As an entrepreneur who runs an independent restaurant, there are two pieces of advice I give to those who are considering starting their own business, especially M/WBEs: 1) you gotta hustle til you’re exhausted to realize some success, and then hustle some more; 2) you get what you pay for.
The reason that these principles are so important to me is because investing in my business — whether it’s with sweat or with cash — means investing in my community. My restaurant, The Nourish Spot, is only one block from my family’s longtime home in Jamaica, Queens. And the items we serve are designed to improve the health and well-being of our neighbors and all of our customers.
But in order to invest in growth, small businesses need the right options available to them. That’s why I’m strongly supporting a nuanced but necessary amendment to a law passed by the City Council that will make these options stronger and give small restaurants the flexibility they need to target new customers.
In many ways, this is simply a matter of fixing unintentional consequences of well-intentioned policy. In 2020, as the city was effectively paralyzed by the early stages of the pandemic, many restaurants had to shift to delivery models simply to stay in business. The Council, conscious of the rise of third-party delivery apps that had begun to dominate the industry, rightly moved to set maximum rates on what those apps could charge restaurants to deliver a given order.
Such a move was critical to protect the restaurant industry at a time of such upheaval and uncertainty. But the law capped charges not just for delivery, but also for other services provided by these apps, such as digital marketing tools. While this may have made sense at the time to prevent price-gouging in the form of hidden fees, almost three years later it has become clear that not having easy access to digital marketing tools is an impediment — especially for family-owned eateries that must compete with major national chains that keep showing up on every block and have astronomical advertising budgets.
By limiting what the delivery apps can charge for marketing strategies, it restricts what small restaurants can choose from to get in front of new customers and into their bellies. Lord knows it isn’t as simple as placing an ad in the community paper anymore.
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Not only do “mom and pop” establishments like mine lack big budgets, we also lack expert staff. My marketing department is me. That’s why the efficiency of partnering with the same services that help sell and deliver our food is so critical. It doesn’t require hiring staff or an outside firm, only to then trust them with developing a campaign that’s going to engage your audience (and probably won’t).
This isn’t an endorsement for any one delivery platform — businesses need to determine what works best for them. But I will say that we witnessed a huge increase in online orders in using their marketing tools to target communities in Southeast Queens and beyond.
At a time when there are numerous pressures on the hospitality industry including both restaurants and the delivery platforms, it’s not a surprise that there are a lot of different opinions about how we should move forward in a way that benefits everyone. But unlike other issues like new regulations for worker pay that have yielded no small amount of tension, the path forward for giving restaurants more choices is a common sense solution for all parties.
Many measures put into place early in the pandemic have since changed, and this is another policy that must evolve. That’s why I’m heartened to see that the Council has introduced an amendment that seeks to strengthen and enhance the existing regulation with additional options. It will give us small restaurants the flexibility we need to choose services that can help us grow while continuing to protect the industry — importantly, the delivery fee caps will be made permanent. The additional marketing services will be optional.
Don’t just take my word for it. This amendment is supported by the chambers of commerce in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and dozens of other community organizations who support small business. And hundreds of restaurant owners like myself are also calling for this improvement.
When it comes to feeding themselves, customers have almost unlimited options in New York City. Why should government prevent the city’s restaurants from having similar choices in how to engage them?
Kelly is the founder and CEO of The Nourish Spot, a juice and salad bar in Jamaica, Queens.