Managing your restaurant during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe has dealt a massive blow overflowing with uncertainty to nearly every industry, it does not necessarily have to signal the demise of your restaurant.

Think of it as an opportunity to adapt and overcome. Though most normal, everyday operations are anything but, we are experiencing this at a time when information is widely available and innovative tools exist to navigate these drastic changes in our current situation.

Restaurants must come up with a plan to help them:

  • Survive the pandemic and adjust their business models to prevent closures.
  • Thrive by optimizing their operation and leveraging new strategies and solutions.
  • Revive when the pandemic passes through careful planning and implementation.

Though this is easier said than done, it is not impossible. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide with tips and resources to help you and your restaurant maneuver effectively through the COVID-19 pandemic:

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Managing Your Restaurant Staff

Evaluate and Manage New Expectations

 

shutterstock_353947394-600x400There will be major changes in the tasks that are required of your restaurant staff. Rather than taking in-person orders and seating guests, more labor will need to be allocated to managing the influx of online orders for pickup and delivery. Make sure your staff is aware of changes to policy, tasks, responsibilities, and more. They need to know what they should prepare for, and how their job responsibilities will be affected by the pandemic.

Train and Maintain

 

Communicate with your staff about these changes, and ensure they are well-trained on the technology they will use and the procedures they need to follow to optimize restaurant delivery and online ordering services. Go over new expectations and policies with them to keep everyone up-to-date.

 

“Anyone can walk up to a HungerRush system and enter an order. New additions to my wait staff can be productive on day one.” - Dan Saccone, Saccone’s Pizza

 

In a pandemic situation, health and safety is #1. For the restaurant industry, it is paramount that you review and update your health and sanitary practices as needed to combat the spread of pathogens. Take the time to review your employee sick and family leave policies, and adjust them accordingly.

As a business owner, you are responsible for the safety and well-being of your employees. They are putting themselves at risk in order to keep your business in operation and maintain their livelihoods. It is your responsibility to minimize risks and treat them with appreciation and respect.

Your staff is a great resource for insight on how to optimize your operations. Data from your POS system is valuable when it comes to making real-time business decisions, but your employees have hands-on knowledge of their daily tasks and can offer different perspectives and ideas for how to streamline operations.

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Evolving Your Business to Maximize Restaurant Profitability

Consumer behavior has changed drastically as the pandemic progressed, and many changes will be permanent even after the pandemic ends. Consumers are now more aware of the spread of harmful pathogens, and recognize the potential for future pandemics.

It is important that you are aware of changes with consumer behavior, and can adapt to these needs as they arise so that you can weather through the storm and thrive.

shutterstock_365149475IncreaseProfitsMaintaining restaurant profitability is key. The two things that aid profitability are:

  • Increased sales
  • Decreased costs

In order to maintain and even grow your business, you need to determine how to do both. You need to use the data available to you to see what your biggest costs are, whether or not you can cut back in certain areas that aren’t seeing as high of a demand, and what steps you need to take to increase your sales wherever possible.

Expanding Your Restaurant Offerings

Social distancing and government mandates initially put a halt to dine-in traffic, which has been traditionally the main source of revenue for restaurateurs and hospitality. Although restrictions are now being lifted, dine-in traffic may not be as popular right away even as the pandemic passes.

However, the silver lining is that this pandemic came at a time when restaurant innovation has given us many technology solutions that can help business owners find workarounds to help combat the negative effects. It’s critical to expand and improve your other restaurant offerings by leveraging these innovations.

Digital Ordering

Digital ordering is necessary for restaurants that want to stay in operation, even as social distancing restrictions lift, to minimize ordering in person. Without digital ordering you will likely see a sharp decline in business, and the business you do bring in will be mostly by phone, impacting your labor costs as employees take orders.

Digital ordering covers two distinct types of ordering:

Online

Online ordering makes it easy for customers to place orders on your website through any internet-connected device. They can order when and where they want, which offers greater convenience.
 

“With online ordering in place, our stores are seeing more than $3 ticket increase over in-store purchases. And now that we have the HungerRush system with reporting software, our stores are making more money than ever before.” - Brent Cordial, Giovanni’s Pizza

 

“Customers that are ordering online generate higher ticket sales, reduce order errors, free up staff to do other tasks, and reduce overall costs.” - Estel Powell, The Slice Pizzeria

 

Via App

To take your digital ordering a step further, a branded restaurant mobile ordering app can be a valuable tool. This allows you to better connect with guests and strengthen customer relationships. You can send push notifications and personalized promotions to stay top-of-mind, which can be even more valuable in a time when operations are struggling.

