April 09, 2021 at 07:37PM

As the vaccine rollout progresses rapidly across the country, with over a third of U.S. adults having received at least one dose and with more than 3 million doses administered per day, local businesses and legislatures alike are faced with the challenge of negotiating what safety regulations should look like in this moment of flux. On the one hand, overly strict regulations can deny newly immune consumers the opportunity to reengage with their lives and deny businesses the chance to begin building back up after an enormously difficult 13 months. On the other hand, becoming too lax too fast can put people’s lives in danger.

For restaurants, this question is especially pressing, as indoor dining restrictions deny many their main source of revenue, while reopening can provide hope to these struggling businesses. As such, when the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published “Mask Mandates, On-Premises Dining, and COVID-19,” which argued the ways in which on-premises dining puts people in danger, the restaurant industry took issue with the article.

In a release issued last Friday (April 2), the National Restaurant Association, which represents over 500,000 U.S. restaurant businesses, said JAMA’s article “unfairly targeted restaurants and ignored that there is no evidence that directly links COVID-19 outbreaks to restaurants.” The association added that its own survey of 3,500 restaurants in late 2020, only 40 businesses had experienced viral “clusters.”

DoorDash Pushes Back Against Fee Caps

In a company blog post entitled “The Impacts of Price Controls” published Wednesday (April 7), DoorDash argued that price control policies hurt restaurants by decreasing sales volume, a result of the fees that DoorDash imposes in response to these controls.

“When our platform becomes less affordable for consumers, restaurants’ sales decline and they see less revenue, Dashers are able to earn less money, and governments generate less in sales tax — money needed to support government services for the public,” the post states.

The company goes on to highlight three cases from areas where price controls have been imposed — a 4 percent order volume decrease in St. Louis leading to a $110 thousand decrease in earnings for drivers; a 7 percent order volume decrease in Philadelphia leading to a $449 thousand earnings decrease; and a 4 percent order volume decrease in Westchester County, New York, leading to a $45 thousand earnings decrease.

“Since the first price control was implemented, we’ve said that these will ultimately harm restaurants and Dashers and that there are better solutions to support local restaurants,” the post states. “Our platform succeeds only when it works for all sides of our marketplace: restaurants, Dashers, and customers. We look forward to working closely with lawmakers everywhere on ways to ensure restaurants can thrive into the future.”

The price controls in question emerged in response to restaurants straining against the steep fees imposed by third-party delivery services like DoorDash, which could at times be as high as 40 percent.

OpenTable Opens Its Own Restaurant In Miami

The first OpenTable-operated restaurant is set to open in Miami Beach on Sunday (April 11), reports Food & Wine. The reservation platform, which primarily functions as a service for other restaurants, will open Layla, a Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant that will serve as a testing site for new OpenTable technologies. The restaurant will be within the Kayak Hotel, the first hotel operated by travel search engine Kayak. Both OpenTable and Kayak are subsidiaries of Bookings Holdings.

“We’re the guinea pigs, not the customers,” Layla Food and Beverage Director Daniel Levine told the publication. “This is really a design innovation lab for OpenTable. For example, we can see everything you order with us, then leverage that to develop new technology. Say you always tweak a certain cocktail with your preferred spirit; next time you won’t have to ask to have it your way.”

The in-restaurant technology aims to educate waitstaff as to their customers’ preferences, allowing recommendations more tailored to that customer’s taste. Once features are refined within Layla, they will be integrated into the OpenTable platform for all restaurants using the service.

Restaurant Chain Enters Ghost Kitchen Space With 60 Locations

Dallas-based barbecue restaurant chain Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which has around 460 brick-and-mortar locations across the U.S., has launched a virtual brand, Wing Boss, with 40 locations already operating out of Dickey’s kitchens and with 20 more set to launch throughout the month, reports Nation’s Restaurant News.

“Wing Boss not only makes our pit-smoked wings and tenders more accessible, it’s also an innovative business model built to cater to today’s times,” said Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of the restaurant chain, said in a company news release.  “We are always looking for ways to support our Owner/Operators and Wing Boss creates an additional opportunity to expand their earning potential and capitalize on the delivery trend of today’s convenience-minded consumers.”

She added that the company intends to “scale [the brand] across all of our locations.”

Chicken wings have become a staple of the virtual kitchen space, with brands by Nathan’s Famous, Inc.’s Wings of New York, Fatburger’s Hurricane Grill & Wings and Chili’s It’s Just Wings, to name a few.

Restaurant Roundup: Industry Leaders Push Back Against Regulations …

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