Did you miss Claudia Saric’s conversation with Martin Merch of Good Eats Group in Fall 2020? Learn about how this restaurant group has pivoted over the last year. This transcript has been edited for length and grammar, catch the full interview on Trust20’s YouTube channel.
Thank you so much for the invite from all of us at Good Eats Group, we really appreciate the opportunity! We’ll dive right in with an overview of the group and the overall vision. Ironically we celebrated our 10th year in August 2020. We started up in Lincoln Park with our first two locations. We're very blessed in our partnerships and they are an accentuation of our global travels. Bringing those types of global flavors, cuisines, and nuances to a broader scope and socialize those flavors throughout Chicago. We're really the culinary capital of the United States and a very transient city.
Tell us the way that your businesses pivoted in 2020. Are there any new technologies you implemented? Contactless solutions? How have your health and safety methods changed in order to accommodate this new normal?
There are a couple key components. The Good Eats Group foundation is about collaboration, so as we approach this pandemic that was really thrust upon us. The first focus was creating our strategy and the first three words were safety, safety, and safety. The safety of our team members and the safety of our guests. All decisions flow down, so like everybody else we had to strip the business model down and really had to focus on what we were able to survive on the first week that we went into the shutdown back on March 17th. We did about $600 for the entire week for all five locations.
Wow, we actually heard that from a lot of restaurants. Unimaginable to see it happen.
It was very, very challenging. The next piece we did, we accentuated so all of the practice that we had about cleaning and sanitation and started doing deep cleaning on a regular cycle. We started wearing masks immediately and the team started wearing gloves at all times. We actually went through a process where for every guest that we served, from food preparation to the guest delivery, there was a minimum of six different glove changes from every team member.
We integrated all of the sanitation practices, we didn't go through and pick out pieces of the process - we put everything in. We figured out how to build the process to included both recommended and required ideas. We just integrated it all.
We started pursuing UV-C technology back in August and when it is appropriately applied it not only kills coronavirus but it also kills bacteria, mold and fungi. So, useful not only in the situation now but in perpetuity.
So do all of your restaurants have this now?
Yes, and we are the first restaurant company in the globe to have installed it. We set it on a cycle and each unit handles 4,100 square feet - we are completely processing the air in all our locations approximately every 27 minutes or less. We're constantly completely reprocessing the air so that we are providing the most safe environment possible in this pandemic whether you're inside or outside.
Let's talk a little bit about outdoor dining right now. What you guys are doing to prepare for the winter months, especially with there being a ban on indoor dining in Illinois right now?
We started by looking at Scandinavian and Northern European countries for research, along with the ski communities located throughout the globe. We're going to create a social winter lounge and our view is we have fire tables instead of creating closures. The average patio heater is only 32,000 btus, but fire tables are 50,000 btus. We are also creating a cocktail menu of warm beverages to incorporate into the experience. We're gonna have the fires for you to sit, at we're gonna have tvs for you to watch a game you want to come to the patio and tailgate.
I mean you’re gonna stand outside for six hours at a Bears game anyway. Why not come down to where we have facilities where you can get warm if you need to and you still have high caliber cuisine and truly great guest service. It's going to be a safer environment because we're going to have no enclosures and a lot of circulation.
There's been a lot of innovative ways that restaurants are accommodating this new normal. Are you promoting these changes on your social media? You have a very active digital presence, was that something you really focused on before or was that something that you really had to amp up once the pandemic hit?
We definitely did on the outside dining. it's a natural innate desire of all humans to connect so social media was always important to us. We have located more time and more resources in navigating that. We actually already had a plan to redo our website so that accentuated the desire to get that done faster and we're in the middle of it right now.
When we first went into pandemic the first thing we thought about was safety safety safety. Who's at most risk? The first thing we did was we created what we called first responder meal kits or boxes and we went out and we marketed those to anybody and everybody.
People wanted to donate, and we said instead of donating (because we didn't create a GoFundMe account), let's feed the people that are going to need help. So we've delivered to the fire stations, Rush, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Mercy - we've hit all of the hospitals and we've done a multitude of different districts for the firemen and policemen.
We really were focused on how do we safely help those men and women out there that are fighting this for us. In the process we really created a much more robust delivery vessel. Being a global restaurant, Social really was not great for delivery because the sophistication of the different techniques that had to be used. So we stripped it down and we kept the global influences, but we made it very American. We migrated the cuisine so that it's very delivery-friendly. We used the fact that we have multiple channels in the various assets to build out picnic and meal kits as well.
We are honored and humbled by our guests’ recognition for our efforts and our team's commitment. We're very blessed. We have high expectations but we got a good thing.
What has the sentiment from the community been regarding some of the health and safety procedures that you have implemented? Have most people been positive about it? Have people resisted it?
We learned early on that it's really about sharing information. As long as the guests know, they're pretty supportive. I personally have had to ask guests leave. We've had a few that have shown up and they're like “I’m not wearing a mask,” and I just escorted them out. As far as I’m concerned, I’m protecting my team and the other guests. We showcase it on our website, our reservation system, and we have signage at all of the all of the entries. We also have a guest sanitation station on top of the team members station.
It's been very well received. It's when they don't know that we've seen a little bit of pushback, but once we've explained it to them everybody's really embraced the situation. They understand we're operating within the environment that we're being provided. It's not like we're just creating this.
Are any of the new measures you have implemented in your restaurants going to stick around in 2021 and even beyond?
We're going to have hand sanitizer from here on out. We're going to have QR codes and some of our other contactless solutions. We've gotten really great feedback from our guests and our customers really seem to like it.
What types of things are your restaurants doing that you think you're going to continue doing from an operational perspective?
You know, a lot of the practices that we're doing - we already had them in place. Maybe we’re doing each process a little bit more often but you know that'll probably stay because everyone's already in the routine and it's easy. The technology upgrades are something that is going to stick for everybody - it's almost going to be a non-negotiable. The opportunity has really expanded and we've taken advantage of it.
The investments that we're going to make need to be long-term like the UV-C system. The really exciting thing about it is not only following the science, but it's creating a better environment for our guests and our team members. It's taking fungus, it's taking mold out of the air. Flu season is coming and we're gonna have the healthiest environment for people. These upgrades aren’t for just this year we're gonna have this every single year from here on out.
What do you hope for the future of the industry? A lot of folks are understandably a little nervous right now, but what do you want the future to look like in the next two years?
We would be remiss if we didn't recognize the tragedy that has happened already in Illinois. Over 5,000 small, independent restaurant have closed their doors and um you know so we send our prayers out to them. I think there's going to be a much greater appreciation for what restaurants are doing and the emotional connectivity that we provide for the communities that we serve.
I'd like to be able to see some real honest open data, real honest open comparison of why we were a target industry. You know there's no reason if commercial aircrafts or if target can stay open - there's no reason why restaurants should have to close. We are operating with such superior sanitary practices that we are part of the solution. As restauranteurs, we're helping enforce the restrictions, we're managing the people, we're managing six foot distancing. So that's something in the short term I'd really like to see.
In the long term, we're gonna see more technology and a greater appreciation for the restaurant industry as a whole. It's a tough environment to operate in general and with the way that you know you can shut those things down in a minute i just think we'll see more kind of an approach from diners.
Thank you so much Martin. Thanks for joining us today and thanks to all of our guests for tuning in.
Interested in what a restaurant group actually consists of? Are you considering launching a restaurant group of your own? Read through Back of House's Guide to Restaurant Groups and learn all about this popular format of restaurant ownership.
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