“Food service and COVID-19: What Strategies Are Being Used by Black-Owned Restaurants in Nashville?”

By Madlyn M. Bonimy, Ph.D.

Nashville, TN (Tennessee Tribune) – Restaurants play an important role in Nashville’s economy. Nashville’s more than 200 Black-owned restaurants provide support to the community as they help feed job growth and create careers for many different people. Pre-Covid, in the Nashville area, some 29,000 employees worked in the food preparation and service-related occupations (https://datausa.io/profile/geo/davidson-county-tn/). Restaurants have a whole ecosystem that depends on them staying in business. This ecosystem includes, for example, landlords (rent and insurance), HVAC providers (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), suppliers (equipment and food), professional services (bookkeeping, accounting, advertising, legal, and consulting), utilities (electricity, plumbing, water, internet, cable, and phone), and labor (wages, salaries, and insurance).

In this year full of challenges, restaurant revenues in the metro Nashville area have suffered a seismic downward trend. Independent restaurants those owned by one or more owners have seen the most closures out of any business group during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic (https://restaurant.org/covid19). However, it’s hard not to notice the efforts of several Black-owned independent restaurants in Nashville to hang on and stay afloat in their efforts to comply with government regulations and continue to provide food and drinks.

In their attempts to keep operating and rebound, Black-owned restaurants have implemented several strategies with the hope of boosting sales from increasing patio dining to reducing and restricting indoor seating capacity. Another strategy is through off-premise menu options. This meal option has taken on greater importance as a higher proportion of consumers are now ordering off-premises meals from restaurants than before the pandemic – particularly for the lunch and dinner menus. Rightly so, to keep up with this increase in off-premise menu options, several Black-owned restaurants have increased their customer delivery services through third party company platforms such as DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats for food delivery and takeout solutions. The website Urbaanite.com (https://urbaanite.com/nashville-black-owned-restaurants-to-know) presents a listing of the examples of twenty-four Black owned Nashville establishments and the customer delivery strategies that the restaurants use. 1.Takeout and delivery via DoorDash (Coneheads (lunch/dinner/family-friendly); Ed’s Fish House- Fried Fish Staple; Riddim N’Spice – Caribbean; Slow Burn Hot Chicken – Soul Food and Barbecue, and Seafood Sensations (lunch/dinner). 2. Dine-in, takeout and delivery via GrubHub (City Farm Co. (lunch/dinner/family-friendly); Ed’s Fish House- fried fish staple; Grams Coffee – Coffee and Tea Shop; Helen’s Hot Chicken (lunch/dinner); Tacos with a Twist – Tex-Mex/happy hour/brunch; Shugga Hi Bakery and Cafe – brunch, bar, bakery; the Southern V – Vegan, and Seafood Sensations (lunch/dinner). 3. To-go and delivery via Uber Eats (Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant, and Ed’s Fish House- Fried Fish Staple). 4. Takeout and delivery via Postmates (purchased by Uber Eats) (the reopened Local Distro – Restaurant and Neighborhood Market, and Seafood Sensations (lunch/dinner).

Other food service delivery strategies that Black owned restaurants use include dine-in (patio and indoor limited seating) and takeout (City Farm Co.; Southern Soul Food, and Vege-Licious- Vegan/Vegetarian Cafe); carry out (Swett’s Family Restaurant), and curbside pickup, takeout, and delivery (Big Shake’s Nashville Hot Chicken (lunch/dinner/family-friendly); Cal’s Country Kitchen; Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant; HiFi Cookies, and Prince’s Hot Chicken – (lunch/dinner/Original Hot Chicken Creators).

The world of restaurants continues to be in a state of upheaval due to the Covid-19 pandemic. City government (https://www.asafenashville.org/) continues alternating from tightening to loosening restrictions related to the number of patrons that can eat at restaurants (both inside and outside dining). Understandably, many of Nashville’s Black owned restaurants have had to adapt their food service operations to survive, pay bills, and keep staff employed.

Pre-Covid-19, we can all remember when dining out used to be all about the cuisine. Now, when visiting a restaurant our top concern has shifted to safety. We wear masks and face coverings, social distance (keeping 6 feet apart) and frequently hand wash all geared to help slow the spread of Covid-19. Restaurants, too, have added safety measures as well such as staff wearing masks and gloves, employee temperature checks, and implementing frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces in common areas from door handles to tabletops.

To keep patrons safe, Black-owned restaurants have turned as well to technologies in service delivery such as digital menus to minimize human-to-human contact. Digital menus allow patrons to view menus on their personal mobile devices.

Restaurant patrons, too, have access to technology trends with the rise of machine systems and the use of applications (apps).

1. Locate a restaurant (MenuPages, OpenTable, Urbanspoon).

2. Read restaurant reviews (Citysearch, Facebook, Tripadvisor, Yelp).

3. Research the health content of menu items (Gluten Free Fast Food, HealthyOut).

4. Find promotions and discounts (Groupon, LivingSocial).

5. Pay for meals (ApplePay, PayPal) for contactless payment.

 

In terms of etymology, the word “restaurant” derives from the word “restore.” The origin of the word belongs to a French restaurateur, M. Boulanger “the father of the modern restaurant”. Boulanger sold soups back in 1765 at his all-night Parisian tavern. He called these soups “Restorantes” (restoratives), which is the origin of the word restaurant.

 

Thanks to the strategies they have put in place for food service operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, Black-owned restaurants in Nashville are continuing to help “restore” their patrons by providing food and drink. In a year full of upheavals in the food service industry, this is a good thing! Kudos!

Dr. Bonimy teaches hospitality and tourism management. She is a faculty fellow in hospitality and tourism management at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. She can be reached at [email protected]