If you’ve never eaten at Shaw’s Crab House in downtown Chicago, you’re missing out on one of the best restaurants this food reporter has ever experienced. After the Food On Demand edit team demolished a chilled five-pound Alaskan red king crab, we chatted with manager Megan Jacob who told us all about delivering a fine dining experience with a menu of delicate fish, steaks and oysters.
First, the best part: In the shadows of The Wrigley Building near the Chicago River, Shaw’s has the ideal atmosphere, especially after a long day running a conference. Dim lights, regulars spread throughout the bar and nearby booths, truly excellent servers and a menu that’s more oceanic than you might expect in the Midwest. With white tablecloths and a seafood-heavy menu, we were surprised to learn it does 5 percent of its business through delivery.
Going on 35 years old, Shaw’s can seat more than 500 guests at a time between its two dining rooms. Jacob, who personally shelled our gigantic crab with one of the chefs, has worked at Shaw’s for a year and a half after finishing culinary school.
While its third-party delivery program predates her, it’s now her job to keep the guests happy, while ensuring that the Shaw’s experience holds up after a bumpy ride in a car. While its delivery volume varies, it’s especially busy on Saturday night from 5 to 8 o’clock—just when the dining room is filled to the gills.
The restaurant works with a range of providers, including hometown giant Grubhub, as well as Uber Eats, Caviar, DoorDash, Delivery Wow and Ritual. Jacob said some providers are better than others, with Uber Eats and Grubhub easier to work with when things go wrong, be it an unhappy customer or a technology glitch. She singled Caviar out, due to having to fill out an online form when a problem erupts, rather than speaking directly with a person—but she also loves the restaurant’s responsive Chicagoland Caviar rep.
Due to the volume during holiday stretches, the restaurant shuts down its delivery operation. For most holidays, it switches to a buffet service that’s not offered during usual times. Preserving the at-home Shaw’s experience means that certain menu items are not offered for delivery.
“We pretty much pick and choose the items we think are going to travel best,” Jacob said. “For the most part I don’t really find [delivery] to be that much of a struggle. If people are ordering seafood to go, you have to expect at some point … a medium rare salmon [is] going to be a little more medium by the time it gets there—and same thing with steak.”
Due to fluctuations in seafood seasonality, Shaw’s has to make frequent changes to its in-house and delivery menus. As it seeks to expand its delivery operation, Jacob is exploring promotions to increase carryout and delivery business, such as discounts for customers who come into the restaurant on special occasions like St. Patrick’s Day.
For delivery providers, she hopes to see less resistance—technological and otherwise—to making on-the-fly pricing tweaks to ensure delivery remains profitable, as well as general user-friendly interfaces with the option of reaching an actual human when needed.
“We take the time to put all of our hot food in one bag and cold food in another, but a lot of it comes into play when the delivery driver leaves,” Jacob said. “You just cross your fingers and hope they do a good job.”