The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to adopt new habits in every area of our lives, including changing how we patronize restaurants. It’s clear that going forward, both restaurant owners and their customers will have new challenges to overcome.
Having said that, coming out of the pandemic will give restaurant owners everywhere plenty of opportunities to use new and exciting innovations to better serve their customers and employees. This will also be a great opportunity to really reinforce relationships with customers in-person and digitally.
From my experience in the restaurant industry, I’m sharing some tips on how you can maintain some stability and prepare to reopen so your restaurant can thrive, not just survive, during COVID-19 and beyond.
How to Look Like You Have It All Together (And Really Do)
Even with all the new innovations that have streamlined dining out, like contactless curbside pickup, life is still far, far different than it was just a few months ago. To be successful in the industry post-pandemic, maintaining some semblance of stability is going to be key.
- Go Above & Beyond to Support Your Employees
One of the most important things restaurant owners can do right now is support their employees. During this time especially, you need to be mindful of how you’re treating, paying, and supporting your staff.
And whether you want to believe it or not, consumers will be paying close attention to how restaurants treat their employees post-COVID. They’ll notice if their favorite server got their job back after being laid off and how front-of-house staff is paid, so make sure you’re supporting your employees as much as possible.
“People, for me, [are] the only reason that businesses fail, or they survive.”
- Develop Smart New Operating Procedures
To get ready for your area reopening, be proactive and prepare a game plan for what your own operating procedures will look like post-COVID. I like to call this a “silver lining playbook.”
Your silver lining playbook should feature new procedures that show customers exactly what you’re doing to provide a safe environment for them and for your employees. This means literally showing customers what you’re doing to create a safe environment. Whether that means providing hand sanitizer at every table or offering other safety protocols, these new additions should be easy to see no matter where someone is sitting in the restaurant.
- Optimize for Delivery & Takeout
Are you optimizing for delivery and takeout at your restaurant? If not, now is the time to start.
Start by updating your menu and shifting your focus to profitable and delivery-friendly offerings. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start to rework your menu:
- What menu items travel well?
- What items can be refrigerated and then reheated without impacting quality?
- What are some of your highest profit items? Lowest profit?
- Will a limited kitchen crew be capable of turning around the same quality dishes that customers are used to?
And don’t forget to use all of the online ordering and delivery technologies available to you. Not only will you be restricting your own resources if you don’t, but you’ll also be providing a potential customer with a great reason to choose another restaurant.
While most people will continue placing their orders online or by phone, there are going to be people who prefer to place walk-in orders, so it’s important to take appropriate safety precautions, such as:
- Assigning an area at a distance where customers can wait
- Limiting the number of people allowed inside the establishment at one time
- Requiring the use of cloth face coverings among all staff and requesting that customers also wear face coverings
- Posting signs in highly visible locations that promote everyday protective measures and share how customers can better communicate with your staff to ensure a speedy order
Things to Do Before You Reopen
Before reopening, some of your new priorities should be adjusting how your restaurant is laid out, stepping up your digital marketing game, and revamping hiring and training processes.
- Adjust the Layout of Your Restaurant
Even after the government says we’re good to go for dining out, you can expect customers to be skeptical and feel hesitant.
To combat these concerns, you’re probably going to need to redesign your restaurant’s layout and maybe even add new features and amenities. Here are a few changes you can make to ease customers’ anxiety:
- Move all tables and seating 6 feet apart and encourage outside dining if possible
- Consider limiting capacity in your establishment
- Provide curbside pickup, delivery, and contactless takeout options
- Request that customers wait for orders in their cars or outside
- Remove all self-service options
- Make sure all of your ventilation systems are working properly so you can circulate fresh air throughout the restaurant
You might also want to rethink your hours of operation to minimize crowds. If you know you can extend your dinner service an hour or two longer and minimize the number of customers dining at once, that’s a good idea.
- Step Up Your Digital Marketing Game
All too often, I see restaurants without any presence on social media (and some don’t even have websites!) and it baffles me every time. Now is the time to focus on stepping up your digital marketing game and engaging with more of your customers online.
Here are a few things you can do to get started:
- Claim your Google My Business and Apple Maps listings so customers can know exactly when you’ll be open
- Create Facebook and Instagram accounts to promote the restaurant and provide updates
- These are great places to share menu updates and other information regarding how you will be adapting policies and procedures moving forward.
- Don’t worry about providing too much information to your customers. During this time especially, the more information you can provide, even if it’s about cleaning procedures or changes in your schedule, the better. This additional information will go a long way when it comes to rebuilding trust and reinforcing relationships with your customers.
If you can’t bring on an experienced person to manage it for you, at the very least, you should invest in some social media management tools.
- Revamp Your Hiring & Training
To keep chugging along and being successful after COVID-19, you need to rethink your hiring and training processes.
With so many people unemployed right now, your door might be knocked down with hopefuls when you reopen. Be prepared to hire qualified individuals by updating your training manuals and onboarding materials before you start receiving applications.
Being creative in your digital marketing is great, and so is being creative with how you revamp your training procedures. Have you ever considered creating training videos for your staff? Now is a fantastic time to use these innovative training methods—and the best part is, you don’t even need any fancy gear or equipment to create them. Even an iPhone will do the trick!
About 618 Hospitality Group
My business partner (and famed restauranteur from Netflix’s Restaurant on the Edge and Bar Rescue), Nick Liberato, and I recently launched 618 Hospitality Group to provide the restaurant and nightlife industries with a new model of success and hope during an uncertain time and lagging economic landscape. We’ve combined our passions, skills, and backgrounds to create a brand new “silver lining playbook” to help restaurants truly thrive, and not just survive.
Let Us Help You Thrive!
If your restaurant needs help creating its silver lining playbook, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We want to help you thrive—not just survive both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about our mission, vision, and services, check out our website.