Smaller Menu, Upgraded Takeout and Delivery Pay Off

The Wicked Sister learns to take care of employees, customers and business during tough months.
To-go carryout boxes with The Wicked Sister restaurant logo

Streamlining the menu. Expanding takeout. Launching delivery. Rethinking safety. For a bar and grill in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 2020 has been a big reset button.

Closed to dine-in guests for nearly three months, The Wicked Sister in Sault Ste. Marie had no choice but to reduce the size of its already modest menu by about 20% and turn to off-premise solutions.

Gone were two salads, an appetizer, a sandwich and a couple of burgers. Removing a roasted beet and spiced nut salad and a hand-carved corned beef sandwich saved labor. The loss of a bison burger, a middle-of-the-pack seller, reduced inventory as well as a burger that didn’t travel as well as beef burgers.

“It stressed us out not to be able to execute some items the way we wanted, and I feel bad we can’t accommodate some customers,” says owner Cathy Howell. “Saying ‘Well, sorry, COVID…’ is a great way to explain our choices.”

One choice was to launch delivery. The Wicked Sister always had carryout, but it was only 10% of business during the best of times. Howell was planning to expand delivery when the shutdown left her no choice. 

She used her linen-like disposable catering napkins, eco-friendly forks and knives as well as branded napkin bands and upscale to-go boxes to find a niche in a town where third-party delivery doesn’t have a foothold. She requires a minimum $15 order and has a $5 delivery charge. 

It was so successful that it’s still 30% of business even though limited dine-in service is available. 

“I love learning. I go to the Gordon Food Service Shows and knew from the seminars that off-premise was something to contend with,” she says. “I wanted to set the standard in the community instead of chasing after someone else.”

Howell praises her team for pivoting to upgrade carryout and committing to safety. During the shutdown, cooks wrapped and boxed foods, while bartenders and servers became expediters, packers and delivery drivers. Upon reopening, team members accepted temperature checks, health questionnaires and donned masks. They also embraced making a show of cleaning and sanitizing practices, something customers notice.

“This place doesn’t run because I want it to. It really takes a team.”

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