When group gathering limits and lockdowns went into effect nationwide, many full service restaurants in the US found themselves pivoting to takeout only, a service that some of them had never or rarely offered before.

With all the online ordering options available, from multiple third-party apps to native hosting, restaurant owners had to make their choices and do so quickly. Here are the stories of six restaurants who are surviving the coronavirus pandemic with commission-free Upserve Online Ordering.

Restaurants Finding Success With Upserve Online Ordering

Tilia: Minneapolis

 

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If you look at pre-COVID-19 write-ups for James Beard finalist Tilia in Minneapolis, all of them describe the bustle of a warm restaurant, overflowing with diners. Tilia didn’t do much takeout previously, with the exception of one or two customers who might call ahead for pick up. “Last Friday at 5:30 we were receiving tickets nonstop,” said Corrine Dickey, manager at Tilia. “It’s a huge change obviously, because we did no takeout before this. Now on a busy night, we’re doing 70 orders. We’re starting to make plans for when we reopen but will have to let fewer people in. So takeout will be a big part of our operation going forward.”

To manage these orders for Tilia and their sister restaurant, St. Genevieve, the team is using Upserve Online Ordering. “It’s pretty slick,” said Dickey. “Unlike other systems, it goes straight into our POS. Entering in the stuff yourself takes a lot of time so that’s really helpful. It makes it so much easier to make changes, and I like that you can take pre-orders.” 

The team has combined favorites from each restaurant to a smaller, more manageable menu that rotates daily, including one or two family-style meals. “We’ve just changed everything we’re doing which is kind of crazy,” said Dickey. For high-end restaurants looking to keep it simple and keep customers happy, she prefers Upserve Online Ordering versus using a cocktail of third-party vendors. “I think Upserve is so slick with the integrations,” she said. “This is what we’ve found is best for us.” 

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La Catrina: Boston

 

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Ana Celia, owner of La Catrina in Boston, was using Upserve Online Ordering with success for a few months prior to the pandemic. Now that they are limited to only take out and delivery orders, online ordering is helping her business stay alive. “Nowadays, you have to be present online. I would recommend Upserve, we love it. It makes it easier for the customer and for us.”

During normal times it brings in business from commuters who can open their phones, order, and swing by the restaurant on the way home. “During this outbreak, it’s been even more helpful because we don’t need to have any contact. They place the order, pay online, we get the bag ready for them, and they take it and leave. And of course, there’s no [restaurant commission] fee, which makes it even better in this situation because we cannot afford all those high commissions that some other apps charge the customers and also charge us.”

Celia is also using her OLO page to give back to the community. Catering is a big part of their normal business, with nearby Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center being one of their best catering customers. To repay the staff at the center for both their support of the restaurant and their tireless work in caring for coronavirus patients, Celia and her staff put a spin on their usual “Buy One, Get One 50% Off” Monday special and added a “Donate 1, Give 2 Burritos” item to their OLO menu. 

Once all the orders are in, La Catrina will deliver all the donated burritos to the medical center staff. “We wanted to do something for the medical center, but due to the situation that is tough for our business. So we wanted to find a way to do our part and give our customers the opportunity to help us.” So far La Catrina’s customers have been very receptive, some even ordering the donated burritos alone without purchasing anything for themselves. 

la catrina boston
La Catrina’s Upserve Online Ordering menu, customized for quarantine specials and donations.

In addition to giving back to the community, La Catrina has updated its OLO page to offer “Quarantine Specials.” This category includes the “Donate Two” burrito, gift cards for purchase with 30% going towards La Catrina’s employee relief fund, and combo platters and multiple meal plans that the restaurant doesn’t normally offer for takeout. The ability to get full meals for multiple days and give back to the community has given customers many reasons to order from La Catrina again and again, pulling them through this difficult time. “We are doing the same thing that many restaurants are trying to do. We just want to get through this situation with the best outcome possible and, in our own way, help a little bit,” Celia says.

Vinateria: NYC 

 

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Vinateria is a Michelin-rated destination in Harlem known for its delicious cocktails, curated wine selection, and forward-thinking menu with fresh ingredients. An Upserve customer for over seven years, they adopted Online Ordering years ago, but considered it an afterthought to the amazing ambiance and service of the dine-in experience. “As soon as we heard about the possibility of the dining ban in NYC, we decided to switch to online ordering,” said owner Yvette Leeper-Bueno. “I’m glad the infrastructure was there because now we’re using it exclusively for our pick-up orders.”

