Switching it Up: How Colorado’s Menus Have Changed in the Face of COVID-19

How do customers really feel about their favorite fine dining establishments selling burgers and brats?

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Bin 707's Bin Burger to the rescue. /Cat Mayer Studio

The hospitality industry was upended in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Colorado. Restaurants had to adapt their menus to take-out or meal kit models overnight, or pivot their concepts entirely until they were able to reopen in late May. For the most part, customers have had a positive reaction to the changes.

“We’ve done all of it,” says Josh Niernberg, chef and owner of Bin 707 Foodbar and TacoParty in Grand Junction. “We created new ‘family meals,’ a four-course take-out and delivery menu, every day for the first 45 days of closures. We closed for lunch at Bin and we made the menu a sort of ‘greatest hits’ and comfort food for dinner….Fried chicken, which we have never done in the past, has become one of the most popular things on the menu since March.” 

Niernberg says winnowing down the menu is one of the best moves the business has made for consistency and quality. Bin 707 has had separate menus for dine-in and take-out food, beer, and cocktails to give diners a unique experience; in time, the take-out food menus morphed into meals for more than one diner. Niernberg also converted the restaurant’s private dining room into a quick-serve, walk-up counter and delivery service called Bin Burger, which operates touch-free using pre-ordering and QR codes. Shifting from a special occasion restaurant to an affordable lunch joint has kept them afloat. The concept is doing so well that Niernberg states it’s here to stay; at its current average sales rate, it’s set to bring in approximately $750,000 annually (and make up about half of Bin 707’s lost revenue).

For a fledgling restaurant like Olivia, it meant pivoting from dine-in service to takeout almost immediately. It also added take-and-bake dishes and pasta kits to its to-go offerings. Because Olivia opened in Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood just two months before the closure, it was able to make the change with no downtime. “I credit Ty [chef and co-owner] and Michael, our chef de cuisine, for being able to think on their feet and put together things that travel well and create kits and all of the things people were suddenly clamoring for,” says Austin James Carson, co-owner. “Prior to the closure, we didn’t do to-go food at all; our food and service style weren’t really designed for it. We moved very quickly into the to-go realm. It was a 180 for sure.” Now, the restaurant is bustling along doing both dine-in and to-go models.

The Truffle Table in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood has modified the menu by removing items like fondue and all-you-can-eat raclette and swapping out “esoteric, stinky cheeses” for more familiar, approachable options. “We’ve lowered our prices and limited cheese selections and customers are fairly happy,” says owner Karin Lawler. “It’s been an easier transition for us as far as food goes and we remind people that no one leaves hungry unless they want to.” Despite sales being down 45 percent, the Truffle Table is thriving; it’s increased profits and staff wages amid the pandemic, and that’s success no matter what the menu looks likes.

Rebecca Treon is a Denver-based freelance food and travel writer who has written for Huffington Post, BBC Travel, Hemispheres, TimeOut, Thrillist, AARP, Fodor’s, Healthline, Costco Connection, and many others. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @RebeccaTreon.

And contact us to tell us how your menu has changed—for better or for worse—at askus@diningout.com.

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