Chicagoans woke up Wednesday morning to historically low temperatures as many residents either worked from home or took the day off to escape the dangerous sub-zero weather. Many food and beverage workers also have the day off after hundreds of bar and restaurant owners made the call to close for the day and not inconvenience their employees who may have to wait outdoors for public transportation or pay extra for a ride-share service to get to work.
Even delivery services are affected. Caviar shut down services for the Chicago area at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, as a spokesperson said they’ll be closed Wednesday with the hope of resuming deliveries on Thursday.
Originally, Caviar — which is owned by Square — planned on offering Wednesday food deliveries and pausing services periodically through the day for the safety of its workers. But after more than 100 participating restaurants closed, Caviar reversed course. There’s also the safety of bicycle couriers to keep in mind. Many of them deliver in downtown areas. But the need isn’t there on Wednesday as many Loop businesses are closed for the day. The Caviar spokesperson also said the company was encouraging cycle couriers to switch to driving cars during the polar vortex.
The city’s residents will still be able to find food delivery. On regular wintry days, consumers are bombarded by emails from Caviar and rivals like GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash. The messages advise customers to stay in their toasty homes and rely on the services to feed them.
For virtual restaurants, places without a storefront which depend on online ordering, Wednesday provides an opportunity. Art of Dosa owner Ravi Nagubadi operates out of a commercial kitchen in West Town. He employs five people full time. He asked couriers on Tuesday night if they were working on Wednesday. He was trying to determine if his South Indian restaurant would stay open on Wednesday. Overwhelmingly, the delivery persons said they’re working.
“For most of them, it’s how they make most of their money,” Nagubadi said.
The deliverers told Nagubadi that many companies were having trouble finding drivers so they were offering incentives including more pay to entice workers. Appreciative customers are also more likely to leave big tips during miserable weather, Nagubadi pointed out. And the demand is there: Tuesday night was the second-busiest night in Art of Dosa’s brief existence.
The Tribune spoke with several pizzeria owners on Tuesday to talk about their delivery businesses. Each delivery service has different boundaries and the distance traveled is going to alter the freshness of the food.
Nagubadi uses all the major delivery platforms and is proud of his packaging. While it wasn’t designed to withstand a polar vortex, he received compliments from customers on Tuesday that their food was still hot and crispy despite longer than usual wait times. Nagubadi is keen that workers have safety concerns. But he also has dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The polar vortex gives him another opportunity to get his restaurant’s name out to the public.
“We just want to be busy today,” Nagubadi said.