“There are no rules right now. Everything we've done with our business model is flipped upside down. So let's get crazy here. What can we do?”
That was the general context of the conversation Rachel Titcomb, the General Manager of Loco Taqueria and Fat Baby, had with her leadership team when COVID-19 first began affecting the restaurant industry. It’s now been over two weeks since Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker mandated that all bars and restaurants stop offering dine-in service in order to slow the spread of the virus. In those two weeks, a great deal has changed for the industry, and for Rachel and her staff. But those early conversations about how to pivot their sit-down restaurants have made all the difference in their business.
One of the biggest hurdles for Loco Taqueria and Fat Baby, two restaurants in one restaurant group but with very different concepts, was figuring how to run both from one location.
“We've combined teams and are operating just out of Loco right now. It's been pretty cool to bring the two teams together and have just one big operation,” Rachel said. Though it’s been a challenge to figure out how to use one kitchen to prepare food for both a taco and oyster bar as well as a sushi restaurant, the staff has risen to the occasion. “Our staff has had to navigate in real time being extremely busy with take out, and how to operate two kitchens out of one kitchen, and they have just been incredible.”
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By cutting down both menus and cross-utilizing ingredients, the restaurants have been able to produce crowd favorites that each are known for, like dollar dumplings from Fat Baby, and cocktail kits to make Loco Taqueria’s famous margaritas from home. They’re using third-party delivery companies to continue delivering these beloved items to their guests, and as they find their groove, they’re adding more elements that will keep the party going.
“One of our rules that we live by is it's our job to throw a party every day when people are at our restaurant, and it's really hard to do that when you don't have the space to throw a party in,” Rachel said. “We've been trying to think of different ways to benefit our staff, while also giving something to our regular guests.”
One of our rules that we live by is it's our job to throw a party every day when people are at our restaurant, and it's really hard to do that when you don't have the space to throw a party in. We've been trying to think of different ways to benefit our staff, while also giving something to our regular guests.
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The two restaurant teams have come up with plenty of other initiatives to keep their doors open and their employees working. Loco Taqueria and Fat Baby work regularly with local musicians, but since the pandemic has restricted gatherings to 10 or fewer people, they’ve had to get creative with how they provide entertainment. The restaurants decided to host live Instagram concerts, and the artists agreed to donate tips directly to the staff relief fund.
They’ve created a “Loco Madness” bracket for customers to vote on their favorite menu items in a bracket-style format, and the winner receives a tequila dinner for ten (once ten people are again allowed to be in the same room). All entree fee proceeds go directly to their staff relief fund as well, making participation all the more enticing for customers.
They’re also currently auctioning off a day of golf with former and current NHL players to raise money for their staff, and donating 50% of gift card sales directly to their staff relief fund. They know that without their employees, the restaurants would cease to operate, so the initiatives they’ve got in place to assist their hourly workers are much deserved.
The community agrees. “The support from the community has been completely overwhelming,” Rachel shared. “Our whole team is blown away.” The South Boston locals have been participating in the advertised events, purchasing takeout, and voicing their support on social media. “We've never had a more captive audience than right now because there's not a whole lot going on.”
The support from the community has been completely overwhelming. Our whole team is blown away.
Community members have also taken part in suggesting ideas for the famous marquee sign in front of Loco Taqueria. Submission winners include “Not to brag, but we haven’t been late to anything in over two weeks” and “Can’t spell quarantine without U, R, A, Q, T — What’s up”.
Loco Taqueria and Fat Baby have been able to find a way to bring joy to the lives of their customers, and supply their community with “a little dose of Loco in their homes”. Rachel explained why the community’s engagement has been so important to the restaurants. “We're trying to just provide a little something for people who are looking for a distraction from everything that's happening. We just want to remain in people's lives.”
The aforementioned cocktail kits have been a huge hit, and as much as the guests are loving ordering them (they’ve sold out every single day), the employees are truly enjoying creating the tutorial videos that go along with the kits. “It's good for the staff. Everyone's losing it a little bit, so it gives them something fun to do. They get amped up when they're the one in the cocktail tutorial and it's just a thing to keep everyone sane.”
The teams have had to overcome some challenges, of course. Produce companies now have limited hours, which makes getting fresh food deliveries a bit more challenging, and not every initiative has been successful. However, the teams are cognizant of the fact that they need to be flexible to keep up with the constant changes.
It’s no easy feat to pivot your entire business structure to takeout and delivery, but Rachel had some advice for restaurants looking to switch gears to stay open.
“I think the biggest thing right now is to listen. Listen not only to what guests want but listen to your staff. The staff has so many great ideas. Almost all of our staff live in this neighborhood, so they know what people want. They’re really in tune with what’s going on. And don't be afraid to make quick changes on the fly. This is all changing so quickly, so be super, super flexible and just understand that there are so many things that are out of your control.”
I think the biggest thing right now is to listen. Listen not only to what guests want but listen to your staff. The staff has so many great ideas. Almost all of our staff live in this neighborhood, so they know what people want. They’re really in tune with what’s going on. And don't be afraid to make quick changes on the fly. This is all changing so quickly, so be super, super flexible and just understand that there are so many things that are out of your control.