Business serves customers and restaurants during pandemic
It’s a typical day in March 2020, and Restaurant Connection employees are completing their normal rounds of food deliveries to area customers.
Business is steady and manageable, and Restaurant Connection has enough staff to fulfill its steady stream of orders.
But all of that is about to change.
The Santa Barbara business, which coordinates with restaurants and wineries to deliver meals and drinks to customers, was about to be hit by an unexpected influx of business driven by an all-consuming global pandemic.
“It was the middle of March and we were going about a normal day where (we were) accustomed to daily operations,” Saul Plasencia, the owner of Restaurant Connection, told the News-Press. “For us, we had our normal volume (of orders) and had adequate (staff) to meet that volume, and from one day to the next, it was way more than we were used to.”
In a matter of days, Restaurant Connection was flooded with orders from locals who remained quarantined in their homes during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With grocery store shelves left bare when stay-at-home orders began, many locals turned to Restaurant Connection to safely bring them hot meals from local restaurants.
The demand created a lot of long days for Mr. Plasencia, who said he worked between 18 and 20 hours some days during the start of the pandemic.
Eventually, the business was able to increase its staffing to fulfill the influx of orders.
“We were making changes on the fly, on a daily basis in order to meet that demand and really be able to provide the best possible service that we could,” Mr. Plasencia said.
When a customer places an order with Restaurant Connection, the business coordinates with local restaurants to fulfill the order. Then, when the order is ready, a Restaurant Connection employee swings by, picks up the order and delivers it to the customer.
Mr. Plasencia, a Santa Barbara native and current resident, has a long history with the business. He started as a delivery driver in 2005 during his high school years and became the general manager just two years later.
After a few years as manager, he left the business to pursue a business marketing degree from Cal State Northridge.
After a few years working in marketing, he decided to check in with the man who owned Restaurant Connection in 2015.
The owner asked Mr. Plasencia if he could help him to market the business. Restaurant Connection had seen a decline in orders and sales in recent months.
Mr. Plasencia decided to come back to the business. He helped the owner upgrade technology, develop new restaurant partners and create new streams of revenue.
After some time, business started to boom once again, and Mr. Plasencia became a partial owner of the business in 2017 before taking over as the sole owner in 2020.
“It was challenging that first year (as owner) because of the pandemic,” Mr. Plasencia said. “It was the busiest year we had overall so there were a lot of obstacles to overcome, but we got through it and it was an interesting year.”
“It was great to be able to be there for the community and offer delivery for those in need — not just for the residents, but for the restaurants as well.”
Despite businesses similar to Restaurant Connection, such as Uber Eats or Doordash, gaining popularity nationwide, Mr. Plasencia said the thing that sets his business apart is the human touch.
“We are a local business, we always have live phone operators in the office to answer the phone locally,” Mr. Plasencia said. “We’re very hands on with every order. No order goes unnoticed at all every day.”
He continued, “That’s kind of where we separate ourselves from (the competition) is the level of service we provide. It’s important to us to not just make sure the customer is happy, but that the restaurant is happy too because we’re a representation of them.”
With COVID-19 cases on the decline and restrictions loosening across the county, Mr. Plasencia said business remains steady but is starting to slow now that people are able to return to dining in person.
After a long stretch without in-person dining available, Mr. Plasencia said the downtrend in customer orders was expected.
He’s happy to see restaurants up and running again.
“It makes me happy for the fact that restaurants are able to have customers come in and dine with them again because they are very important and crucial to the whole community here,” Mr. Plasencia said.
“Restaurants are so important here in Santa Barbara, so being able to welcome back customers is a very positive thing overall.”