While the state has loosened restrictions and many dining rooms have reopened, Intown restaurants are still navigating the decidedly abnormal “new normal” as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.
Experts believe that the “stay at home” mandate and fear of catching the virus has forever changed dining at restaurants. The ease of delivery, takeout and curbside pickup has become ingrained over the last few months, and many diners may only occasional return to actually eat in the dining rooms of their favorite restaurants.
Agave managing partner Tim Pinkham said the Cabbagetown restaurant, famed for its Southwestern fare, didn’t even offer delivery before the pandemic.
“We had to change our business model,” Pinkham said. “We thought our food didn’t travel well for delivery, but we quickly secured partnerships with DoorDash and Grubhub and our customer base made the transition.”
Agave has built a loyal fanbase over its 20 years and kept in contact with regulars through Facebook and Instagram, who were happy to pick up their cayenne fried chicken and margarita kits curbside or delivered straight to their door.
To keep its staff employed and keep up revenue flow, Agave also opened a weekend “fresh market” in its parking lot where customers can order online, drive up, and get fresh meats and vegetables.
Agave reopened its dining room with limited seating on June 1, so reservations are a must. Visit agaverestaurant.com to make a reservation and see safety guidelines for the restaurant.
“Dining out habits are going to change, and I think people will be enjoying food from their favorite restaurants at home more often, so we have to adapt for that,” Pinkham said.
Joseph Hsiao, who co-owns breakfast/brunch mainstay Flying Biscuit in Candler Park and Midtown, said both locations shifted immediately to takeout, curbside and delivery.
“We already had partnerships with UberEats, Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates, and we saw a surge in delivery orders.”
Hsiao had to layoff 80 percent of his staff but brought them all back in mid-May as it geared up to reopen its dining rooms. He said diners would likely be surprised when they return not only to Flying Biscuit but any restaurant due to social distancing rules. Both locations of Flying Biscuit and Hsaio’s Flip Burger Boutique on the Westside have all reopened for dine-in service.
“It’s a different experience with the spacing of tables. We won’t be packing them in,” Hsiao said. “I think we’re going to continue to see more takeout and delivery for now, and those who do come out will be more cautious.”
In Buckhead, Café Posh owner Simona Edery echoed Hsiao’s thoughts on how customers are likely to react to changes restaurants must make. She said ambience is a main draw to Café Posh and it is decidedly different for now.
“I think people will be shocked to see some of the restrictions,” Edery said. “My main concern is keeping the food consistent and making our regular customers feel happy and safe.”
Edery said she believed many of her customers would continue to opt for takeout, delivery or curbside, which helped the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fusion spot keep its staff during the weeks of shelter-in-place.
Sean Yeremyan, who owns Lazy Llama in Midtown and Hobnob Neighborhood Tavern in Brookhaven and Dunwoody, said all restaurants are operating at a loss now. “Anyone who tells you they are making money isn’t being truthful,” he said.
Like others, Yeremyan switched over to takeout and delivery, but he said that’s not a sustainable business model for a dine-in restaurant. However, he believes takeout and delivery will continue to grow in popularity and all restaurants will have to adapt.
Yeremyan, who plans to open additional Hobnob locations this year at Atlantic Station and in Alpharetta, said he’s taking extra social distancing steps in his dining rooms by letting customers pay from their cell phones or using at-table credit card readers.