Restaurants and Coronavirus: 5 Tips for Adjusting to Takeout Only
At this point, most states are under stay-at-home orders. Where states aren't speaking up, many cities are picking up the slack. While most stay-at-home orders are currently set to expire in April, all signs point to business operations remaining in crisis for quite a while. Even when governments give the go-ahead, the general public is saying they may not feel comfortable in crowded places for months. Restaurants are in a unique position among small businesses: closed, but still essential. Individual companies are struggling with questions like: Should I remain operational? How do I keep my staff safe? How do I keep my customers safe? Should I do pickup, delivery, or both? And most importantly, how do I keep my business afloat until things go back to normal?
Why Are Restaurant Workers Essential?For years, penny-pinchers have told us that restaurant meals are a luxury we can't afford. Now that businesses are shutting down, we're getting a clear picture of just how essential the restaurants are to our economy.
They Feed Other Essential WorkersHealthcare workers, truck drivers, and other essential workers may find the grocery shopping/cooking cycle impossible at the moment. Whether they're just plain exhausted, living in temporary housing to protect their families, or always get to the grocery store after the shelves are empty, the ability to pick up hot and ready meals is valuable.
They Relieve Shortages in Consumer Supply ChainsThere's a reason stores are out of milk and toilet paper, but it's not due to hoarding. When most businesses and public facilities shut down, they locked up half of our supply of essential goods–the half that comes through commercial supply chains. Now the consumer supply chain is experiencing twice the demand. Restaurants can help relieve that pressure by keeping commercial food supplies flowing to the public.
They Keep Everyone Up the Supply Chain in BusinessRestaurants, especially small and local businesses, often support small farmers and fishermen directly. We're already seeing farmers that sell to shuttered businesses having to destroy literal tons of food. The less that happens, the better, and you can't direct that food to grocery stores overnight. You can also argue that restaurants are psychologically essential. In the U.S., coronavirus stay-at-home orders largely rely on voluntary compliance. Takeout or delivery gives people both comfort and novelty. It's a little taste of normalcy. At the same time, it's an interruption to the monotony of cobbling together meals with whatever you can find on the shelf. Operational restaurants make staying at home more bearable.
How Restaurants Can Adjust to Takeout OnlyConsumer confidence is going to remain low for public gatherings for a while. That means even after your doors re-open, takeout or delivery might be your best shot for staying alive. Here are a few takeaways for achieving success in this strange world order.
Tip #1: Pump Up the HygieneHygiene has always been critical in the food and beverage industry. Still, if you're going to continue business in the time of COVID-19, you'll have to take kitchen sanitation and worker hygiene to a level that would ordinarily be considered paranoid. If you choose to offer takeout (rather than delivery or curbside pickup), you'll need to take measures to ensure that the public-facing areas in your restaurant also remain sanitary. Keep in mind that in-store pickup might become problematic. Some restaurants report trying takeout but shifting strategies when customers failed to observe adequate distancing. Keep this in mind, and take measures to control the process.
Tip #2: Get the Word OutPost on social media. Buy Facebook ads. Update your website. Contact loyal customers. Put a sign on your front door. Post flyers in nearby neighborhoods. Get on every local list of open takeout/delivery restaurants that you can. If you're trying to keep business up, there's no such thing as overkill. Just make sure you "read the room" and keep your messaging appropriate to the times. Update customers on how they can order from you and what they can expect. Promote new menu items or offers. Explain in detail what extra sanitation measures you've added for their safety. Many customers are reluctant to order from restaurants right now because they don't know what individual businesses are doing to prevent contamination. What happens if you become known as the restaurant doing it right? The longer the lockdown continues, the more restless customers will become with the food they have at home. Even if you had little success keeping business early on, customers might be ready to bite after weeks of cooking.
Tip #3: Adjust Your Expectations (and Your Menu)Events outside of your control will continue to shape your business decisions for months – at the very least. Dine-in is dead (for now), comfort food is king, and supply is probably going to be wonky for a while. And while there's something to be said for offering customers what they know and love, if those dishes don't make it home in an edible condition, they won't thank you afterward. Consider supply chain logistics and profit margin potential for each dish. Road-test menu items and to-go packaging for food safety and best results. Adapt or remove menu items that don't make the grade. Add menu items that fit the bill. Consider including instructions for optimal reheating to keep your customers safe and happy.
Tip #4: Pivot with the TimesWe've all heard about liquor distilleries now making hand sanitizer. Sometimes getting creative is the shot in the arm that your business needs. Here are just a few out-of-the-box ideas restauranteurs across the country are reporting to news outlets:
- Switching to family-style dishes that can feed a household (or make substantial leftovers).
- Offering one dish at a time–a daily special based on what's available or in season.
- Starting personal-chef style catering for the masses: ready-made multi-meal packages that can freeze/refrigerate and reheat nicely.
- Selling meal kits to help customers reproduce favorites at home.
- Offering "subscriptions" for any of the above to drum up steady revenue.
- Catering to comfort food cravings, including desserts for delivery.
- Downsizing your menu to just a few items with overlapping ingredients and a high profit margin.
- Adding a coronavirus gratuity or donation option to support your staff.
- Saving on delivery app commissions and fees by offering delivery in-house. Use your regular staff as delivery drivers.
- Offering high-demand ingredients or supplies to customers directly – for sale or as a promotion. "One free roll of toilet paper with every order" is an opportunity that will never fly again.