How Restaurants are Becoming Grocery Stores

As any of you in the restaurant industry know, those that enter this field and survive have a certain level of courage, tenacity, and creativity—much needed attributes in the current crisis that faces us. Most restaurateurs are also service oriented, there to support their communities during the best and worst of times.

When the pandemic first infiltrated our cities and states, we read stories of restaurants supplying their customers with hard to find toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Now, as a means of helping their customers obtain needed supplies, and as a way to boost declining revenue, restaurants are selling groceries.

The Demand for Online Grocery Shopping Explodes

As more and more people sheltered in place and self-quarantined, the demand for online grocery shopping and delivery exploded. Food & Wine reported one survey that found an increase in online grocery shopping by 40 percent, while another showed that 40 percent of those placing an order experienced delays, sometimes up to several days.

When Seattle Refined went online on April 1 in order to place an order with various stores, they found the first delivery slot for QFC and Fred Meyer was four days later, while Safeway had no delivery slots available for a week.

Restaurants around the country saw customers in need of basic supplies. Here are a few that jumped into the grocery supply chain.

Restaurants Offering Groceries

Several large brands as well as independent restaurants are opening their delivery and pick-up services to include groceries. A few of these include Panera Bread, where you have the option of purchasing various breads, milk, and produce, and Texas Roadhouse, the well-known steak house that now offers ready-to-grill steaks and family value packs, which serves four people and starts at $19.99.

Search online for restaurants selling groceries, and you’ll find a growing list that maps out restaurants in certain cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Phoenix, San Antonio, Detroit, and North Jersey, to name a few.

Uber Eats along with The Infatuation prepared various Restaurants Selling Groceries and Produce Boxes or Meal Kits—for cities across the country. These cities include Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, London, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Their Los Angeles guide listed 45 sites, one of which is Bacari W. 3rd, which transformed three locations into pop-up markets selling fresh produce, meats, house-made sauces, and toiletries. Gwen’s, a popular steakhouse in Hollywood, sells vacuum-sealed meats along with produce boxes, and Jon & Vinny’s Italian restaurant on Fairfax offers produce bags, herbs, poultry, fish, meat, and more.

The Chicago Tribune reported on several restaurants in the Windy City that have developed a grocery presence. Bar Biscay transformed into Bodega Biscay, selling dry goods, flours, sugars, vanilla beans, fresh produce, raw meat, and beverages that include local beer, liquor, and wine. Park and Field offers two types of bundles—pantry and veggie. Their pantry bundle offers flour, eggs, butter, rice, toilet paper, and paper towels, while their fruit-and-veggie comes with romaine lettuce, strawberries, oranges, potatoes, and garlic. They have also developed DIY kits.

How to Implement

Some restaurants are readily set up to jump into the grocery arena, while others are uncertain how to implement.

One course of action some are taking not only helps themselves and their community, but local farmers as well. The farm-to-table movement, which provided restaurant guests with truly fresh and often unusual produce and proteins, prompted many farmers to develop a local, sustainable agricultural system. As restaurants closed, so too did these markets. Eater reported on 10 Los Angeles restaurants that have opted to sell produce boxes in order to support local farmers.

Another opportunity for restaurants comes from Sysco, a global foodservice leader, that developed a Sysco Pop Up Shop, making it easy for restaurants to incorporate grocery items for sale. These pop-up shops include essential commodities such as eggs, condiments, bread, toilet paper, paper towels, and more.

While the process may take a little effort to implement, it’s clear that there is a need. When Buffalo Wings and Rings in Wichita posted a question on Facebook regarding the communities interest in purchasing raw meat and produce from restaurants, they received a resounding “Yes”—400 comments in 3 hours. They now sell grocery packs which come in three sizes and sold out in just three days.

Anthony Strong, owner of Prairie, a San Francisco restaurant that was only open for a week before social distancing started its takeover, knew he would have to think out of the box in order to survive. His restaurant became a popular “grocery store” where he sells the food and ingredients he buys in bulk and would have used to make family-style meals. Strong was quoted in CNN Business, “We’re blowing through product.”

While some states are easing restrictions, the social distancing that will be required until either a vaccine is created or antibody testing becomes the norm, will change the business model for many a restaurant. Those that can come up with creative alternatives until the viral waters recede have the best chance at surviving the storm.

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