Smart Ways to Support Local Businesses During Quarantine

opening a shop while wearing a facial mask

Even if your city and state is officially open for business, there are plenty of reasons to stay home as the coronavirus pandemic continues to put lives at risk across the world. If you’re playing it safe and staying out of your favorite stores and restaurants, you may be wondering how you can keep supporting those businesses (so they’re still around when you’re ready to leave the house).

If you’re trying to support a local restaurant, the solution may seem simple: just boot up your favorite food delivery app and order some dinner. Unfortunately, while ordering up some food on your phone is great for convenience, it’s not always great for your local restaurants.

That’s because food delivery platforms like Grubhub, Postmates, and UberEats charge enormous commission fees to businesses — we’re talking anywhere from 10% to 30%, and in some instances as high as 40%. That’s not to mention the additional fees pushed on to the customer.

LetterPress Chocolate is a chocolatier based in Los Angeles that temporarily closed its shop out of an abundance of caution and currently relies on deliveries and online orders. As co-owner and chocolate maker David Menkes explains, these popular food delivery platforms can cut deeply into the profit margins of small businesses. At LetterPress Chocolate the cost looks like this: For every $10 a customer spends on chocolate, the food delivery platform takes $3, plus a $3 delivery fee. So while you’re spending $13, the business only gets $6. (And that’s leaving aside the tip for your driver - don’t forget to tip your delivery drivers!)

Normally, these kinds of steep costs are easier to bear when balanced against “in-person” customers. Right now, however, these business have, at best, very limited in-person capacity, and at worst are restricted to takeout or delivery business only.

So how can you better support your favorite local businesses? Here are a few ways to go about it:

Contact Them Directly

Instead of ordering through a third-party platform, check the business’s website. Menkes set up a Weebly site through Square to offer curbside pickup. “It’s not without its glitches, but it allows our customers to order online and even schedule a pickup time,” he says.

If an establishment is new to curbside pickup or delivery, there’s a chance that its website has yet to be updated or might have outdated info. When in doubt, just give them a ring and see what your options are. A local restaurant I love looked like it was only accepting orders through Postmates. But after giving them a call, it turns out that you can place an order directly.

Order Merchandise

Besides ordering food from a food establishment, see if there are other ways you can patronize local businesses. They might have products that you can order online and have shipped to your home. For instance, LetterPress Chocolate ships nationwide, which has helped it stayed afloat as a big chunk of its income before the pandemic came from factory tours.

Help Promote the Business

And if you’re on a budget, you can do your part by helping promote your most beloved establishments. Share a photo of a delicious meal you just enjoyed on Instagram. Write a glowing review on Yelp. Rave about them on Facebook. Bottom line: Helping spread the word about a local business is just as important as giving them your dollars.

Focus on a Few Businesses

If you’re on a budget during quarantine but still want to support your businesses, pick just a few to order directly from. If you can afford to eat out once a week, rotate the restaurants you patronize. That way you won’t be traveling to a bunch of different eateries around town. Plus, you won’t be quibbling over the delivery fees and tips, and it won’t be as much of a strain on your wallet.

Order a Gift Card

Order a gift card that you or someone near and dear to you can cash in on later. By doing so, you’re helping the business boost sales and its cash flow, plus you’ll have something you can enjoy down the line.

The efforts you make in putting as much money back into the local economy makes a big difference. “Thankfully, our customers have been super supportive since we closed our retail shop,” says Menkes. “Since it’s literally just the two of us, we can’t afford to get sick. That’s why we aren’t allowing anyone inside at all.”

If you need help with your own personal financial recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, check out our COVID and unemployment resource sections. And if you're trying to get a handle on your debts, our counselors are available 24/7 to help you understand your options and create a debt repayment plan that works for you.

Tagged in Smart shopping, Coronavirus

Jackie Lam - author photo

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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