During the summer of 2017, a new family-owned Lebanese restaurant, Tanoor, opened near Metropolitan Market in central Sammamish. Since then, nearby residents have flocked to its doors for its flavorful food and upscale ambiance.
But the stable business that Tanoor has built over the years was tested as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting the traditional business models of independently-owned restaurants like Tanoor at risk.
Tanoor’s response since last March represents a case study of how a restaurant can adapt to survive such a seismic impact, with both elements of agility and luck involved.
For most of 2020 and into 2021, Governor Jay Inslee imposed rules that either restricted restaurants from offering indoor dining, or limited capacity to under 50%.
Tanoor’s owner, Wassim Fayed, reported sales to be down 40% during the past few months while indoor dining was prohibited. Despite these losses, no employees were laid off, as Fayed said he did not want his employees to be impacted by the changes.
With indoor dining not an option, Tanoor relied more heavily on third-party delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash, which they had already been using to get their orders out to customers. Although these delivery services seemed like a saving grace for restaurants, Fayed explained that they are not as helpful as they seem.
“We discourage people from using Uber Eats and DoorDash,” he said. “They take 25% of revenue for every order and charge delivery fees from customers and the restaurant. Our profit margin is 8% normally, so we lose money with them. We raised our prices to compensate for this.”
This known problem led to Governor Inslee instituting a cap on the total fees that third-party delivery services can charge restaurants at 18% in November. Even with this new restriction, the damage to Tanoor’s business had already been done.
Tanoor has had its own app since opening, and that is the restaurant’s preferred way for customers to place orders. Customers can leave tips for servers at the restaurant, which is not an option offered by third-party delivery apps.
“80% of orders placed are between the Tanoor app and delivery, and calling on the phone,” Fayed said. “Tips are taken by delivery apps, and we encourage people to use the Tanoor app and leave a tip there.”
Another strategy that Tanoor utilized was selling its branded products at local grocery stores. As luck would have it, Tanoor had set up a relationship with a grocer back in 2019.
“Prior to October of 2019, we had done business with Metropolitan Market. We sold our products like pita bread, hummus and baba ghanoush and they really enjoyed it,” Fayed said.
The CEO of Met Market, a resident of Sammamish, had been a regular diner at Tanoor and approached Fayed to see if he was interested in doing business with them. With a corner of Met Market dedicated to Tanoor’s products, they soon grew in popularity with customers. Met Market even discontinued many national brands of similar products to commit to Tanoor as their exclusive supplier. Since then, Tanoor has negotiated a distribution deal with PCC Community Markets, and their products will be available starting February.
With this new source of revenue, Tanoor was able to open a second location in January in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, mainly to keep up with their production for Met Market’s orders.
“Our sales with the Met went up three to four times which helped us repurpose and help keep our employees to manage the orders. One of the reasons we opened Seattle was because we needed to increase our pita bread production,” Fayed said.
Even after several months without customers inside the restaurant, Tanoor has been able to weather the hit to their business. On January 18, restaurants with garage-type windows and patios were allowed to resume indoor dining at up to 25% capacity.
“We are very hopeful that the Seattle location will do well. We have a beautiful setting and we’ve been getting high reviews already on the quality of our food,” Fayed said. “Once we are back to full operation in Sammamish, I think it will be a good year for us.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Tanoor opened its South Lake Union location in the summer of 2020. That location actually opened in January 2021.