Some delivery restaurants thriving, others suffering – The Boston Globe

Here are some of the calzone-length list of challenges local food delivery drivers are facing right now: white-knuckle driving through very narrow streets, parking bans, schmutz flying onto the windshield while they’re trying to find addresses.

It’s not all bad news. Some restaurants that are able to get food to their customers are reaping big rewards, because customers with winter fatigue are too tired to cook for themselves. But restaurants that can’t send out drivers because the streets are too difficult to negotiate are suffering. The weather has forced these places to make changes to their operations and in some cases require customers to pick up the food from delivery trucks.

Continue reading below

Dorchester’s Pantry Pizza has had to make do, but they’re losing business. Manager Alissa Wescott says that when the weather turns bad, the restaurant limits the delivery area and sometimes stops delivering entirely. Recent MBTA issues meant staff occasionally couldn’t get in for their shifts.

The hectic evening commutes have really affected Pantry Pizza. Because commuters are stuck in traffic, they’re all getting home and placing orders at the same time. According to owner Costa Tsolirides, that’s hindered operations. “We’ve been having this insane rush that’s super concentrated,” Tsolirides says, “from like 7 to 8:30 p.m., that’s when we’re getting our business. Because we’ve been slow, we’ve been understaffed for payroll reasons, and then all of a sudden at 7, we’ll be overwhelmed.”

Tsolirides adds that Pantry Pizza has closed 4½ days this year, far more than any winter in his four years as owner, and that’s contributed to the lowest sales of his ownership this month.

At one Lynn pizza place, business is improving because of the cabin-fever crowd. Drivers are able to move around more freely, but they’re not entirely comfortable. Sometimes Shoreline Grill and Pizza owner Saimir Comi has had to make deliveries himself in his Honda Ridgeline pickup, which he says, “definitely saves the day.”

“We’re getting slammed,” he adds. “Ninety percent of our orders are deliveries and we’ve gotten more orders since the snow started.” Comi resorts to avoiding driveways and having customers come outside as he approaches. “I’ll call [the customers] when I’m five minutes away and say, ‘Listen, I’m almost there, but I need you to come outside because I can’t get in your driveway. You’ll have to wait outside if you want the delivery,’ ” Comi says. “It saves me time and makes it easier to get around.”

“We’ve been having this insane rush that’s super concentrated. . . . All of a sudden at 7, we’ll be overwhelmed,” said Costa Tsolirides, owner of Pantry Pizza in Dorchester.

Quote Icon

One constant among these restaurants is longer customer waiting times. At Wings Over Boston, general manager Amine Lahlou tells people who call to expect their food in 1½ hours, as opposed to the hour they normally wait. “Some people just can’t wait two hours so they cancel the order,” Lahlou says. “It’s not good for business at all.”

2/21/15 Dorchester, MA -- Deliveryman Johnson Cledanor walks a delivery to his car outside Pantry Pizza in Dorchester, February 21, 2015. Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe

Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe

Pantry Pizza deliveryman Johnson Cledanor dodges snowbanks in Dorchester.

Lahlou, who uses between three and six drivers for a typical evening shift, says he lost around $8,000 during the last big storm because he had to close at 8 p.m. on Saturday instead of 2 a.m., and remain closed on Sunday. He tries to tell regulars in advance when he thinks the weather will interfere.

“When I feel like it’s going to be bad, I reach out to the customers, apologize, and tell them why it’s taking longer than usual,” Lahlou says. “I give them the choice to either have a refund or be a little more patient. I try not to push it because I put myself in their shoes.”

Natick’s Shanghai Tokyo hasn’t seen a major change in business, but Kai Dan, a manager, says that’s partly because February deliveries are slow regardless. The snow is also deterring customers from coming into the dining room. “People don’t want to go out in weather like this,” she says. In bad weather, the restaurant asks customers who request delivery to pick up if they can. “Most people are fine with coming here to pick up orders [because] the deliveries will usually be slower, but everyone understands that they’ll have to wait.”

Patience is being tested in all cities and towns, but the managers and owners say people are usually empathetic to the struggles. Pantry Pizza owner Tsolirides says, “Most customers are understanding, but the ones who aren’t, usually aren’t understanding of anything anyways.”

PANTRY PIZZA 931 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 617-282-0033, www.pantrypizza.com

SHORELINE GRILL AND PIZZA 163 Lewis St., Lynn, 781-477-0377

WINGS OVER BOSTON locations include 325 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-266-9464, www.wingsover.com

SHANGHAI TOKYO 54 E Central St., Natick, 508-651-0818, www.chinesenatick.com

Jon Mael can be reached at [email protected]

goodfoodchannel