Yummy’s, a family-owned Korean barbeque restaurant, celebrated its two-year anniversary in an unconventional way—with hand sanitizer and face masks.
Yummy’s is one of many local restaurants trying to navigate the uncharted waters of pandemic food service. It began two weeks ago when Sun Choi, one of the restaurant’s owners, started noticing a decline in customers.
“We did everything other restaurants were doing, making sure everything is clean, sanitizing everything, sanitizing door handles – we even had all our employees wear face masks too, handling food,” Choi said. “But even then, I know people were becoming more aware of the coronavirus and getting worried.”
Text-to-takeout enables customers to communicate with restaurants through text messages, place orders, and pay securely from their phones.
In response, the Chois looked for ways to be part of the solution. They realized one way they could help was through their food, and ended up giving away 300 plates of fried rice to the community.
Over the next few days, patronage continued to decline. After lower and lower customer counts, Choi began to panic and wrote a heartfelt post on his personal Facebook page.
“I just did an honest post, just kind of our situation,” Choi said. “I took a picture of our restaurant- it was empty. I just said ‘hey, this is what’s going on right now. Last week was our worst week ever and nobody expected this, but it came.”
In his post, Choi offered to sell “family-packs,” a family-sized meal for $30. Much to his surprise, the post received close to 500 replies, and he was overwhelmed by the response.
“To be really honest, I was expecting maybe ten people to say ‘hey, I want that package,’” Choi said. “But since hundreds of people already responded, I was freaking out and I didn’t know how to handle it except manually.”
He turned to Podium, a business-to-customer texting platform not traditionally used by restaurateurs, to handle the demand.
How Yummy’s uses Podium’s text-to-takeout
- A customer sends a message to Yummy’s through a widget on the restaurant’s website.
- That message gets rerouted to a Podium inbox, the home for all inbound messages.
- When Yummy’s responds to the customer, the message arrives as a text message to the customer’s phone.
- Sun Choi records what city the customer is in, and coordinates his family pack drop-offs accordingly. (For ten or more orders from the same city, Sun Choi will organize a delivery).
- Customers pay for the order through Podium’s secure Payments feature.
- Yummy’s texts the customer through Podium to coordinate the time and location of the drop-off.
“Our phone lines are always blowing up, so it helps a ton for us that customers can just text us, and I can take orders and respond to everything over text,” Choi said. Choi continued seeking creative ways to get customers, including “family drop-offs.”
“We’re just going city to city and I’m just saying, ‘Hey if I get at least 10 orders, I’m going to go out wherever you guys are at and I’m going to drop off these family packs. Tell your family, friends, neighbors, and I’ll be there; I’ll make it happen; I’ll drive two hours.”
Despite Choi’s creative solutions, he says Yummy’s is barely breaking even. This may seem discouraging, but Choi says as long as he can afford to pay his employees, he’s happy.
“My advice to restaurant owners is: don’t think about making a profit right now; you have to think about surviving,” Choi said. “Just think about making sure that you keep your employees. I have a couple of single mothers and they’re worried about paying rent and things like that. My goal is to make sure that they can survive and be able to provide for their kids.”
Whatever the conditions, Choi is determined to persevere, and encourages other local restaurateurs to do the same.
“I know right now it’s hard for a lot of restaurants,” Choi said. “But I just want to tell them: just jump on and just think outside the box. Because right now, every business has to reinvent how they’re doing business.”