(Photo | Courtesy of Sunriver Brewing Company)
In the world of COVID-19, everyone has had to learn to do things differently. We’ve had to change the way we do business — quickly acquiring new technical skills such as participating in virtual meetings and setting up home offices — and we’ve had to find new ways to keep ourselves motivated in a time of imposed limitations.
If there is a silver lining to any of this, it’s how remarkably well many businesses have adapted to the new normal. Of those, restaurants are among the most notable. All the eateries that have kept their doors open are now “fast food” restaurants of sorts, and most would agree that there is something comforting about being able to order food from a favorite spot, even if it means having to take the meal home to eat it.
“Our curbside and delivery business are picking up every day as word gets out and people are getting more comfortable with this,” said Ryan Duley, director of sales and marketing for Sunriver Brewing Co. “It’s not gangbusters, but we are able to keep the lights on.” To accomplish this, Duley said the three Sunriver Brewing pub restaurants had to quickly revise operations, including setting up make-shift bars at each facility where customers pick up food, creating an online ordering platform, learning how to adhere to the new cleaning standards, ensuring that all employees are wearing the required protection gear and condensing the menus to avoid food waste.
“Our to-go business has been doing really well,” agrees Carole DeRose, owner of the two La Rosa restaurants in Bend. “We were able to implement a to-go ordering module into our website and POS system within 24 hours of the Executive Order shutdown. We had banners ordered and hanging within four days.”
To accommodate the switch to delivery and to-go options only, restaurants have had to revamp just about every aspect of the way they conduct business. “We had to physically rearrange things so that people can come grab food outside, and delivery is definitely different for us. It’s been an interesting thing to take on,” said Duley. “It’s fun. Our employees seem to be in good spirits, relatively speaking, and are enjoying doing something different.” He said that creating an online ordering system was also a new prospect for Sunriver Brewing, one that came with a learning curve. “Online ordering is a huge help. We had never done this before.” Duley said that when the restaurants initially had to close for all but take-out and delivery, he and the staff realized early on that even having two phone lines was not enough; customers got busy signals when they called. To remedy this, Duley said he researched platforms for online ordering, and selected a service called Chow Now. “It takes awhile to do this, and is especially challenging for us because we have three pubs. We wanted the online menus to be similar and to launch at the same time.” To further complicate matters, Duley said that because Sunriver Brewing rotates beer offerings on a weekly basis, the menu is always changing. “People do still want our delicious beer, so we have to pay attention to this.”
At La Rosa, which has locations in Northwest Crossing and in the Brookswood Meadow Plaza on the Southwest side of Bend, DeRose said they have reorganized their environment in order to maintain the 6-foot distance between staff members. “We are cleaning and re-cleaning all surfaces, doors, POS systems, ipads and telephones. We have always been a little compulsive with cleaning, but it is a conscious effort by all at this point,” she said. “We are wearing masks when possible, wearing gloves, washing hands and washing utensils, pens, etc.” Payments are taken over the phone or at people’s vehicles, she said, and customers are encouraged to call when they arrive so that their order can be brought to them as soon as its ready. “Our biggest request, and people’s biggest disappointment, is that there are no to-go margaritas with alcohol,” she said with a laugh.
To further make the new methods work, Duley said Sunriver Brewing has had to condense their menus. Because of the significant decrease in business, the pubs can’t offer as much variety. “We don’t want quality to suffer, so we condensed the number of items we offer so that the perishable food moves faster. By bringing in fewer items, we can maintain higher quality and fresher ingredients.”
To keep the menus interesting, Duley said the pubs are bringing back old favorites and rotating out seasonal items, and they have recently added family-style meals.
We just launched family meals, where we take a popular entrée from the menu and turn it into a meal for four people for better value. We add extras like salads and desserts, and they run $45.”
DeRose said that at La Rosa, which is open from 3-7pm Tuesday through Sunday, they have anywhere from 25 to 75 orders per night at each location, with weekends being busier. “Some are single orders, but the majority seem to be orders for anywhere from four to six people. Most of our menu is available; however, on occasion, there might be an ingredient that is proving difficult to get. And there are a couple that just don’t travel well.”
The three locations of Sunriver Brewing’s pubs are in Sunriver, Bend (on NW Galveston Avenue) and Eugene (Oakway Pub). Although all three have similar menus, Duley said the chefs in each facility are encouraged to be creative and add unique items to their offerings. “Being a brewery restaurant, we have flexibility on pricing. We are offering rotating discounts on beer, from canned beer to growlers.”
To keep business afloat, Duley said Sunriver Brewing is working hard to stay in touch with customers, communicating through social media and in any other way they can. “Everything is digital now. Social media has been a very useful tool for us. People can tell us what they want.”
Unfortunately, Sunriver Brewing has had to temporarily lay off more than 200 employees, but Duley said they are working hard to stay in contact with those individuals too. “We are fortunate that we have such a good HR staff. We are making sure the employees are able to reach out to us. We are still a small family run business, but we are large enough to have great resources. Our employees can call us. We are here to help.”
DeRose said about half of her staff has had to be laid off. “Some chose to stay home for safety or family reasons, others wanted to support the staff who ‘really’ needed the limited hours offered just to get by.” She said there are anywhere from 20 to 24 total staff members working at the two locations right now. “I look forward to getting others back to work as they have need, and for the need of the restaurants.”
Duley said the staff members have great relationships with the local community, and that their customers have been very generous with tipping and in providing ongoing business. “A shining star in all of this is definitely the support we are getting, financially and otherwise. Our customers have been really good about coming in regularly to support us.”
At La Rosa, DeRose said that during the first four weeks of the current situation, both locations were neck and neck in terms of business. “NWX tends to be busier, but not by much. We are incredibly thankful for the outpouring of support from both our neighborhoods, and beyond. We are still seeing our weekly regulars, as well as many new faces who just want to support local,” she said “It’s incredible. The generosity of our community is touching. People who are able are definitely helping out here. Our staff at both locations are deeply grateful.”
Looking to the future, the big question is obviously when restaurants will be allowed to reopen for in-house dining, and to what extent. “I have concerns for the restaurant community,” said DeRose. “When talking about limiting seating and occupancy at any given time within a sit-down restaurant environment, it may not be feasible. But, we will see.”