One year after ‘Safer at Home,’ these pandemic pivots at local restaurants could be here to stay

The semi-permanent shifts that could have a permanent place in Madison's dining scene

MADISON, Wis.– It’s officially been one year since the state’s ‘Safer at Home’ order took effect, upending the way we work, learn, and live. Some of the most noticeable changes immediately impacted the way we eat.

News 3 Now spoke with Wisconsin Restaurant Association President Kristine Hillmer about the pandemic-born trends that could be here to stay.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes over the past year has been the frequency at which people order takeout. Prior to the pandemic, ordering delivery from a sit-down restaurant felt like an extravagance reserved for special occasions and wasn’t even offered by many high-end establishments. Today, it’s become routine for many families and an essential way to safely support local restaurants. Hillmer said this semi-permanent shift will likely stick around.

“Throughout this pandemic, curbside and delivery has been very important for local restaurants,” Hillmer explained. “But it only backfilled about 30% of lost sales.”

In order to recoup some of what was lost in 2020, Hillmer said restaurants will need to maximize their spaces to serve the maximum number of customers. Several pandemic-born trends could help with this: outdoor dining, larger patios, and heated igloos.

Hillmer said menu changes, like take-and-bake options, family meal bundles, and virtual experiences will likely also continue, allowing restaurants to increase their customer base, without needing any additional space.

Local delivery companies are encouraged by that news, hoping business will continue to soar for them. Since the start of the pandemic, Madison-based EatStreet has nearly doubled its number of drivers, from 250 to 450.

“Things went from zero to sixty real quick for us,” said Caitlyn Kalscheur, EatStreet’s Content Marketing Manager. “We obviously saw a big boost at the start of the pandemic and that has really sustained this whole time.”

During the pandemic, the number of restaurants on the delivery platform grew as well, up to 600 in Madison and its surrounding communities.

EatStreet prides itself on prioritizing locally-owned businesses, and the company works with local restaurants directly to cut down on additional customer surcharges and delivery fees. For example, on March 29, the service is celebrating ‘Mom & Pop Business Owners Day’ by offering free delivery from all Madison-based restaurants.

You can find the full list of local restaurants offering delivery through EatStreet in the Madison area here.