Tis the Season

When Company Zoom Parties Become a Restaurant Survival Tool

Corporate holiday parties have gone virtual this year, but the boost they give restaurants is very real.

By Allecia Vermillion December 17, 2020

Big local companies are keeping kitchens busy...at least for a few nights.

This time of year, Edouardo Jordan’s restaurants would usually have a calendar sprinkled with buyouts—those all-out holiday parties where a company, a nonprofit, or a very baller private citizen books the entire dining room for a celebration.

With indoor dining off limits this holiday party season, Jordan’s kitchens instead cold-pack maybe 75 or 100 meals and hand them off to a delivery driver with a long list of addresses. A few hours later, those meals' recipients will be gathering on Zoom, over a communal dinner from JuneBaby or Salare that everyone heated up in their home kitchens.

Restaurants have spent the past nine months opening markets, constructing covered patios, changing their identities entirely, and serving all sorts of comforting burgers (Salare’s even got one dubbed the 180 burger in honor of the number of degrees Jordan has rotated from his intended style of cuisine).  Now, as they endure a winter with the light at the end of the vaccinated tunnel still seeming very far off, those holiday parties have become a form of support, and solvency.

Jordan's team has done seven or eight virtual bashes since December 1, a mix of businesses and social or community groups. In lieu of physical gatherings, some local companies have given employees stipends to order festive takeout and share it with their family (my household enjoyed some Spinasse this weekend, thanks to my husband’s employer). Tableau, the data software company headquartered in Fremont, spearheaded an astonishing 3,500 takeout dinners for its employees across 40 Seattle-area restaurants—seminal kitchens like Revel, Lark, and Cafe Juanita. This massive wave of meal pickups happens tonight, December 17, before Tableau staff take to their screens to toast surviving this year (and hopefully do a little Zoom karaoke).

In late summer, the software company approached Ethan Stowell about its holiday party. He ultimately rounded up fellow restaurants to join his own, both to help accommodate that many dinners, and to reframe the event as a gesture of support. “Big amazing things like that should be happening,” says Jordan, whose restaurants are part of the festivities. “Whatever [big companies] are doing for employee morale should be giving back to smaller businesses in some manner.”

Each restaurant received a sum to put toward a two-person meal kit, with drinks, that includes a 20 percent gratuity. “So the service staff is having a really good day,” says Stowell. In his view, the region has a critical mass of big-name companies doing relatively well despite the pandemic, all of whom traditionally set aside funds for employee activities and morale. Putting that money toward sizable takeout orders could provide some stability for the local restaurants that contribute to their employees' quality of life—albeit ones sufficiently polished and well established to have cachet with a corporate audience.

And treating employees to a meal is a tool companies can wield even after the holidays. "Big companies have food budgets,” says Stowell. “Why couldn’t Microsoft and Amazon and those titans do this every weekend until the pandemic is over?”

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