By Samantha Harris
As pandemic regulations are slowly being lifted and more people are getting vaccinated, restaurants are reflecting on the ways they have had to get creative over the past year. This includes the North-End Taphouse in Gulfport, which opened in January before the pandemic started.
The North-End Taphouse is a locally-owned restaurant on Beach Boulevard South. Around September 2020, the restaurant owner, Kelly Wright, had an idea how to start her own food delivery service since Florida had regulations on indoor dining. She bought a golf cart and a burner phone, and started delivering to the local community.
Wright was inspired to start her own delivery service once restaurants were shut down and people were no longer able to dine in.
“People didn’t even want to come pickup because they didn’t want to leave their home,” Wright said.So I thought why not bring it to them?”
While much of the intention behind the delivery business was to keep people safe and give access to food, Wright was hoping to get the name of her restaurant out in the community.
Since the taphouse opened right before the pandemic started, Wright was given little time to connect with their neighbors and community members.
Eventually, she partnered with about five other businesses to deliver food.
“We originally agreed upon having a delivery fee and I have the records, but I never even charged the other businesses. This was really just to help keep us and them afloat,” Wright said.
While many businesses have relied on Uber and DoorDash to deliver their food, Wright said the profit margins were too low for her to be able to do so.
“Uber Eats wanted about 33% of our profits, and since our profits were already low, we would be losing money by doing that,” Wright said.
According to Market Watch, food delivery services have doubled their profits in the last year, even though many restaurants were having a hard time staying open. While some restaurants struggle to afford the hefty percentage that companies like Uber take for deliveries, other restaurants have no other option. Wright also wanted to start the delivery service to help serve her community.
“The delivery service was just so we could make the minimum we needed, but I really just wanted people to still have an option to eat our food at home,” Wright said.
Every day, the taphouse would hire someone to be a driver and as calls came in, they would pick up the food and deliver it locally. The delivery service was primarily available to Gulfport residents, but Wright said she would have been willing to drive farther as long as the roads were accessible to golf carts and the location would not delay other orders. Since some restaurants served breakfast or brunch, Wright tried to make sure there was a driver available from morning to night.
As COVID-19 regulations have begun to lighten and more people are dining at restaurants, Wright ultimately stopped offering the delivery service. She would consider doing it again in the future if more time and effort could be put into it.
“If I had started it earlier in the pandemic, around March or April, I think it would have been more successful,” she said. “Towards the end of the year I think people wanted to get out and picking up food was the way they were doing that.”
According to Wright, the hardest part of keeping the delivery service going was finding a driver for the day. While she would offer the job to her staff who were no longer working, many people on unemployment were making more money than if they came back to work. At the moment, unemployment pays about 375 dollars per week. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.7 percent of Floridians are unemployed as of March 2021.
Even when drivers were available, sometimes it was hard to figure out the taxes on the tips.
If the customers pay with a credit card and leave a tip, Wright wonders who should pay the taxes on that. “Does the driver who’s actually getting it, or the restaurant who’s getting the call?” Wright said.
Since 100% of the tips went to the driver, this was an issue that had to be sorted out.
If more time and effort were put into the delivery service, Wright thinks it could have been more successful. She owns two other businesses and is beginning a partnership in a third, so she was unable to market it as much as she would have liked to.
While the delivery service is no longer available, Wright would consider doing it again in the future if she could find a stable group of drivers. While she needed people on call, she did not want to have someone sitting around all day waiting to make a delivery. If more organized in the future, she thinks the golf cart delivery would be much more successful and beneficial to local businesses who do not want to pay the hefty fees large companies charge.
The North-End Taphouse hosts local beers from around St. Petersburg and serves sandwiches, salads, vegan dishes and more. Currently, they are open and once again hosting weekly bands, trivia nights, as well as open mic nights. For a full list of events, check out their website. For those not quite ready to eat out, pick-up is still available via phone order or by ordering online.