How to support local restaurants amid outbreak shutdowns

The recent coronavirus outbreak has had a huge economic impact across many different industries, but with states issuing mandates for bars and restaurants to close, these changes are resulting in effects that are felt beyond the restaurant industry (via The New York Times).

According to data from OpenTable, restaurant reservations and walk-ins are down 48 percent from last year and have decreased 20 percent in comparison to March 10. The decline has been felt more acutely in major cities such as New York City, where numbers have dropped 69 percent (via The Hill). With local restaurants reeling from the loss in foot traffic, people across the nation are rallying to support them. You can join the push to help restaurants in your area in a few different ways.

With closures taking place to keep people safe, restaurants have been transitioning into delivery and take-out businesses. You can find out which of your local restaurants are open for this kind of business by checking their websites, looking at their social media pages, calling them, or even checking your local newspaper. Many publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle have posted directories and articles on where locals can get a hot meal. If you're worried about possible contamination when ordering delivery, there are steps you can take to minimize risks for both you and your driver, such as no-contact delivery, as seen in Food & Wine.

Things to keep in mind when ordering from local restaurants

You should try to order directly from restaurants whenever possible instead of through third-party services, because restaurants can pay commission fees up to 30 percent on orders through third-party delivery apps (via CNBC). But the good news is that services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats have started to eliminate or reduce these fees for restaurants temporarily (via TechCrunch). And when you order, consider adding booze to your tab. States have been allowing restaurants to also sell alcohol along with their delivery and take-out orders, so cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., have been taking advantage of this development (via Eater Chicago and Eater DC).

In addition to delivery and take-out, some restaurants have taken the leap to making meal-kits that can feed the whole family and are available for pick-up or delivery. For example, in Raleigh, N.C., chef Ashley Christensen's Bridge Club Events launched ClubHouse, a meal kit for four that is available weekly, as reported in Food & Wine. Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos in Los Angeles has created a $150 "emergency taco kit," which includes "5 pounds each of carne asada and roasted chicken, a quart each of red and green salsa, tortillas and 30 eggs," as well as four rolls of toilet paper (via Los Angeles Times).

Buy gift cards, tip, or donate to support local restaurants

Another way you can help out restaurants in your area that are struggling right now is buying gift cards to use in the future, which is a way to give cash to a business right away, says Amanda Ballantyne, national director of The Main Street Alliance told CNN. Restaurants are also selling merchandise that you can purchase, ranging from goods like sweatshirts and mugs to edible products such as this strawberry-rhubarb jam from Sqirl in Los Angeles.

You can also be more generous when tipping restaurants. While we all may not be able to leave a $9,400 tip like a diner at a restaurant in Houston recently did (as reported by KALB), adding a little extra does help, especially since the hospitality industry relies a lot on tips. Also, local virtual tip jars have been springing up as another way to help out restaurant workers, such as the "Indy Service Workers Venmo List" in Indianapolis and the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar (via RTV6 and Pittsburgh City Paper).

Besides tipping, you can donate directly to relief funds dedicated to help restaurants, bars, and food service workers affected by COVID-19. Eater posted a list of these non-profit and grassroots organizations, to which "diners can donate and restaurants or their staff can find financial help."

You can help local restaurants without hurting your wallet

If ordering food, buying gift cards, or giving financially is hard for you, there are non-monetary ways to support local restaurants. Food & Wine recommends a quick and easy way to start helping restaurants right away: Write glowing reviews on online platforms such as Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor. A positive review not only gives the restaurant a big morale boost, but it also can help immensely later down the road because when restaurants eventually reopen again, rave reviews can bring in more customers.

You can also speak out on behalf of the hospitality industry. As Congress is racing to finalize a federal stimulus package, as reported in Politico, you can reach out to your representatives and senators to make sure the needs of restaurants are heard. Chef and restaurateur David Chang of Momofuku Restaurant Group sent out a tweet recently, asking anyone who works in restaurants or "care at all about the hard working individuals in the industry" to "demand we are part [of] the federal stimulus plan." 

And as a sign of solidarity with chefs, servers, bartenders, and other members of the hospitality community who are uniting to demand government assistance, you can like, share and post on social media. It may be a small gesture, but it's one you can do immediately.