel like we're really providing a service to the community."
DeNigris is keeping his staff busy with a series of spring-cleaning projects including repainting and sanitizing the walk-in cooler.
"I hope (the closure is) only two weeks because I'm a small operation, but I have very loyal customers to support me," he said. "With delivery maybe we can manage to minimize things."
Weber Grill is down to a skeleton crew to support its delivery and to-go operations, and Rosier said he also hopes that the dine-in closures end soon.
"We think the steps the government has taken are correct," he said. "Hopefully soon we can get all of our staff back working and serving all of our great customers."
If you're looking for a list of local restaurants offering delivery and takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic, check the restaurant websites, the websites of local chambers of commerce and diningatadistance.com/chi, where restaurant owners can add their business to the database.