Generally speaking, restaurateurs want you to come to their place, stay awhile, eat a nice meal, enjoy a cocktail or three and spend a little money. It’s how they make their living and what they enjoy.
Creating a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu that you can take home and serve to the self-quarantining family is not in most of their business plans.
“Not even close,” said Michelle Huffman, owner of Events With Taste, a local catering company.
But, in addition to take-out and delivery, Chattanooga chef’s and restaurant owners such as Huffman have added take-and-bake options to their list of adaptations as a way to generate revenue and “keep staff on the payroll.”
At The Woodshop Listening Room in St. Elmo, owner Daniel Pate Russell said he has also introduced the idea of renting the space — the entire space — for private parties of around 10 people.
“It’s like hosting a party at your home, without the prep or the cleanup,” he said.
He also said the idea seemed to be going well when introduced in December, but as he and his staff dealt with their own personal issues related to the virus, he has slacked off on marketing the program, but hopes to ramp it back up in the coming weeks.
“We had a couple of parties and people liked it,” he said.
Marketing is also the challenge for Erik Niel and the take-and-bake program they’ve introduced at Easy Bistro. It’s sister store, Main Street Meats, has been doing take-and-bake for some time and it has become a key component of the restaurant’s ability to remain open. It’s a little slower going at Easy Bistro for the program.
Easy Bistro caters to a more high-end clientele, he said, that likes to go out for a meal to be pampered and to get out of the house for a special evening of being waited on and fine dining.
“The challenge for Easy is that it doesn’t have a take-and-bake mindset,” Niel said. “People don’t see it as a take-home place, but it has been going good.”
While the meals at Main Street Meats feature the fresh meats butchered on site and sides (mac ‘n’ cheese, Brussels sprouts) the restaurant offers for between $20-$35, Easy Bistro’s take-home family meals (Pasta Al Forno, Beef Bourguignon) are between $40-$55. (The meals feed between two to four people). Niel said the key for them is to find ways to make sure the customer is happy with the meal whether they are the type that likes to cook themselves or if they don’t know a broiler from a frying pan.
“For us, it’s not even at the put-on-an apron level,” he said. “We do all the work. We try to over deliver so that you take it home, warm it and eat.”
Kenny Burnap at Kenny’s Southside Sandwiches also said getting the word out that they have been offering take-and-bake for the last five weeks has been challenging, but customers seem to appreciate the option. He said people understand the struggle restaurants are dealing with, and they want to eat well, and be safe, and this is an option.
He also said his staff has enjoyed the opportunity, and challenge, of finding dinner meals at a place that typically only does breakfast and lunch.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “One of the fun things has been figuring out what will reheat. We’ve done some dinners in the past, so we have done it.”
He added they also do a lot of catering, so adapting to the challenge of packaging take-and-bake items has not been difficult. Kenny’s take-and-bake meals run between $35 and $40 and feed two, usually with enough for leftovers, he said. They offer one option each week and post on social media over the weekend.
“We’ve done braised pork shank and whole chickens,” Burnap said. “It’s been good.”
For Huffman, the idea of creating not just dinner, but breakfast and lunch for customers was not on her radar in January or February. She was looking at a nearly full calendar of weddings and events to be catered in 2020, before the pandemic hit and kids were sent home from school. Then things changed.
“I had one or two very loyal clients who I know well, and one family called and asked me to come up with some meals. Then they called and said, ‘We eat dinner as a family all the time, but this breakfast and lunch thing is new.’ Help.'”
It took off with other customers, and now, she is preparing about 60 meals a week and has managed to keep all six full-time workers employed. That is not to say things are rosy. She said business is down about 69% and she’s had 30-40 weddings or events canceled or postponed.
“But, I’m here and working,” she said.
It has gone well enough that she has had to redo her website and dedicate an employee to just dealing with the online orders. Both said if the demand remains, they will continue offering take-and-bake items when the pandemic is over or settles down.
The Woodshop hosted a market before the holidays and Russell said he hopes to do so again in the spring. Russell said his ultimate goal is to begin offering live music with limited ticketing that will be recorded.
“We really want to get the music back.”
Contact Barry Courter at [email protected] or 423-757-6354.