Twenty-twenty—among many other things, it will be remembered as the year of takeout and delivery. It is the year where “Skip the Dishes” and “Uber Eats” seem to be the next words out of our mouths after “What’s for dinner?” These restaurant apps certainly are handy. At a time when heading out to our local eatery for a sit-down meal is no longer a simple option, just a few clicks to hot, pre-made food is an attractive solution…
Or so it would seem. Unfortunately, what we are learning now is that handy comes at a cost. And our beloved local restaurants are the ones footing the bill. For an industry where profit margins are already razor thin and COVID-19 restrictions are reducing options for restaurant owners, the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville has stepped up to the (dinner) plate to help its food and beverage establishments. Through its What’s for Dinner Tonight campaign, it is encouraging residents to #skiptheapps when thinking of takeout and delivery.
Shop Local is a call to action we’ve become familiar with, and one which we’ve collectively rallied behind. It is a worthy cause, after all. Our dollars are supporting businesses that are an integral part of our unique communities. The downside of this collective rallying, however, is that we are getting used to hearing it. Shop Local isn’t resonating with people as well as it once did. To keep the idea of shopping local at the forefront of its residents’ minds, Whitchurch-Stouffville has refreshed this concept by developing its own unique brand: Powered by Neighbours.
“It really gets to the heart of what small-town Stouffville is all about, even though we are growing by leaps and bounds,” says David Tuley, Economic Development Officer for the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville. “It is about a community that is supported by the community. Powered by Neighbours has resonated very well with the public, and that is the ‘shop local’ brand that will be attached to a series of wintertime campaigns.”
One of these campaigns is What’s for Dinner Tonight, supported by a #skiptheapps hashtag to drive online traffic. To support its local restaurant industry, the town has created a website that lists participating local businesses, and a calendar with what each one has going on. “The calendar shows people what’s for dinner tonight, or for lunch, and what the specials are,” David explains. “The restaurants are able to upload their specials free of charge.” This initiative is a two-pronged approach—it encourages residents to think takeout when they think “What’s for dinner?” and to go out and pick it up. It also encourages residents to go directly to the source of that takeout to order, rather than through costly third-party apps.
The initiative was also developed in conjunction with a volunteer delivery service that was recently launched. “One of our volunteers took it upon herself to put together the whole concept,” David states. As it happened, a seniors’ transportation service was already in place which pairs a volunteer driver with a senior citizen in need of transportation. This amazing volunteer saw an opportunity to expand the driving service to food delivery to support local eateries. Now that’s “Powered by Neighbours!”
“For the low cost of two dollars per order and fifty cents per kilometre—which equates to about three or four dollars a delivery—the cost of the volunteer delivery service is far cheaper than what the apps would charge,” David explains. “Not only do these apps charge a monthly fee, but some of them take up to 30% of the total sale. That can be devastating. I mean, they are slick and beautiful and seamless, and everyone’s menu is there, but slick comes at a cost. That may be the final nail in the coffin of a local business.”
With COVID-19, the demand for every meal to be either takeout or delivery has increased significantly. Not only has it swiftly become clear that restaurants were losing up to three quarters of their sales because of health and safety restrictions, but it has also become glaringly apparent how reliant they are on a third-party service which is not sustainable. “Our restaurant owners are exhausted from all of this, and from being at the mercy of the apps,” David says. “So, the ones that are participating [in the What’s for Dinner Tonight program] are happy about any means of getting the word out.”
We at YDH are proud to report that the community response has been wonderful. Whitchurch-Stouffville residents are responding positively to the brand, and are actively sharing the word on social media—often without being asked. Truly this is community building that is “Powered by Neighbours” at its best. If there is one thing COVID-19 has taught us (besides how to ration toilet paper, that is), it is that we all have a responsibility to keep our communities vibrant and unique.
After all, as David Tuley points out, when we think about life after COVID, what do we want our communities to look like?
Do you live in the Whitchurch-Stouffville area? Check out the calendar of local specials at www.L4A.ca when you ask “What’s for Dinner Tonight?”
Story by Katherine Ryalen