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When you visit the website for Chicago-based All Together Now, you’re met with a new homepage created just for pandemic times. It lists the hours and its current services, but it’s also emblazoned with the words: The Social Distancing Edition. With one more click, you get the business’ menu of options, including “CDC-approved methods,” like carryout and delivery, of getting its products — except there’s a catch.
What’s the catch? “JK. We didn’t bother to get CDC approval, but we’re pretty sure they’d sign off if they weren’t otherwise occupied,” it reads.
“We like to say … our food and wine are serious. We are not,” co-owner Erin Carlman Weber told Restaurant Dive, adding she takes full responsibility for most of the bad jokes on the restaurant’s website.
Levity and light-heartedness have always been a part of All Together Now’s business, which is a mix of a small restaurant, specialty grocery, and wine and cheese shop, but it has become more to its customers during the pandemic.
“People have made it clear to us that they’re coming to us for an escape, a bit of a break from their work, the news, whatever,” Carlman Weber said. “We’ve heard time and time again, ‘Thank you so much for being open. Thank you for providing a sense of normalcy.’”
While its 25-seat dining room remains closed due to state-mandated closures, the company is still offering pickup and delivery of popular items, including red, white, sparkling and rose wines. It also has a wine and cheese hotline to answer the all-important questions of what wine pairs with which cheese or meal.
“I think our diverse mix of activities did set us up better than if we had just been only a wine shop or only a restaurant,” Carlman Weber said.
Adjusting labor needs
While All Together Now has maintained a bulk of its operations during the coronavirus outbreak, it is functioning with a staff of nine as opposed to 12. Those who are currently uncomfortable coming into work do not have to worry about losing their jobs permanently, Carlman Weber said.
The team adjusted the work schedule to be as lean as possible to allow employees to maintain a distance of six feet from one another. In the kitchen, Chef Abigail Zielke will have people come in later or on an off day to prep so that the tiny kitchen of 125 square feet isn’t packed.
Remaining staff was shifted to help with pickup and other forms of customer services, she said.
“Customer service is customer service and people who are good at it … in one context with us are generally good at it in all of them,” Carlman Weber said. “People are still taking care of guests … in terms of meeting their needs and accommodating them. It just looks a little different.”
Providing much-needed libations through off-premise
The idea for her shop came to Weber long before she opened her shop in December 2018 with co-owners Derek Herbster and Chris Radtke. Her career had her working in charcuterie at a specialty food shop, a cheese monger, and doing sales, marketing and events for a specialty chocolate company. Those jobs came together in the launch of All Together Now.
“We joke around that when we opened up All Together Now … that we put our favorite things to eat and drink in a room that we wanted to hang out in and hoped that people would go in for it, which is not all that far from the truth,” Carlman Weber said.
Nowadays, customers can’t come into the establishment to shop or eat, but instead can pick up orders through a window in the front of the restaurant. Cheeses, wine or other items they would normally be able to shop for at the store, such as tinned fish, olives and cultured butter and baguettes remain available, Carlman Weber said.
These items can be ordered online or through the wine and cheese hotline, where customers can pay for their selections ahead of time. It’s also offering a limited menu of items as well as beer and wine through Grubhub, which it had been working with previously.
It did pare down its menu to offer only bestsellers, which helps streamline kitchen operations and the ordering process.
“That’s kind of doing the same thing that we had been doing before, but just via different channels,” she said.
While it offers many of the same items for delivery as it does pickup, Carlman Weber said she’s noticed an increased popularity in wine orders, especially as the day progresses.
“We definitely see a few sandwich orders every day, but we can tell right around the time people start getting thirsty,” she said. “We’ll get the Grubhub tablets dinging like three bottles of wine for this order, a bottle of wine and a cheese board. … We can kind of tell people’s moods by the Grubhub orders that come in.”
Feeding families each night
Its biggest shift has been the addition of nightly dinners to provide comfort food that people can pick up and pre-order for family dinners, she said.
Weber called the first week of processing these family dinners “a pain in the ass” as the staff tried using Google Sheets to take orders. They ended up switching to Tock, a reservations and to-go platform for delivery and pickup orders.
The week’s meals are updated on Sundays. A recent menu offered mushroom lasagna with ricotta and Swiss chard, baby greens with crispy artichokes and yogurt dressing and middle brow seeded sourdough with cultured butter. The meals cost $16.25 to $18 per person depending on the party size of two or four guests, according to its website.
In the first two and a half weeks of offering these meals, there have already been return customers that have ordered two or three times, Carlman Weber said. The meals are capped at about 30 or so, however, and customers have to reserve a meal online ahead of time.
The restaurant’s wine director also offers nightly wine pairings and about half of the dinner orders have selected wine, which is providing another way for the restaurant to maintain connections with the things All Together Now offers, Carlman Weber said. Guests can also order cheese and meat boards and dessert.
While it had been experimenting with this idea for a month before launching it full-scale — with dinners originally available only on Sundays for carryout and dine-in — the offering is something that Carlman Weber said she could see the restaurant continuing post-crisis.
“We would love nothing more than people to stay in with us and enjoy [the family dinners],” she said. “I don’t know when we’ll all feel comfortable or that it’s safe to actually engage with people the way we have been before. I’d really like maybe once the vaccine is available and widely distributed … to have a big hug party,” Carlman Weber said.