12 Ways to Support Local Restaurants Without Leaving Home
From buying gift cards to calling your senators.
In an attempt to curb the coronavirus pandemic, several state governments have mandated the closure of restaurants, bars, and other small businesses. As the hospitality industry navigates the crisis (and relief funds emerge to help laid-off workers), there are a few ways you can still support local restaurants that doesn't require being physically present.
Whether buying gift cards, donating to a virtual tip jar, or calling elected officials, these 12 things can be done from the comfort of your couch and offer much-needed financial and political support to the industry.
1. Order take-out
Just because you can’t eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy that restaurant’s food. One solution to mandatory closures is to order in, whether for pick-up or delivery. Restaurants around the country have been pivoting, including The Beatrice Inn in New York City, where Angie Mar is offering curb-side pick-up service and take-out via Caviar, to Canlis in Seattle.
Pro-tip: Several delivery services are now offering no-contact delivery—an important precaution in stopping the spread of COVID-19. (Here's a guide to how to keep you and your driver safe when ordering delivery). And please, remember to tip your delivery person extra.
2. Order restaurant-made meal kits
Tons of restaurants are offering weekly, and sometimes daily, special-order meal kits for pick-up and delivery. These meal kits aren’t your standard containers of take-out; they’re thoughtfully-prepared packages that can feed whole families. In other words? Micro-catering. (Here are more chef-made meal kits you can buy to support local restaurants.)
In Raleigh, North Carolina, chef Ashley Christensen’s Bridge Club Events launched ClubHouse, a meal kit that feeds four available for pick-up or delivery every Wednesday. This week’s kit includes Caesar salad, baked shells stuffed with ricotta, kale, and chicken confit, and chocolate brownies.
In Nashville, chef Julia Sullivan’s catering company, The Party Line, is offering a delivery service called Family Meal: prepared meals with the option of groceries (including eggs, milk, bread, housemade sausage, and fresh juice) for three or five meals per week.
In Chicago, chef Erling Wu-Bower of Pacific Standard Time is taking daily pre-orders for different meals each day (think roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, a side of Caesar salad, and lemon bars for dessert). All meals feed four and cost $40, with the option to make a meal vegetarian or gluten-free, as well as add on additional food or drinks.
Here's a roundup of 27 amazing things you can buy from restaurants' walk-ins and wine cellars right now, from retail price wine to fresh pasta.
3. Buy gift cards
Support restaurants now and dine at them later by buying a gift card. When you purchase one, those funds are immediately deposited into the restaurant, so stock up on holiday gifts and birthday presents for your loved ones. Or, get a bunch of gift cards for yourself! When you're finally able to use them, it’ll kind of feel like getting to eat for free.
Tony Priolo, chef/owner of Piccolo Sogno, Nonnina, and Maillard Tavern in Chicago, says, “Buying gift cards is the best thing. This way, restaurants and businesses can use the money directly to help employees.”
Tom Colicchio, who owns Crafted Hospitality restaurants in New York City, Long Island, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, is offering a special promotion for gift cards purchased through April 30th. Colicchio wrote on Instagram, “For those asking how you can help: 50 percent of the proceeds of all gift certificates purchased between today and April 30th will be placed into a staff fund to help financially support our employees.”
Some restaurants are even expanding payment options and accepting Venmo for gift cards. If you know of a restaurant or small business that isn’t currently offering gift cards, it might be worth reaching out to inquire (which also shows your support).
4. Get your hands on some merch
Supporting restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, cafés, bakeries, and other small businesses in the hospitality world goes far beyond eating and drinking. Many of these places have awesome merch (t-shirts! tote bags! really cozy sweatshirts!), and now’s the time to get shopping. After all, the only thing better than giving a friend a gift card to their favorite restaurant is tucking that gift card into one of the restaurant's cute coffee mugs.
5. And edible merch, too
Some restaurants sell hats and hoodies, others sell housemade hot chocolate blends (from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago), michelada mix (from Guelaguetza in Los Angeles), fresh jam (from Sqirl in Los Angeles), or chili oil (from Junzi Kitchen in New York City). Stock your pantry with these restaurant-made products and support small businesses along the way.
6. Ask how you can help
Every business is grappling with this crisis in a different way. It’s worth asking your local coffee shop, wine store, or bakery how they’re dealing with all of the changes, and what you can do to support them.
