Ruta Smith

Hoping to keep their small businesses afloat and help millions of people at home in the wake of orders from Gov. Henry McMaster to limit travel, restaurant owners have been allowed to remain open for take out and delivery. With the new regulations in place, these “essential” establishments are scrambling to adapt to a new way of doing business and living life.

To supplement the loss of business, services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates have stepped up offering discounts, free delivery, and no-contact adjustments to minimize person-to-person interaction.

“Most of these services have encouraged people to opt for the contactless delivery feature, which is what I do probably 75 percent of the time now,” says Frazier Simmons, who delivers for DoorDash. “Usually, I’ll leave the food on peoples’ doorsteps, knock on the door, and walk back to my car to make sure they get the food while keeping a lot of distance between us.”

DoorDash in particular has started offering even more ways to keep their drivers and customers safe by making small bottles of sanitizer and boxes of gloves available to their drivers for less than $5. Uber Eats and DoorDash have incentivized users to order through their platforms by offering free deliveries on orders from most local restaurants.

Although many people have spent the last few weeks stocking up on groceries, supporting these local businesses now through delivery and take out may be key to sustaining a piece of the local economy until officials lift stay-home orders.

“Everyone is being affected right now,” says Austin Kirkland, owner of Big Gun Burger + Bar on Calhoun Street. “It’s a tough choice to make. There’s the risk of spending money to keep the lights on but not receiving enough orders to break even — in addition to the potential health hazards.”

Kirkland decided to close his bar down completely after McMaster’s announcement, but is considering reopening for take out and delivery in the coming weeks, hoping the end of isolation orders may follow soon after.

“People in Charleston are so used to dining out, having these options can give us a sense of normality in an uncertain time,” he explains. “And, it’s important for everyone to have access to multiple dining options outside of your local grocery store.”

Still, some echo Kirkland’s concerns over risks that come along with human interactions as the disease continues to spread. Researchers, however, have found that the chances of contracting COVID-19 from take out or delivery are low. With no evidence the virus can be spread through food, as restaurants and drivers are taking proper precautions, there is a minimal risk to ordering meals from your favorite local kitchen, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While most people are taking advantage of these services to grab a quick meal or sink their teeth into their favorite dish from a local restaurant, other platforms like Postmates also help those who require necessities such as medicine and groceries. Walmart and other stores are also offering curbside pick-up so that drivers can quickly grab groceries and even prescriptions — key for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who don’t want to take the risk of traveling to a store.

For drivers, the current circumstances make for an opportunity to bring in some cash as so many people are left unemployed while also delivering essentials and helping keep local businesses operational. Although local establishments have felt the impact of dining restrictions, many are still trying to dish out the love for their customers and employees.

“We want to be able to keep our staff employed and supporting themselves by staying open and clean,” says Jesse Warnock, co-owner of Eastside Bagels on Line Street. “We also want to promote a sense of normality,” he says. “I think a lot of people are afraid to laugh right now. We want them to hear us laughing from the kitchen, and let them know that it’s OK. We’ll all get through this together as long as we’re doing our part to stay safe.” With an outdoor pick-up station encouraging people to stay 18 bagels apart (approximately 6 feet), Eastside Bagels is also offering take out and delivery through Uber Eats and DoorDash.

“The least we can do at the moment is help get the food from the businesses to the customers and support the people out there taking a bit of a risk like the cooks and the drivers,” says Simmons.” It’s important to me that we help keep the businesses afloat in Charleston because when all this settles we have to be able to come back to them.”