By Deepi Harish
Social isolation is difficult and many consumers find themselves missing their pre-pandemic lives, including leisurely visits to their favourite foodservice establishments. Nonetheless, there are some positives that have emerged during this time, one of them being innovation. The pandemic and its resulting lockdown have shown us how quickly resilient companies have been able to adapt to these changing times.
The impact of COVID-19 on the food sector is among the most visible. Recent surveys show that a majority of restaurants offering takeout are currently operating at a loss. On the flip side, other, more robust restaurants have been able to quickly shift to curbside deliveries and pickup.
A number of restaurants have also modified their menus to include family-style dinners, dinners for two, and other meal deals that were not part of their pre-pandemic offerings. These additions increase options for customers and can potentially – and hopefully – increase profits. And for those Canadians who have suddenly discovered home cooking, meal kits created by restaurants (rather than the meal kit industry) are becoming a plentiful and attractive option.
To celebrate this growing trend, we’re highlighting four Toronto eateries that have added specially curated meal deals to their menus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1214 Dundas St. W
Stylish Italian restaurant serving up local and sustainable seafood and vegetarian dishes, plus cocktails and wine.
When lockdown became a reality, Ufficio was one of the first restaurants in Toronto to offer something new on their takeout menu. Their dinner for two was their first push and can easily be turned into dinner for four upon request. They have also added new items to their menu, such as a whole trout stuffed with olives, capers, breadcrumbs, and herbs with a caper butter sauce on the side. Add-ons include homemade rosemary garlic focaccia, grilled asparagus with lemon ricotta, brown butter and pine nut gremolata, and a burrata spring salad.
Ufficio hasn’t slowed down since being on lockdown. In fact, they’ve experienced an increase in specially curated orders, many from those celebrating milestones. “We have received many custom orders,” says Jenny Coburn, president of Ufficio. “This week Ufficio is catering a dinner for twelve for a University of Toronto medical student graduation, and we’ll be delivering twelve meals so they can have a Zoom party.”
Coburn confirms that the new additions to the menu have streamlined the process in the kitchen. “As we have moved to curbside pickup, delivery, and diner pre-orders, there is no ambiguity in how many of each dish the kitchen has to prepare, which is a luxury that doesn’t exist for in-restaurant dining where we have to buffer for walk-ins,” she adds. “It’s kind of crazy that we can now realize efficiencies right down to a tablespoon of butter.”
Already successful in pivoting to takeout and delivery, Ufficio has also taken steps to expand their touchless services. “We’ve also recently opened up our curbside pop-up, Bar Ufficio, serving ready-to-go lunch as well as half-priced bottles of wine by Grape Witches and Dillon’s Negroni,” says Coburn.
The new food items will continue to be options on Ufficio’s takeout/delivery menu once the restaurant reopens. “With in-room dining being reduced to 50 per cent capacity, not only will takeout/delivery be essential to restore businesses close to pre-COVID [conditions] but also to continue to service diners that are not yet ready to join us at the restaurant.” Ufficio plans to offer more dinners for two, vegan mains, and simple items like spaghetti pomodoro, as these have been popular items on their menu during the province’s declared state of emergency.
633 King St. W
An oversized space serving up authentic Italian fare with modern-day classics.
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Much of the Italian lifestyle revolves around the family dinner table, and Oretta is all about feeding the family. “We offer both family-style dinners as well as a compressed dining menu,” says owner Salvatore Mele. From 4 pm to 9 pm daily, the restaurant’s Stay At Home menu, offers special takeout and delivery options, such as pizza or pasta kits and four-course dinners.
Although Oretta hasn’t noticed an increase in orders on these menus, they have found family-style menus do quite well and are usually ordered for special occasions. “Most of these family style menus come in as a pre-order,” Mele explains. “It’s much easier for the kitchen staff to execute in a timely manner.” This allows Oretta to streamline the process in their kitchen. And though the restaurant will keep these options available for takeout once dine-in service has resumed, they likely won’t extend the option to their dining room. “We feel because of guest habits and government mandates, serving family-style while dining in the restaurant may appear to go against societal views,” Mele notes.
85 Hanna Ave, Suite 104
A relaxed, modern spot that serves a memorable brunch on weekends and international fare throughout the week.
Mildred’s carries one of the best brunches in the city, and now they are offering Brunch In A Box with all the staples, from their buttermilk pancake mix and blueberry compote, to Caesar drink kits, to burger and sausage kits fit for any sized family. Brunch, BBQ, and booze – sounds like the perfect weekend.
10 Bay St #105
Flame-seared and pressed sushi is the specialty of this creative Japanese eatery.
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Miku is known for putting signature twists on classic Japanese food, and their newly developed meal kits are no exception. “We have developed two different meal kits for our properties on the West and East Coast,” says Dean Harrison, the company’s national marketing director. “Our meal kits have been designed to be completed (soba noodle kit/ramen) or assembled (temaki sushi kit) at home in a fun and engaging way, bringing people together safely, similar to our in-real-life dining ethos.”
Miku has taken it a step further by partnering up with distilleries and wineries to provide a proper at-home dinner experience. “We have collaborated with different alcohol partners, Saint Clair Family Estate and Legent Bourbon, to create unique offerings,” says Harrison. Their new initiatives include an al fresco dining packages for two or four, family meal kits, and cocktail kits.
In terms of an increase in orders, Miku confirms that when it comes to meal kits it’s a strong yes. “Guests are looking to takeout options to provide more elevated at-home experiences than ever before,” Harrison reports. “We have also noticed many parents ordering our temaki sushi kits as a form of healthy family entertainment for children, to get them involved in the culinary experience and preparation.”
Miku is one of the few establishments we spoke to that reported needing extra help in the kitchen during this time. “We have been so grateful to be able to bring back more and more members of our talented culinary team to keep up with demand while maintaining the highest quality standards,” adds Kazuya Matsuoka, Miku’s COO.
Since Miku has seen much success with their takeout and delivery options, they’re planning to grow that avenue. “We project the accelerated demand for takeout to continue long after reopening and want to best serve our guests by offering our signature menu items for pickup and delivery, along with safe dine-in experiences. We are currently analyzing the demand for more family-style meals whether, it’s for takeout for dine in,” confirms Matsuoka.