One restaurant’s new digital life

The coronavirus pandemic forced small businesses to adopt new digital habits, and many are now here to stay. (Photo: NYTimes)
NEW YORK — What does a post-pandemic restaurant look like? At Glasserie, a Mediterranean restaurant in Brooklyn, sales are stellar, the staff is stretched thin, and the owner is excited about technology — but only on her terms.اضافة اعلان

Last year, I wrote about Glasserie and how technology was both helping and hurting it adapt in the pandemic. I checked back this week with Sara Conklin, Glasserie’s owner, to find out how the restaurant is faring in (fingers crossed) the early phase of coronavirus recovery in the United States.

Glasserie’s experience is a hopeful sign that digital habits forced on us in a crisis may help build a brighter future not only for the corporate tech titans but also for smaller businesses.

Conklin told me that the pandemic forced her to become more tech savvy in ways that she believes will help the restaurant in the long run. She remains frustrated by some technology that caters to restaurants, particularly food delivery apps, but is thrilled about others, including smartphone software that she plans to use for customers to pay the bill on their phones.

Those are the kinds of digital services that Conklin said will make Glasserie more efficient and more profitable. “These are things I’d like to keep whether there was a pandemic or not,” she said. “We want to keep pushing ahead.”

Most of the past year, though, was all about muddling through. Glasserie’s dining room was closed or capacity was seriously limited. It tried to make up for lost business by opening an online minimart selling items like bottles of wine and toilet paper. It started selling alcoholic drinks and snacks through a new takeout window, and staff members cranked out emails to tempt diners with meals created for eating at home.

All of those pandemic adaptations are over. As other restaurants are reporting, people are eager to eat out again, and Glasserie is happy to serve them. “We’re busier now than we’ve ever been in our almost 10 years of existence,” Conklin told me. That’s even with capacity limits on indoor dining in New York.

Conklin also said that the pandemic converted her from a skeptic of technology for Glasserie. “I have always been resistant,” she said, not necessarily to all technologies but to those that she believed got in the way or ruined the atmosphere. “It didn’t feel right to me.” But now she’s excited about technology — at least some of it.

In 2020, Glasserie had no choice but to start using more delivery and takeout apps, including Seamless, Grubhub and DoorDash. Like other restaurant owners, Conklin complained about what she felt were confusing terms and high costs.

Recently, Glasserie has been using a feature from Square, which sells digital cash registers and other technology to restaurants, to take delivery orders directly on the restaurant’s website. Conklin uses a feature to hand off those orders to couriers working for Postmates or DoorDash for an additional fee.

She said this was a way for Glasserie to offer deliveries but on the restaurant’s own website and with more control. If the kitchen is slammed, Glasserie can temporarily pause the delivery option.

Conklin still doesn’t like costs for deliveries. She said she didn’t really know what Glasserie paid to delivery providers, showing how complicated the app companies’ charges were. “For me to find that out would take me a good hour or two and some real math,” she said.

It also bothers her that Glasserie has no way to keep tabs on delivery orders and often doesn’t know about late deliveries or botched meals until it’s far too late to fix the problem.

But Conklin’s biggest headache isn’t technology. It’s finding enough workers. Glasserie has advertised for staff on Craigslist and on restaurant job boards, and has gotten in touch with former employees. It’s been slow going.

I asked Conklin how it feels now that she and Glasserie have shifted past emergency mode to this new phase. She said she felt optimistic and uncertain, but mostly in a good way. “It feels very much like we are opening a restaurant from scratch,” she said.

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