Food & Drink

How You Can Support NOLA Restaurants During COVID-19 Precautions

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans nearly 15 years ago, one of the signs residents looked to for a return to something like normalcy was the reopening of local restaurants. Despite limited menus and few staffers on hand, “open” signs heralded a seachange. 

In many ways, as the social impacts of the coronavirus hit hard across the nation, what’s happening here is a reflection of that disaster in 2005. Over the course of several days, the New Orleans hospitality industry has been forced into retreat as city and state officials mandate limited hours and the ability to gather groups of people in one place. On Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced all bars, casinos and movie theaters were closed outright; restaurants will be limited to take-out, delivery and drive-through orders only. The measures will remain in place until at least April 13.

Another similarity these crises have in common: People willing to help their neighbors. As we all wait for breaking news alerts to parse out what comes next, we do have options for how we can support the New Orleans restaurants that are such a part of day-to-day life here.  

Get takeout

Many restaurants are down to skeleton crews, but those that can remain open have been offering takeout and delivery. This means many have had to reimagine their menus or create new ones outright. Some, like The Munch Factory, are even offering curbside delivery to keep folks from coming inside their shops. As noted on Stein’s Deli’s Instagram page, many are “sort of making this up as we go along,” but the team at Morrow’s got some extra training this week from New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara to get ready. If you don’t think every order counts, just look to Seed, which came right out and said the restaurant needs $800 a day to stay open, and they’re definitely keeping track.

So, instead of your usual night out, get takeout and have a backyard picnic, and consider putting in an order for an elderly neighbor who may not be able to get out to restaurants very often.

Tip like you mean it

When your delivery arrives or you pick up your order, make sure you tip -- as heavily as you can manage. This kind of cash goes straight into the pockets of the people who make our lives more delicious. Speaking of which, at least two New Orleanians have established virtual tip jars so you can find your favorite service industry workers and slip an extra few bucks their way.

Buy gift cards

By heeding all those warnings from public health officials, you might’ve wound up with a stash of groceries that need to get eaten before anything goes bad. If takeout doesn’t make sense right now, consider what you would normally spend on a night out and grab a gift card instead. Then, plan your re-entry to restaurant society for when the mandates lift and we all have something to celebrate.

Get some snazzy new merch

Now’s the time to stock up on New Orleans cookbooks -- try to buy them through a locally-owned bookstore or directly from the restaurant website -- as well as branded gear or home-delivered snacks. Bellegarde Bakery reopened its online store to sell its flours and pastas. Always wanted a Pig Slayer T-shirt from Cochon Butcher? Now’s your moment

Share your experiences in a review

If you can’t commit to spending money to support your favorite bars and restaurants, take some time to leave a positive review or comment on their Google, Yelp, and Facebook pages. They need every boost they can get right now, and positive word of mouth can help drive other delivery orders their way, while also making sure their reputations are intact when they reopen.

Donate to feed first-responders

At least two New Orleans groups are collecting donations to support local restaurants by ordering takeout, but they're using the meals to help feed the first-responders and healthcare workers on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Both the Krewe of Red Beans, which many know for its annual Lundi Gras parade, and the Chef's Brigade are accepting donations through GoFundMe, then turning around and using the cash to make deliveries to New Orleans police department districts and area hospitals. 

Call your elected officials 

As Thalia and Coquette chef Kristen Essig said, “We’re going to have to make a lot of change.” The reality of the coronavirus is that it’ll reverberate throughout the restaurant community for months, if not years, to come. Some restaurants will make it. Others won’t. But the folks who work for them will need options, and that’ll take public policy, so call your elected officials and lobby on behalf of the people who earn money hourly and in the gig economy. “You can change someone’s life for the better with that,” Essig said. “Take the time. Make a phone call. Sign a petition.”

Sign up here for our daily New Orleans email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Big Easy.

Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, who formerly worked for The Times-Picayune as an arts and entertainment reporter and city columnist. Follow her on Twitter @cabrasted.