Since March, CNMI businesses and establishments have been squeezing their creative juices to find viable alternatives to meet their customers’ needs in ways that are safe for both customers and employees and the good news is it is working.
Curbside pick-up allows a customer to phone in an order and pick it up without having to get out the car because the order is brought to one’s car by a server.
At the reopening of Bubba Gump last July, Robert H. Jones, chairman and CEO of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. said that the new trend now is not dine-in but drive-thru and pick-up services. “This is something that is being done in the United States now… and we have it as well. At Bubba Gump, just give us 15 to 20 minutes to prepare and we will serve it straight to your car,” he said.
Brabu Pharmacy created a drive-thru option or “Express Tent” for people who don’t want to go inside the store, especially the elderly. Shirley’s Coffee Shop, Loco & Taco, Sura Restaurant Saipan, and Surf Club also offer this alternative.
Drive-thru service has become one of the most convenient and reliable means to get food.
Since the start of the pandemic, McDonald’s has never stopped the operations of their drive-thru service, on top of their ‘”Mobile, Order and Pay” app, which has become a popular tool for people to skip the line while still getting their favorite McDonald’s items without having to worry about their health and safety.
“This app was launched in 2016 but it proved to be an effective tool for our customers to order their favorite McDonald’s items. …Through MOP, customers can avail of this, whether it is for take-out, drive-thru, dine-in, or curbside [pick-up],” said McDonald’s vice president Joe Ayuyu Jr.
The BAB Korean Restaurant in Garapan reopened in May with a new drive-thru counter and is considered the first Korean restaurant on Saipan to offer this kind of service. With a good amount of food being served in cups, this makes service efficient, which is why ordering and waiting in line is not much of a hassle.
Buffets in a different style
Most restaurants have discontinued self-service buffets and salad bars in the CNMI but have come up with new ways to offer buffet-style dining that still ensure customer health and safety.
Last month Loria Restaurant of Kensington Hotel introduced their “A La Minute Buffet,” one where customers are given an extensive menu from which customers can order whichever food they want for as often as they want, where the food will be served when asked, for a flat fee.
According to Kensington executive chef Lee Inok, he used his imagination to serve the community the right way while navigating through the pandemic. “A La Minute buffet is similar to buffet-style dining but, instead of getting food from different stations and getting food as often as you want, a la minute buffet means food is prepared and served to you at your table when you order it,” he said.
The World Café of Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan opened last week and, instead, of diners getting food from an array of dishes in different stations, diners are asked to point at the food displayed at each food station and the wait staff will serve it to them.
The Miyako Japanese restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel offers lunch set menu. Dine-in customers pick the lunch menu they prefer and they can ask for the same items in the menu over and over again until they are satisfied
Eats Easy is the CNMI’s first food delivery app that aims to deliver hot and fresh meals straight to your doorstep. “The idea came about to cater to customers that have no means of transportation, busy professionals that don’t have time to cook or go out, the man’amko [elderly population] , and [persons with disabilities]. Nowadays, Eats Easy’s new mission is to deliver food to anyone who is hunkered down at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” said Eats Easy president Clint Albert.
Eats Easy has also partnered with Joeten Corp. to make grocery shopping as easy as ordering the items on the Eats Easy app and having Eats Easy deliver your groceries to your home. Not only would this be convenient for the app’s target audience but it would also be convenient for people who don’t like lugging heavy grocery bags from their car to their home.
The Triple J SuperFresh and Truckload Store has also developed its own independent app, where shoppers can also do their grocery shopping from the comfort of their living room couch.
Naoki Oura was forced to temporarily close his karaoke bar and restaurant, Salty’s, because of health and safety precautions. That was the impetus that pushed him to create a side hustle he calls Ura-Ya, where he offers Japanese street food like takoyaki balls and baby castella (Japanese sponge cake) that he sells on the space in front of Salty’s in Garapan.
“With the current curfew in place, it is hard for businesses like mine to make it because karaoke is usually enjoyed past 10pm by friends and family. If it is a restaurant it is fine because people will be coming for dinner and drinks early. Putting up Ura-Ya and using my skills has given me a source of income during the pandemic,” he said.
New business models
At this point, it is assumed that these new ways of dining and serving food is not going away once the COVID-19 pandemic dies down. These novel ways of obtaining one’s food are predicted to become part and parcel of the restaurant business and will just be one more way for people to get food, whether through curbside pick-up or even grocery shopping. Anything that meets a need should become standard and a win for both customers and businesses.