When coronavirus hit NYC, Leeper-Bueno wasn’t sure if she should flee, or stay and fight it out. “The truth of the matter is that I considered closing Vinateria to leave the city with my family, for safety,” she said. “However, I began questioning how I could leave when my restaurant was built upon an anchoring sense of community? The community has always been here for the restaurant, and now we needed to try to continue to be there for the community.” She stressed that her team makes sure that we are taking every precaution possible to maintain a heightened level of safety— for both our customers and team. “I felt I had an obligation to stay and remain open for business because people would be counting on us, our internal and external communities.”

Leeper-Bueno has been especially grateful for the support she’s received from Upserve through this transition. “I’ve been using Upserve for seven years, and in the past few years, things have improved exponentially— especially the customer service experience. I have a great customer success manager and she’s really amazing. Any questions I have she’s always very helpful and I’m very thankful for the direct access to help. In addition, I just moved to the new Android POS so I have the brand new terminals for our set up, and am testing three handheld Tableside devices!

The key to shifting an upscale casual menu to online-only, according to Leeper-Bueno, is to test and taste relentlessly. “It’s important to stay true to their roots, but under these new circumstances you have to change and adapt,” she said. “For us, we’re now thinking about how things travel. Certain things taste great for dine-in but after they’ve traveled in containers they can be overcooked and don’t taste great. I live just a few blocks from Vinateria, so I was testing this a lot – ordering things and looking at presentation, taste – these are real challenges. We’ve streamlined the menu to things we do well, that are our signature, and to add in new options that feel on-brand, but that were created with delivery in mind. It’s all a bit of a learning curve, but I would suggest really focusing on these types of items and test things out, making sure your guests are still receiving the quality that you’re striving for no matter where they’re eating it.”

Aloha Eats: Chicago

 

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Ivan Lee and his family opened Aloha Eats in 2004, serving Hawaiian comfort food. Now that comfort at a distance is in demand, they’ve switched entirely to Upserve Online Ordering and haven’t looked back. “We’re putting Upserve OLO through its paces and seeing what it’s capable of, and the fact that we’re not paying an interloper third-party to take a fee keeps more money in our pocket during such a critical time for our business.” 

Prior to COVID-19, Aloha Eats took an occasional take out order by phone. But after Chicago’s dining ban, they were able to leverage their Upserve platform to create an Online Ordering menu that was live in less than 24 hours. “Using Upserve OLO has kept us afloat,” said Lee. “People want no-contact takeout and delivery now. When you do it online, you’re pre-paying and you can maintain the distance from our customers.” This means less to sanitize, less risk for his employees, and less risk for customers. 

Aloha Eats also was one of the first customers to take advantage of Upserve’s free Online Ordering Facebook ads to spread the word about their new takeout and delivery menu. In less than a week they got an additional 775 visits to their menu and nearly 24,000 impressions from local diners. “We’ve been doing well, considering the state of everything,” Lee said. “We had a record Sunday this week. Getting the word out on Facebook seemed to help.” 

“Upserve has really helped us,” he said. “We’re such a small business, we employ less than 15 people, so the fact that we were able to get Online Ordering up so quickly is great. We count ourselves lucky to stay open and keep our staff in place. We were one of the first in Chicago to use Upserve and I recommend it to other Chicago restaurants. It’s been all thumbs up on our end.” 

1910 Public House: Lilburn, GA

Sprig and 1910 Public House, both outside of Atlanta, GA, are owned and operated by husband and wife duo Anthony and Jennifer Tiberia. Both restaurants have always been community-focused: from sourcing ingredients to supporting local causes. So it only makes sense that in our current crisis this restaurant team would step up to be so much more than a takeout spot for their community. 

In addition to offering brunch and family-style meals for delivery and takeout, 1910 Public House is also offering its community a one-stop-shop (or delivery) for groceries and sanitation supplies. What they’ve been able to offer is truly remarkable considering that these upscale casual locations are brand new to online ordering.

Grocery boxes from 1910 Public House

“It’s gone well despite setting it up overnight, we’re grateful it was an easy transition,” said co-owner Jennifer Tiberia. “It’s nice that online orders automatically come to the Upserve POS.”