At Domestique Coffee in Birmingham, Alabama, founder and CEO Nathan Pocus has decided to suspend all operations. In order to help secure the business while regular income won’t be flowing in, Pocus launched the Domestique Founder’s Card. For $100, the Founder’s Card comes with benefits such as a free batch brew for one month upon Domestique re-opening, 15 percent off all purchases for the remainder of 2020, and 10 percent off all purchases for life. Pocus wrote on Instagram, “Invest $100 now and help us navigate these next extremely hard months. These funds will go to help us keep cafe employees solvent while we are closed as well as make good on coffee commitments made prior to this outbreak.”
Many restaurants are asking for donations to support their newly laid-off staffs. Olmsted and Maison Yaki in Brooklyn, for example, are asking for $100 donations, which will go directly to a staff fund and grant you a ticket to their (TBD) re-opening celebration. Go to your favorite local restaurant's Instagram to see if they have anything in the works.
7. Give what you can
Many restaurants are proactively launching campaigns that will help pay their employees. Win Son in Brooklyn, New York, created a fund specifically to benefit undocumented workers. Win Son wrote on Instagram, “Venmo @win-son. Donations will benefit workers with citizenship and document challenges. This virus is affecting everyone. We will extend this fund to benefit regular hourly employees as well if it supersedes the resources being provided to them already, but at this point, undocumented workers don’t have access to any relief or support. Your donations go directly into the pockets of employees who are being walloped by the social impact of this situation.”
Brian Fisher, chef/owner of Entente in Chicago, says, “I would encourage people to give what they can to the various GoFundMe accounts that have been put together to help to continue to pay our industry employees.”
In an effort to make supporting restaurants even easier, GoFundMe has teamed up with Yelp to allow users to make GoFundMe donations directly on a restaurant's Yelp page.
In addition, there are several food and hospitality organizations across the country that are making a difference, such as the The Independent Restaurant Coalition, Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants, Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, Women in Hospitality United, and OFW Emergency Fund. Donating even a small amount can help. Here's a roundup of even more funds that have been created to help laid-off workers.
8. Write positive reviews
A quick, easy way to support restaurants right now—without spending any money—is by writing positive reviews on platforms such as Google and Yelp. This is what Max and Eli Sussman, chef/owners of Samesa Restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, call, “moral support the digital way.” Not only does this “give restaurants something to smile about,” as the Sussmans wrote on Instagram, but it can also have a longer-lasting impact: when restaurants do re-open—and tourists inevitably return—a log of glowing words can only help attract more people.
9. Donate to a virtual tip jar
Many hospitality workers rely on tips to make ends meet—money they won’t be able to take home with bars and restaurants closed. One solution for helping laid-off or out-of-work employees is to donate to your city’s virtual tip jar. This list, for Washington DC, is organized by restaurant and provides each worker’s name and Venmo account. If your city doesn’t have a virtual tip jar, consider taking the initiative to set one up.
Additionally, this website randomly matches you with a local service industry worker in your city and attaches their Venmo so that every time you have a drink at home, you can tip someone who has been laid off or furloughed by the restaurant closures—in just the same way as you'd tip a bartender or server if you were out at a restaurant or bar.
10. Do your civic duty
One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways you can make a difference right now is by reaching out to your elected officials on both the state and federal levels. Whatever your cause—whether you’re most concerned about restaurant workers having access to unemployment without status change or small business owners receiving loans to help keep their operations afloat—you have the power to let your legislatures know.
Erick Williams, chef/owner of Virtue in Chicago, said, “Often times people feel like no one is listening, that sentiment should only encourage us to be louder. We need emails and letters written by the masses.”
On March 27, President Trump passed signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act into law. Read our guide on what that means for small businesses and former service industry employees.
11. Like, share, post, and repost
At every level of the hospitality community—from chefs to servers, restaurateurs to bartenders—people are coming together, both to support one another and to demand assistance from local, state, and federal leaders. Whether you work in the restaurant industry or are simply a lover of restaurants, you have the power to be an ally in this fight. Liking, sharing, and posting on platforms like Twitter and Instagram takes minimal effort but have the potential to make an impact. If nothing else, it shows the restaurant community that you’ve got their back.
12. Remember to check in
Sarah Grueneberg, chef/owner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago, said it best: “If you have friends or family that work in the hospitality industry, remember to check on them. Working in restaurants and bars is tough to begin with and now more than ever, we all need to come together and support one another.”