How Restaurant Connection Impacted the Local Dining Community
Written by Melissa Troeller
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since COVID took over our lives...but thank god for food delivery. I’d be lying if I said I didn't take advantage of getting meals delivered to my door during such an uncertain time. There’s something exciting about ordering what you want and enjoying it in the comfort of your own home with no effort on your part. At one point during quarantine I was ordering food every other day; it posed a distraction from all the uncertainty that was filling the air. It made the word quarantine seem lighter.
Because of food delivery (mainly Restaurant Connection to be specific), I got to try a multitude of cuisines from so many restaurants during a difficult period. Food certainly makes me happy, but those long lines at Trader Joe’s did not. A new day in quarantine meant I got to decide what cuisine I'd try next. When the Restaurant Connection app alerted me of my food being dropped off I'd reach for the handle of my door with anticipation for the exquisite tastes awaiting me. The fragrances of hot Indian basmati rice and curry would pour into my home. Even as restaurants reopen, I still order delivery because it’s convenient. I will say, it definitely opened my eyes to what is available at my fingertips.
None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Restaurant Connection and their CEO Saul Plasencia. Restaurant Connection beats all other delivery apps by allowing its users to order food from over 80 restaurants in Santa Barbara, Montecito, Goleta, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, and Westlake. It has also supported many businesses by helping them stay open and has been around since 1989.
With a newfound fondness for food delivery, I spoke with CEO of Restaurant Connection Saul Plasencia on how COVID has affected meal delivery, his journey to CEO, and what the future holds.
How has the pandemic affected the demand for food delivery from Restaurant Connection?
When the stay-at-home order was issued in March of 2020, Restaurant Connection was significantly impacted. We experienced a massive influx of orders. We were not expecting the sudden increase in volume, therefore we were not initially prepared. There was fear, uncertainty, and so many unanswered questions. Many people were concerned about their safety and well-being. Businesses were closing and people were suddenly out of work, but I understood that we as a company had to step up and help serve our community.
Restaurant owners and staff became reliant on us to keep their businesses open through delivery orders. Restaurants that had never offered delivery before needed us to help them. We hired new team members to help us fulfill the volume of orders, so we were able to provide a source of income for our drivers, while also helping feed thousands of local residents. We had to make changes “on the fly” with our operations to streamline the delivery process. There were constant technology updates, long work hours (working 20+ hour days for a few months), constant menu updates, and so much more.
How long have you worked at Restaurant Connection and what was the process moving toward CEO?
I started working at Restaurant Connection in 2005 as a delivery driver in high school. Within two years I became General Manager. I retained my GM position through 2011 and left the company to explore other opportunities. While in college, I taught myself how to build websites and started my own web design business, Plasencia Marketing, where I was able to help local businesses gain exposure through digital media assets like websites, social media, email marketing, and paid digital advertising. I graduated from Cal State University of Northridge with a Bachelor of Science in Business-Marketing.
After graduating, I moved back to Santa Barbara in 2015 and reconnected with Restaurant Connection. At that time, the company was not doing well. Sales and order volume were at an all-time low and trending downward. Restaurant Connection asked me to use my knowledge and skills in business-marketing to help turn things around. From 2015 through the end of 2016, I was able to add new revenue streams, increase sales and order volume, add over 60 new restaurant partners, reduce costs, streamline operations, implement new technology, and more. The company went from a complete downturn to a thriving and growing company. In 2017 I became a partner at Restaurant Connection, and three years later in 2020 I became the sole owner. There have been many challenges but also many great moments. Overall, it has been a truly rewarding experience to help the company reach new heights and thrive. We continue to grow and achieve new goals every year, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.
How has Restaurant Connection impacted local restaurants’ business?
Over the past year when local restaurants were navigating uncertainty and pivoting with new business models that included food delivery, we were a trusted source for them to rely on and help them figure out ways to continue doing what they do best, despite the challenges.
How has Restaurant Connection handled social distancing while delivering food?
At the onset of the pandemic, we were constantly monitoring the public health guidelines, while communicating with our customers and restaurant partners about the changes we were making to protect our team and our customers—from PPE, to contactless delivery options, to specific delivery instructions. Communication was key, so keeping our customers updated on everything we were doing and the various options available was imperative. We continue to follow all the public health guidelines set by the CDC to ensure all health and safety precautions.
What does the future look like for Restaurant Connection?
The future is bright for Restaurant Connection. The pandemic forced change on what everyday life is like. With technology playing a critical role in every aspect of our lives, it is foreseeable that the restaurant delivery industry will be vastly changing. In this day and age, it’s necessary for all businesses to adapt and change in order to stay competitive. At Restaurant Connection, we are adapting to new technologies and constantly working to improve delivery experience.