Tiberia is especially grateful she was able to get up and running so quickly with Upserve Online Ordering. “Other people we know with Micros who have just switched to taking orders via phone and that’s killing them. I can’t imagine the nightmare,” she said. “Upserve Online Ordering is the only way we’ve been able to adapt well and stay open through this mess. We’ve cut out all the third party systems because they take a 30% commission. I’ve got my FOH staff doing delivery and now everything is working. It’s great!”

Whenever their dining room re-opens, the Tiberias are sticking with Upserve Online Ordering. “When all this is over we’re going to continue to do online ordering. The staff likes it and it’s gone really well,” said Tiberia.

To keep bringing in business she regularly emails customers about specials and updates their social media. They also took advantage of the free Facebook ads Upserve created for the restaurants. “Fortunately we’re doing well, but it’s a lot of work,” she said. “We’re constantly re-working the menu – it’s challenging for sure.”

Despite the challenges, Tiberia says Upserve has made a difficult time relatively easy. “The third-party systems are running all these specials, but it comes out of our pocket. They act like it’s benefiting the restaurant but it’s not. I turned them all off, I’m done with them! I would highly recommend restaurants switch to Upserve – it’s way less expensive and it’s made this transition as smooth and successful as we could have hoped.”

Walkers Maine: Neddick, ME

 

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When Covid-19 began to spread through the east coast, Danielle Johnson Walker, co-owner and manager of Walkers Maine, knew her restaurant would need to shut down even before it was mandated. Despite her 25 years in the industry, she wasn’t quite sure what to do next. “I was really stressed and overwhelmed,” she said between prepping meals. “It’s one day at a time.” Johnson Walker had to cut her entire staff, leaving just her and her husband to fight for their business alone. They decided taking online orders was their last shot at keeping their restaurant alive. 

“It was a very real and scary thing,” she said. “We thought we’d put all this food into production and no one would come.” 

But they did. Johnson Walker had been using Upserve in her restaurant for years but had never done takeout or online ordering. With just her husband and herself manning the kitchen, they didn’t have time to take orders over the phone. With the help of the Upserve team, she was able to get her online ordering menu up and start taking orders online in 48 hours. 

Johnson Walker credits their first wave of online customers to her social media savvy. Posting their new menu on Facebook and Instagram was her first move after getting their online menu up. “Everyone is on social, the people who are out of work, or bored are out there on social,” she said. “I’m lucky because I’ve been doing this for 20 years and people know our reputation.”

While managing through the crisis has been challenging, pivoting to using Upserve’s online ordering platform was easy. “I’ve been telling my other restaurant friends, business owner to business owner, you NEED to put your menu online with Upserve. We really like it!” Johnson Walker said. “Our customers could call me but they found it easier to go online. I don’t have to be on the phone or run payments.” 

Another perk of online ordering? Bigger tips, and less personal contact. “People tend to leave gratuity online where they don’t in person,” Johnson Walker said. “No one wants to handle cash or touch anything so we have curbside pick up to protect ourselves and the guest.” 

Johnson Walker’s advice is to keep your menu simple and focus on what makes your guests feel good. “Use the product you already have. You have to revamp your menu to make it more manageable, especially with limited staff.” Walkers Maine also updated their menu to offer wine and drinks with a focus on family-style meals. “We’re doing mac and cheese, roasted carrots, family-style caesar salad. When you package everything for a family, then people can just hit the order button. It’s very popular. We definitely see people ordering more than once and it’s only been five days.” She’s also noticed more orders of proteins, likely due to supermarket shortages.

Walkers Maine has been so busy that Johnson Walker is considering bringing back some staff to help with all of the online orders. She is reminding other business owners that this strategy is necessary to survive the long haul and uncertainty. “This is not going to be two weeks,” she said. “You need to pivot or you’re not going to make it.” 

While Walkers Maine has instituted safe social-distancing pickup strategies, Johnson Walker says it’s a thrill to see customers, even for a few moments from six feet away. “Every time I bring the food out I get such a high!” she said. “It felt so good to be social for 10 seconds. Everyone was thanking me. I’m trying to save my business but they were thanking me. No one wants to cook, so we’re taking care of our community too. People were so grateful I couldn’t believe it.” 

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Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.