Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic in Austin, TX, on Pandemic Drinking and Post-Pandemic Takeout - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic in Austin, TX, on Pandemic Drinking and Post-Pandemic Takeout

On a Quick Pivot

As soon as the pandemic hit, everything was shut down in Austin; we were not allowed to operate dine-in after March 17th. But we are lucky as it is just my partner and I, so we have no investors, and we don’t have to ask for permission. So, we just grabbed to-go boxes; we were luckily already online with baked goods and just added to the online ordering, ironed out the kinks, and full steam ahead with takeout!

It is not what our cooks are used to, and volume was an issue, since in the restaurant we are limited by seats, but with takeout, there is no limit until you set one. It was wild and took us a few weeks to set that limit, but we got there. We had changed the menu, revamping it for to-go so the food would taste good in the to-go boxes. When we reopened for dine-in [ at 50% capacity ], we went back to a more our-style menu. There are just not a lot of tables you can fit at 6 feet apart, and we physically can’t force more tables in there. 

We tried to get a patio approved, even had engineer-approved plans. The city sat on it for six months, and, in the end, it was too close to the house that we share a fence with. We had no other options with winter coming, so we rented a tent, spending lots of money to get back up to the original occupancy with more than half of our seating outside and significantly spread out. 

We just have a beer and wine license and always had a retail license. We loaded our inventory online with more retail pricing. I mean, the guests are not taking up table space, not taking up server time, not dirtying glasses; so we just dropped prices, which still allowed us to make some money. 

On Managing the Wine

I did offer a couple of bottles that are a bit more affordable than our usual list, especially because people are not buying because of how cool our wine list is—they just didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Might as well pick up wine with your to-go food! I mean, we sold soda, orange juice, almond milk—people kept asking for almond milk. Don’t think I could have anticipated that! 

When we had just reopened, we saw an increase in wine sales! People are drinking like they are never going out to get a wine opened for them again! People want to feel catered to, and the people coming out already have a sense of comfort with it, have grown accustomed to it [ COVID-19 ] and feel like what they are doing is working, so they feel good to come out. Wine is a way in to talk with a person! 

On Looking Forward

Some of our Austin regulars are absolutely amazing; one couple handed us a check and just said they hope this helps. Just to spend on whatever we needed. We have wonderful regulars who follow the rules, come in every week and understand what we are going through.

We will be keeping to-go after this; it continues to be a much bigger part of what we are doing now, and there will still be people who don’t want to go back out. I am mindful of what packages sell well, having a smaller to-go list [ for wine ], with some of those options on it. Our takeout has done well. I don’t see [ COVID-19 ] going away,  and we can hope that the vaccine is that miracle, and that there are no problems with it, but I’m a realist. We can do some adjusting [ with our menu ] for compromised people who just cannot go out; we still want those people to dine and have a bottle of wine and a good experience.

Caitlin Griffith knew her future career would entail food and drink when, at the age of six, she munched an anchovy from her father’s Caesar salad thinking it as a small strip of bacon—and was more than pleasantly surprised. While enrolled in New York University’s Food Studies program, she learned the secrets of affinage in the caves of Murray’s Cheese.

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