While plenty of restaurants pivoted to digital ordering and delivery during COVID-19 as a means of staying afloat, a few did more, harnessing an opportunity to expand their reach and customer base. Even fewer did it as well as Ninja City Kitchen and Bar in Cleveland.
“I almost feel guilty saying that we’ve done well during the pandemic,” said co-owner and executive chef Bac Nguyen. “In a nutshell, we’ve done quite well, and [Paytronix] is a big part of that.”
Ninja City was quite successful before the pandemic, regularly packing its dining room full on weekends and some weeknights. But its Asian fusion pub grub was in such high demand during the height of the shutdown in April that the restaurant was making an additional 20% in revenue weekly – and with shortened hours to boot.
Catering to the off-premise market
Nguyen and his co-owner Dylan Fallon opened Ninja City in 2014 and moved the restaurant to its current location in downtown Cleveland two years ago. Nguyen describes the concept as a neighborhood joint decked out in comic book art with an atmosphere to match.
“It’s kind of like an Asian teenage boy’s dream restaurant,” he joked. “It’s got pho, it’s got burgers, it’s got rap music.”
He attributes Ninja City’s success this spring to both the cuisine – after all, Americans are accustomed to Asian takeout – and the technology that powered the orders.
“In mid-April we were doing record numbers. Even better than we were when the bar was open,” he said. “I honestly think if we hadn’t had online ordering, our bottleneck would not have been the kitchen, it would have been our ability to take orders… I think we probably would have done half the volume.”
Moving guests to an in-house platform
To keep up with demand, Nguyen sold some items, like meal and cocktail kits, on the restaurant’s online platform only. Using the order-ahead feature, he was able to require guests to give 24 hours’ notice before picking up the kits.
Keeping those specialty items off aggregators like Uber Eats also served as a method of moving guests off the third-party platform, which Nguyen uses as a means of customer acquisition, by forcing some guests to order directly from the restaurant. Ninja City also puts a flyer in each Uber Eats order, promoting the cost savings the guest will reap by ordering directly from the restaurant and avoiding a steep delivery fee.
“I think we’ve gained customers who are going to stick with us,” he said. “I would imagine [takeout] is going to be a bigger part [of the business] than it was before.”