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Kansas City restaurants overcome pandemic-related challenges

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 08:17:22-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Aside from the staffing and supply chain issues which have impacted businesses of all types during the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants have had to change the way they do business in order to survive.

In the early stages, lockdowns forced restaurants to cater to curbside pick up, with one group even launching a database of curbside-capable restaurants around Kansas City, Missouri.

Nearly two years later, and in the midst of a second Kansas City Restaurant Week event during a pandemic, KSHB 41 News took a look at how restaurants have adapted. Major changes include increases in delivery, outside dining and sanitation.

Before the pandemic, Todd Johns said about 52% of the customers at his Plowboys BBQ restaurant in Blue Springs dined in. Now only 20% of customers eat in the restaurant.

That shift means Johns now relies more on third party delivery services like Postmates, Grubhub, and DoorDash to get food to customers.

Previously those kinds of services brought in new business, so Johns didn’t mind paying associated fees. As he relies more on those services, the amount he pays in fees increases.

“It’s caused kind of a ripple effect into the financials of the business where we have to now figure out, how do we cover those additional fees that weren’t part of those sales previously,” Johns pointed out. “It’s kind of shifted from an add-on to a necessity and it’s just causing operators to factor that in to the overall operation.”

Part of the shift for Johns meant studying which delivery services provide the most bang for the buck to both his bottom line and customers’ satisfactions.

Kansas City leaders considered, but never adopted a rule limiting how much delivery companies can charge restaurants in fees.

As deliveries increased, Plowboys has also changed how it packages food.

Johns wants the food to arrive hot and as if his employees handed it directly to the customer. He said catering clients have shifted to more individual, boxed meals as opposed to buffets, which also requires more packaging.

At Plate Italiano Moderno in Brookside, chefs design the food more for dine-in than delivery or carry out, so general manager Seth Welch said sanitation has been a focus of the staff. They’ve boosted disinfecting methods during the pandemic and have staff wear face masks.

“Making people feel safe has been a really big area restaurants are focusing on now,” Welch said. “There’s a lot of other things that go along with it including staffing and making sure your staff is healthy, things like that. I think mainly what people want in this new environment we’re in is to feel safe while they’re at the restaurant.”

Doctors say COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors, so patio and outdoor dining have seen in increased demand. Many cities loosened rules about using sidewalks and parking spaces as dining patios.

The waterfront patio at Marina 27 Steak and Seafood located along Lake Lotawana is primed for guests. Co-owner Lance McFarland admitted heaters only do so much in the winter, but he hopes Restaurant Week 2022 helps put his restaurant on diners’ radar to return during better weather.

“It’s a great chance to showcase your restaurant to a lot of different customers,” McFarland said of Restaurant Week. “Let them come during a slow period, check it out, see what a great venue we have.”

Plate overcame a fire in April 2017. Plowboys overcame a burst pipe in February 2021. McFarland opened in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. All these restaurateurs know about challenges and are prepared for the next.