Perhaps we always thought something had to give… someday.
Who knew it’d take a global pandemic to make it happen.
Many have argued the restaurant business model’s long been terrible — that no ’sane’ person would run a restaurant pre-pandemic, let alone after. A salient point, given next-to-nil margins, meager staff wages, and sometimes hostile environments.
Perhaps long-needed change is here. If only it weren’t so devastating.
Restaurants faced with the dilemma to “Innovate or Die” have risen to the challenge with hopeful and inspiring action.
Below are 5 of our favorite innovations, plus one bonus. 😉
A few example restaurants are offered for each – consider it the tiniest of tastes of the information we’re tracking.
Our favorite Restaurant Innovations
# 1: Groceries & Bulk Goods
Wants some milk, flour, eggs, or 5lbs of rice with that order?
While you’re hopefully ordering enough for several meals and leftovers, you can add quality groceries, bulk items, or pre-packaged restaurant items. (we’ve even spotted TP on a menu!)
The Plant Cafe Organic (SF) offers its famous “Plant” patties* in frozen 2-packs.
Rich Table (SF) offers “Ready to Go” butcher cuts of meat and an impressive selection of sauces, ingredients, and so. much. more. (cocktail & wine connoisseurs, take note of the selection! + You might snag some hand sanitizer)
*These same plant patties are highlighted in our best-of plant burgers, featuring ‘real food’ – not ‘fake meat’!
# 2: Farm boxes and artisan goods
Produce from the restaurant’s farm(s) and specialty pantry goods – CSA style.
You can now get incredible produce and goods previously not available without driving to the farm or raiding a restaurant’s pantry.
We’re positively drooling over Blue Hill Farm’s (NYC) boxes and kits, including produce, flowers, meats, dairy and cheese, artisan bread, eggs, and more. They host dedicated pickups in Manhattan and throughout the NY region.
Chez Panisse (Berkeley) features weekly farm boxes plus prepared dishes, beverages, and specialty items from their pantry. Also on offer are the restaurant’s etched water glasses, cookbooks, and more.
All Good Pizza (SF) hosts weekly farm boxes with optional artisan add-ons from the Bayview Makers collective.
# 3: Meal Kits
Channel your inner Dominique Crenn or Gordon Ramsey
From lower-maintenance ready-to-assemble or heat-and-serve, to more elaborate meals with video instruction, you can get high-quality deliciousness in the safety and comfort of your own kitchen.
So long as you’re in the mood to compile or cook – what’s not to love about a Blue-Apron-like package from your favorite restaurant?
Hearth (NYC) launched “Hearth at Home”, with instructions for meal kits and pasta kits posted on their website. They offer a fun summer picnic spread amidst an otherwise robust menu of delightful dishes, sauces & marinades, treats, specialty beverages, and more. You can even buy a curated home pantry kit to stock your kitchen.
Restaurants like Selby’s (Redwood City/Atherton) or Al’s Place (SF) offer ready-to-serve multi-course nightly meals priced per person, whereas places like Limon Rotisserie (Bay Area) or Artesano (SF) offer all-in family meals ready to feed 4-6.
# 4: Cocktail & Specialty beverage
Because ‘cocktail kit’ is the new ‘meal kit’
The advent of quarantine brought alcohol and specialty beverages for takeout, as many cities quickly fell in line to permit.
Co Nam (SF, Oakland) offers delightful Cocktail boxes with artisan spirits, tantalizing tonics, and locally-sourced ingredients and garnishes.
Hog Island Oyster Company (SF, Larkspur/Marin) offers wine, beer, and even liquor bottles, in addition to pre-made large-batch and small-batch specialty cocktails. (Made with fresh organic ingredients of course!)
+ We’ve seen plenty of low-ABV cocktails, non-alcoholic specialty beverages, and artisan teas or coffee as well.
# 5: Pop-ups, with a twist
The “mortar” in “brick-and-mortar” may as well mean “mortality”
While pop-ups and underground restaurants built loyal foodie followings over recent years, pop-ups now increasingly appeal to chefs and cooks looking to operate beyond failing brick-and-mortar restaurants.
From pop-up bakery tents for pre-ordered pickups (Midwife and the Baker, Mountain View) to Chefs featured at popular beer gardens, watering holes, or coffee shops (The Plate Sell, Athens/ATL; Cocina Maiz, Oakland/SF) to out-of-work chefs and line cooks selling creations from their own kitchens (“Broke Ass Cooks”, Oakland )
We’re hopeful to help elevate and support such adventurous foodpreneurs.
We tend to favor such pop-ups over ghost kitchens (AKA “dark kitchens”, “cloud kitchens”, etc) which can foster more crowded, less safe environments for workers and tend to use cheaper low-quality ingredients.
Pick Up Your Own (%@#$) Food, that is!
We can’t emphasize enough the cry from restaurants to please order curbside pickup or takeout directly from them – via their website or verified phone number. Consider delivery when the restaurant manages it themselves. (3rd party delivery apps are the bain of their existence)
While this isn’t an innovation, it’s a constant theme we hear every. single. week.
I’d be further remiss not to mention restaurants providing meals to frontline workers and in-need community members. Charity funds and organizations – even local delivery volunteers – have risen to the occasion to bring business to restaurants in need while feeding others.
It’s not all doom and gloom – some restaurants have done remarkably well during the pandemic, though they may be more the exception.
Here’s hoping for an effective vaccine or similar application ASAP.
What are you waiting for?
Get out there and hit up as many of such special offerings as you can to show your support!
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