Luckily Sean saw that he had a skill set that could help with the problem. Working at a digital agency, which focuses on enhancing the human experience and building connections between people means he always has a product and usability mindset switched on.
Lynch happened to make the right connection, with Galdes, on twitter, and the two put their heads together to build Dining at a Distance.
“When I was on Twitter, I met Jenn Galdes, who works in restaurant PR in Chicago and we decided to join forces. So with her insight into the hospitality industry and my digital product skills, we founded Dining at a Distance and it’s taken off like wildfire. We are now in 29 cities, about to expand into 15 more with over 5,000 restaurants, it’s been one hell of a week,” says Lynch
“It’s all about supporting local restaurants, but also keeping people fed, adding value to communities and businesses.
This is not a fulltime job for either Lynch or Galdes, and they couldn’t have done it without the help of local communities and a grassroots movement.
“There is the research that we do, but it’s also a community, grassroots movement. Every city has a local curator who’s responsible for getting the information out into their community, working directly with restaurants but also with bloggers, influencers, press, and media,” says Lynch. “It’s a huge group effort.”
The database has exploded as restaurants pivot to other services, with Chicago, the city where it started, an example of the surging number of takeout options now available to diners. The platform makes no distinction in regards to what kind of restaurant and you see all kinds of restaurants listed side by side.
“It’s interesting that most restaurants are trying to pivot to take out and delivery. We see in Chicago there are now 1700 restaurants offering those services, every kind of restaurant iteration from the smallest to Alinea, one of the top restaurants in the world, who have started a delivery service.”
Takeout is a small part of what restaurants have to do to survive this crisis, but it is something they can do in the here and now. But what does the future hold for them?
“Restaurants are doing what they can to survive. Those who can’t, well they’ll have to do all they can to reduce costs in this period and then reopen whenever this ends. Our aim is to just help these restaurants through this difficult time and support their carry-out services. These services need marketing, so we are just trying to get the word out to the public.
“People are scared. They’re not sure what’s going to put them at risk and what isn’t, but despite all that, they want to help their local communities that they’ve become part of over the years. Especially in the cities, that is a challenge.
Restaurants are community hubs and so much more than bricks and mortar, Lynch is motivated by doing what he can to make sure that the restaurants are still able to serve the communities in the future. For now, those communities are throwing lifelines to those businesses.
“We can’t just let the restaurant industry disappear overnight, we’re all proud of where we came from. These local businesses, these restaurants are part of our community,” he says.
“We’ve got a lot of questions about what our angle is and we keep saying that all we want is to help restaurants and for this crisis to pass with as few restaurant closures as possible. We just want restaurants to go back to what they are known for. We are just about connecting the dots and bringing the right information to people when they need it. We look forward to constantly building bridges and building communities.
“The restaurants that will survive this crisis and be able to reopen are the ones with an ability to rethink their business model. Restaurants that traditionally were dine-in only, they might see that this model and help make costs sustainable. They can create opportunities for people to access the restaurants that might not have been able to access them before.
“It could be a great way to help build stronger communities, across social and economic boundaries, putting the restaurant at the centre, which in turn can lead to more jobs and opportunities for people in the hospitality industry.
“We’ve never seen anything like this across the country and the world, that’s the scary part.”