By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
If you think you have done enough for restaurants by ordering takeout, here’s how you can do better…
An insensitive customer at a Chinatown-International District (CID) restaurant made me speak out. I was picking up some dim sum recently. The entrance was crowded. Most Asian restaurants have a small lobby. In fact, I would not even call it a lobby because there are just a couple of chairs for customers. It’s not even a foyer or reception area. It’s merely a small space situated around the cash register counter. There is no room for social distancing. Nor is it good for picking up food because people are staying longer than they should while ordering or paying. Frequently, the owners and staff have to come up front to yell out the name of the customers to get the food and take care of payment. This makes me uncomfortable to go inside a restaurant to order or wait for food.
What upset me lately was a lady holding up the line by challenging the owner. Was she out of her mind when so many people were waiting in that dingy space? Thank God everyone wore masks.
The woman complained about the price increase on many items, and the restaurant staff had to explain to her the prices on the bill. Was the woman crazy? I was about to go up to her and give her a piece of my mind.
“Hey, ma’am, this is not the time nor place to bargain for 20 or 30 cents. Why are you wasting all the other customers’ time? If you want to buy something cheap, make the dim sum at home yourself.”
I didn’t, though. Why talk to people who are so thoughtless and heartless! Better yet, I am sharing my gripes in this blog.
The pandemic is not the right time to complain about a restaurant’s price increase. While many restaurants have closed their doors during the lockdown, she should be grateful that many Asian restaurants are opening their doors so she could buy delicious food seven days a week. CID restaurants are known for their value, quality, and quantity.
Many of them are struggling to survive. Doesn’t she understand that?
If the restaurants want to increase their price, they should. More power to them so they can make up for their loss of business and keep their employees working. According to several economic forecasts, as much as 60% of the restaurants might not make it by Dec. 30. Over 110,000 restaurants nationwide have already shut down as press time.
A huge number of restaurant workers have lost their jobs. For those restaurants still open for business, they are barely hanging by a thread.
Ordering takeout is the least you can do to support these businesses and the community. Even if they have increased their prices, you are still getting a deal as CID restaurants are low-priced compared to restaurants outside the district.
The restaurant industry is a key economic framework of the Asian community, feeding many other industries, including noodle companies, groceries, and other supply chains. If every community member plays an active role in supporting restaurants by doing something, most could survive after COVID.
The other day, I had to deliver a wedding gift in the north end. On the way back, I told my husband to pass by our old customer, Snappy Dragon Restaurant, to get some takeout and check on how they are doing. The owners were not present. We ordered smoked tea duck and mushi pork to go. Though our order was small, we were glad we thought about them and could help.
Some community members have contributed funds to support restaurants by buying restaurant meals for healthcare workers and professionals, and the homeless. Philanthropists Jerry and Charlene Lee even invited friends to dine at some restaurant on their own, and they would pick up their checks later.
What can you do to support our community’s restaurants?
1. Buy restaurant gift cards for the holidays
It’s a nice gift for friends and family. Gift cards are easy to mail and it’s handy for the receivers to carry them around.
Instead of buying gifts, which might not be the right choice for your friends, send a restaurant gift certificate to as many friends as possible. It doesn’t have to be a big amount. Even a $20 gift certificate might help to bring in more business to the restaurants.
2. Order in advance
Order online or call ahead, even the day before, rather than going inside the restaurant to order, especially in small restaurants. This helps the restaurant to do more planning ahead.
3. Pay with your credit card
If you pay cash, ask for the exact amount of the order so you can bring the correct amount. During COVID, it’s best not to get change back.
4. Add a tip
Some restaurants already add a percentage to your bill. Ask if this is for the staff or the owner. It’s good to know and support those who are running the restaurants.
5. What to do if there are lines?
If you want to order last minute and see a line outside, find out if you can order on your phone. Or go to another restaurant without lines so that other restaurants can have some business, too. I know some restaurants are not going to be happy with me about this. But it’s important to spread the wealth during COVID.
6. Don’t ask unnecessary questions when you pick up.
Be considerate to the workers or the owners as they are already under lots of pressure. Thank them for their service, even though you are giving them the business. Why? They deserve your appreciation because they are essential workers, exposing themselves to strangers with unknown risks.
7. Add a tip, even for delivery service.
Even if the bill has already added a percentage, it’s the least you can do to give everyone more joy during Christmas.
8. Do curbside take-out
If you are uncomfortable picking up your takeout order, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask them to bring the food out to your car. You don’t even have to leave or park your car. I have seen some CID restaurants do just that.
9. Weekdays vs. weekends
Several CID restaurants have better business on weekends than weekdays. Perhaps you can help spread the word about doing takeout on their slow days.
Never underestimate your support, however small, to those who need it in a crisis, as your gesture exhibits compassion and, most importantly, hope.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.