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Online restaurant orders present business lifeline amid economic slump

The COVID-19 pandemic and official advisories to avoid social contact have spurred the growth of more online business in Yellowknife.

Mark Henry, left, and brother Paul are adapting their restaurant Copperhouse to the health and safety demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. NNSL file photo

Advisories from the chief public health officer to avoid social gatherings saw almost all dine-in restaurants close down about two weeks ago. 

But restaurateurs with innovation on their minds have found new opportunities in this challenging business environment. 

Touchless online orders

Copperhouse Eatery began offering "touchless" takeout just over a week ago.

“We're pushing all phone orders online to avoid any contaminated objects,” owner Mark Henry told NNSL Media.

The process starts with customers buying their meals online, arranging a pick-up time and then driving to Copperhouse and pulling up to a service window.

“The building was a Dairy Queen previously so we're set up to adapt fairly well to that quick service model,” Henry said.

Customers give their name at the drive-through window and the order is passed through by a staff member wearing gloves.

Henry said the touchless model is proving popular and the restaurant has doubled its regular takeout sales.

“It was really nice to see the ticket machine printing more online ordering than we've experienced before. On one level it didn’t surprise me because the Yellowknife community rallies when they need to. The public has responded to this new market.”

The Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery also offers online ordering after the pub closed down two weeks ago. 

The online side “is keeping us afloat,” said marketing manager Thomas Bentham. 

“We do food takeaway. Obviously our sales aren’t much compared to what we had before and we've had a reduced menu. We'll be starting beer delivery it in a few weeks. And also with the whole COVID part we have to be as touchless as possible. Our staff all wear gloves and all of our beer vessels are sanitized,” Bentham said. 

Business lending a hand

But Copperhouse isn’t just keeping its success for itself. 

Mark’s brother and co-owner Paul explained to NNSL Media that he is offering his services to other restaurants in helping them set up online ordering systems during the pandemic-related business doldrums. 

We’re really fortunate to have a functional platform to operate. Most restaurants don't have that luxury. Mark and I have talked about this and being able to lend support to other restaurants in town really opens up their capacity to have a fighting chance to get through this,” he said.

Copperhouse uses a restaurant ordering platform called, developed by a company based in Quebec City. It’s fully integrated with its point of sale ordering system. 

Paul said most “mom and pop operations” would be surprised at how easy it is to set the system up and he is offering the technical direction to help them. 

“For me it’s just allowing people to learn about this. If you’re a traditional restaurant and your phone is ringing you’re limited to the number of people calling. You’re losing business if you’re doing it just by phone. But online ordering you can catch the market, and catch a lot more customers.” 

He wouldn’t identify its name, but said he has been talking with one restaurant in Yellowknife about helping getting an ordering platform up and running. 

Paul noted that last weekend Copperhouse was doing brisk business, and passersby said that cars were lined up around the parking lot. 

But Paul said even that represented just half the revenues they were earning before the pandemic hit and Copperhouse’s success with the online ordering system has been a kind of lifeline.

“This is a crucial time to be doing this. Today this is our competitive advantage. Online ordering has given us a fighting chance. This isn't a platform for success but this is a platform to get through this (pandemic),” he said. 

While online ordering isn’t suitable for Bullock’s Bistro, which chooses to serve its fish freshly cooked on site, co-owner Jo-ann Martin said the offer of help by the Henry brothers is very generous in this tough economic time.