What the restaurant industry needs to reset, recover and thrive
A Q&A with Lola Kassim, GM of Uber Eats Canada, and chef de cuisine of Vela Restaurant, Kim Haugen
If the past two years have shown Torontonians anything, it’s that our restaurant industry is resilient. Moving with ingenuity and agility, restaurants pivoted to ever-changing public health protocols and worked alongside their vendors and partners to bring Torontonians the comfort of an incredible meal.
As food delivery went from a convenience to a necessity during the pandemic, Uber Eats became the ally that the Canadian restaurant landscape needed. Take, for instance, their “Eat Local Relief Effort”—an initiative that supported restaurants affected by capacity limits with $1 million worth of grants to 400 independently owned restaurants across Canada.
Uber Eats has also proactively implemented new ways to support Toronto’s and the country’s restaurant industry to recover, thrive and connect—from new pricing structures that offer local restaurants more flexibility and control to a dine-in feature allowing customers to browse menus, order and pay for food in-app to help restaurants turn tables faster.
Even as consumers slowly return to in-restaurant dining, it’s clear that food delivery will continue to play a vital role in Canada’s restaurant industry. We chatted with Lola Kassim, GM of Uber Eats Canada, and chef de cuisine of Vela Restaurant, Kim Haugen, to learn more about what restauranteurs need right now.
Q: Lola, how will Uber Eats continue to support restaurants now that we’re entering recovery?
L: First and foremost, by being an option for restaurants to reach new and existing customers. It isn’t just about delivering food; a considerable part of what we do is help eaters discover new restaurants. Seventy per cent of people on Uber Eats say that food delivery apps have made it easier for them to discover new places to eat. In a way, it’s marketing. We also want to expand our product features to give restaurants what they want and need.
Q: Chef Kim, what does it feel like to have customers dining in Vela?
K: It’s surreal. Being able to open up the entire restaurant, full capacity, with both patios open and late-night dining is incredible. The staff is energized and the room’s buzzing. It’s great to be back.
Q: How has Vela, and food spaces in general, evolved—especially with the impacts of the pandemic?
K: There were times when we were open at half capacity, which was a best-case scenario. We had to adapt to the decreased connection with dividers, then readapt and remove them. That’s the industry’s beauty; we’re fluid and constantly adapting.
Q: Do you think the need for food delivery will continue as things open up?
L: The habit of ordering food delivery skyrocketed. People changed their habits. And it’s not just dinner; it’s groceries, flowers and more—people like being able to access things on demand. It’s convenient and saves time.
Q: How has food delivery impacted the industry throughout the pandemic and beyond from a chef’s perspective?
K: People who don’t usually dine in a particular neighbourhood can explore it through Uber Eats. It’s also given people access to what can be seen as a luxury ingredient. People order our crispy maitake mushroom a lot. Pre-pandemic, you could only buy maitake mushrooms at certain places in the city, and now you can get them delivered to your door anytime.
Q: What is something you’d say restaurants need right now to ensure they thrive?
L: Restaurants need support. They need people to feel excited about and safe enough to do this—whether that’s inside, outdoors on patios, by way of delivery and so on.
K: I agree. Also, support from internal and external sources [those involved in the industry and patrons] will help everyone thrive and contribute to the growth of the food scene while still being able to meet consumers’ needs and wants.
L: Eat! However you feel comfortable.
What are you most excited about for the Toronto Life Best Restaurants event?
K: I haven’t done an event for so long! I’m really excited to connect with people who are excited to eat and reconnect with people in the industry in this shared food space. That camaraderie, having fun, networking and learning.
L: I’m eager to be surrounded by a community of people keen to support restaurants, food and the industry. I’m also very excited to explore all the food and drink offerings. I’m optimistic for the future!