On Tuesday, March 17 all Wisconsin bars and restaurant dining rooms were ordered to close by Gov. Tony Evers in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. This has come with a steep learning curve for many Fox Cities restaurants as they adapt their businesses to these new restrictions.
Kimberly Finnell, co-owner of Osorio’s Latin Fusion in Grand Chute, says it’s meant refocusing efforts on delivery, take out and curbside pick up orders.
“We are learning to be a delivery service and that comes with a whole lot of stuff,” says Finnell, who admits delivery was never in her business plan. “If you walk into the restaurant on a busy Friday night, I can tell you in five minutes how long it will take to get a table. But Friday when the phone is exploding with deliveries, we are telling people an hour and a half waits and we are just making numbers up. That first night of delivery, the drivers were just taking food and looking up addresses on Google Maps in the car.”
Since that first night, Finnell says her team has established protocol to make things much more efficient. Osorio’s started offering delivery with one driver and one staff member manning the phones. They now staff three drivers and three phone operators to manage orders. Deliveries are now grouped by zip code to increase speed of service and route efficiency.
Osorio’s holds a catering license and owns three catering vehicles which are now used for making deliveries. In some ways, this has made shifting to delivery and take out service an easier switch than if they didn’t.
Finnell says she was surprised to see near normal sales numbers on several nights of the week after the dining room closed.
“I’m taken aback by the outpouring of love and to go orders. This community is so invested and they aren’t going to let us go down,” she says. “We have a lot of regulars who have a routine and are here every Friday for happy hour. They are keeping their routine and it’s neat that we still get to be a part of their Friday, just from six feet away.”
All the take out and delivery orders mean the restaurant’s full-time kitchen staff has been able to maintain their regular employment. “We thought we would have to rotate shifts, but then we saw almost regular Friday night sales through delivery and take out so everybody has to work,” Finnell says.
But it’s a different story for front of house staff like servers, bartenders and hosts. Finnell says closing the dining room meant laying off 15 front of house employees which constitutes 75 percent of the restaurant’s staff.
“Yeah, there is beauty and success, but I still have single moms at home on unemployment,” she says. “This is so heartbreaking because they are like my family.”
Finnell says her goal is to bring back front of the house staff as quickly as possible, either when the dining room mandate is lifted or delivery and to-go orders increase.
Another area of opportunity provided by Osorio’s catering license is the restaurant’s ability to deliver premixed cocktails, like their classic margaritas, but diners must be willing to work for them. Premixed cocktails must be paid for on premise but can’t be taken to go – they must be delivered by the restaurant. So diners must first come to the restaurant to pay for their order which will then be delivered by Osorio’s staff. However, original sealed containers, like unopened bottles of wine, can be purchased on premise and taken with to go orders.
Despite the legwork, Finnell estimates that in the first week they delivered more than 50 half gallons of margaritas.
“It’s inconvenient, but for a good margarita in these times there’s not a lot people wouldn’t do,” she says.
The restaurant is now also serving breakfast (which they call breakFIESTA) from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Saturday, a new offering since the outbreak started. Finnell says the breakfast menu could potentially continue when things return to normal if it receives a good response. Breakfast items include things like breakfast burritos, a chilaquiles tower and egg enchiladas.
Looking to the future, Finnell says her team is brainstorming creative ways to serve customers even if the quarantine continues longer than originally expected. This could mean driving the Osorio’s food truck through residential neighborhoods for streetside orders or car-hopping from the food truck while it’s parked in a local lot. One thing is certain, Finnell says – there will be no canceling of Cinco de Mayo.
“I want to believe that this will be done and back to normal in two weeks, but we are looking into what fun things we can do if it carries on for two more months,” Finnell says. “We have to bring Cinco de Mayo to the people.”
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