The events of the last year have brought seismic changes to the restaurant world. Dina Samson, co-owner of LA’s Rossoblu and co-founder of the nonprofit Re:Her, had to rethink every area of her business, much like everyone else in the industry. As the vaccine rollout ramps up and Americans hear predictions of a more normal summer coming our way, we asked Samson to share some of her insights gleaned from the time of COVID-19. Her thoughts provide optimistic ideas and inspiration for other restaurateurs as we collectively move toward a full reopening.
How do you think the pandemic has changed restaurants in ways that will last?
Before the pandemic, Rossoblu was seen as a casual high-end dining experience. During the pandemic we realized we had to offer different ways for guests to experience Rossoblu—whether it be different price points, meal options, and even length of dine-in experiences. We now provide offerings that range from pizza and wine to our normal dine-in experience to elevated takeout with 7-course meals.
More generally, I’ve seen a pivot where a lot of restaurants are no longer just restaurants. Maybe your restaurant is also a wine shop now, or maybe you also sell specialty goods and groceries, or maybe they are doing educational webinars. Even more than ever, restaurants are real places of community and they do more than just serve meals.
Do you have any suggestions for other restaurants as we move into a period of reopening this spring and summer?
I suggest providing the different types of experiences as mentioned above. Some people may not be ready to go out yet, so there should be a delicious takeout option. Some may have been unemployed and are on a limited budget but still want to go out, hence, our pizza and wine option. Some may want a sense of normalcy so will want to enjoy your restaurant the way it was pre-pandemic, so the closest you can get to that safely would be key.
Do you think you’ll continue with takeout?
Takeout has become a big thing and isn’t going anywhere. Restaurants have figured out a way to make takeout more interesting. The food is better because we know what travels well and what doesn’t. Pandemic or not, a healthy takeout business can help restaurants because it increases your sales without having to increase square footage and labor. And now with capacity restrictions, takeout is more needed than ever before. We plan to keep pushing takeout and maybe even opening up an online retail shop someday.
What role will outdoor dining play in the future?
People have built such beautiful patios and decks. Hopefully, the city and county will allow us to keep them. Our landlord likes seeing that energy where we are in City Market South. For restaurants that are doing it in the streets and on the sidewalks, I don’t know how it’ll work going forward, but for us it should work. We have our tent situation figured out and would love for dining to stay outdoors for now.
As people come back in greater numbers, how will you use OpenTable to welcome regulars back and new diners in?
We’re big on our “notes” function. We take notes not just on the people that come often but also the new people that dine with us. We make notes about what they like to eat and in the sections they prefer to sit. We record allergies. And we even create our own tags such as . We take notes about people’s birthdays, whether they’re in the industry, anything we want to pay attention to. We even have our own tags that tell us who used to be a Sotto regular before it closed. Before a shift starts, we all review the notes about who is coming in and point highlights out to the team. All of the team members have been trained this way.
How can people support restaurants right now?
Just come to the restaurant. Come eat! Get takeout. Your support is allowing us to do what we do best and what we enjoy doing. We’re all working very hard. Our hope is that maybe people will have a bit more compassion for people who work at restaurants coming out of this.