Delivery

Delivery is a much safer alternative in this time of social distancing, and will become one of the primary ways for customers to get their orders in the foreseeable future. There are two major types of delivery operations:

In-house

This is the most profitable way to implement delivery. You keep all the profits, and don’t have to split them. If you don’t already offer delivery, you will need to set it up and determine your delivery staff. Make sure you train them well on the proper safety protocols to keep themselves and customers safe.

 

Third party

shutterstock_1689246196-600x400If you don’t already have the resources on-hand to manage the influx of delivery orders, third party delivery services can help you handle the demand quickly and easily by integrating these services into your POS system. This also expands your reach by making your brand visible on their app, which may have a much larger audience. Although third party delivery services require a percentage of your delivery sales, most are offering low to no fees because of the pandemic.

 

"With HungerRush online ordering, I’m collecting my own customer data instead of giving it to third parties. I use this information in my marketing to communicate with customers about special offers and to build awareness for my restaurant." - Tony Troiano - J.B. Alberto’s Pizza

 

Thinking Outside of the Box

COVID-19 brings an opportunity for your restaurant to be creative and think outside of the box. Sometimes major shifts in the industry give you the ability to overhaul outdated processes and offer things to your loyal customers and communities that differ from your normal everyday offerings, such as:

  • Curbside pickup
  • Build-your-own-meal kits
  • Family meal bundles
  • Special food offers
  • New promotions

"We put together a series of $20 family meals, one for each night. This is not the time for war-time profiting, because we are a community restaurant and we will still be here when the pandemic has passed." – Mo Assi, Crush Taco

 

These new services and specials keep your customers engaged and excited, while still addressing new demands and needs as they arise.

Leveraging Integrated Restaurant Technology to Future-Proof Your Business

shutterstock_714386902-600x400In times of uncertainty, it’s important that you can keep everything organized and operating smoothly. Make sure you invest in technology that can integrate and operate as a suite of solutions that combines your point of sale (POS) system, online ordering, delivery, and loyalty program all in one place.

Integration is crucial, especially when expanding your offerings. It’s imperative to ensure that all your orders—whether online, in-app, third-party, or phone—are in one comprehensive location. This prevents order errors and streamlines operation.

Integration is also crucial for optimizing and obtaining customer data. If you can’t share data across systems and platforms, you won’t be able to achieve as much visibility and can lose out on critical insight. For example, without an integrated system, restaurants lose out on customer data obtained through third-party ordering systems. An integrated solution, however, enables you to own and control all customer data, no matter where it came from. A comprehensive customer database allows you to effectively create and execute personalized promotions and important announcements.

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Strengthening Customer Relationships

Communication is Key

shutterstock_1655751121comunication-icon-600x600The relationships you have with your customers will make or break your business during times of crisis. It’s important that you stay in contact and communicate with them to let them know about adjusted business hours, changes in your menu, and other ways you are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Communicate that their safety and health is a top priority to you, and thank them for their continued business and support.

 

Marketing

It’s wise to be strategic with your marketing messages so that you can continue promoting online ordering, delivery, gift cards, and promotions to maximize sales. Tailor your restaurant marketing strategies to align with the current situation, such as offering delivery specials or buy-one-get-one meal kits. Restaurants can take it one step further by driving sales and supporting their communities by offering a deal to provide essential workers with a meal every time a certain order is placed. Leverage digital marketing, including social media and email marketing, to spread the word and reach your customers in their homes.

Loyalty Program

shutterstock_599633639-600-customer-loyaltyLeverage your loyalty program to gather membership data and send emails to your database of customers. Again, an integrated system is key to own all of your customer data so that you can properly collect, communicate, and reward customers. This is another instance where you can tailor your promotions to suit the needs of your customers. Adjust your rewards to current events, and give extra points or freebies for online orders, gift card purchases, and more.

 

“Most customers visit our restaurants slightly less than twice per month.  However, members of our Loyalty program visit four times per month – double the rate of non-members,” - Victor Martinez, Piezoni’s

 

“Thanks to having 5,000 loyalty program customers stored in HungerRush, we were able to quickly communicate the new curbside pickup and no contact delivery options. Getting the word out through email and Facebook has increased our business by 75%.” - Mike Nelson, Little Pops NY Pizzeria.

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Defining a New Normal

In today’s current climate, it’s important to not let morale get low enough that you miss out on the valuable opportunities that may be knocking at your door. Each tragedy offers lessons to be learned in its wake, and opens up new possibilities for transformation, and eventually growth.

Restaurants that adapt and evolve are teaching the industry some valuable lessons about the importance of flexibility, agility, and a willingness to cater to the demands of the present circumstances. Those that embrace innovation and perseverance come out on top, while those that are stuck in the ways of the past may be held back if they can’t adapt to the new normal.

Getting Back up and Running

Once social distancing restrictions are lifted, the industry will slowly shift back to normal operations, however it may not look like the normal we are used to. The pandemic has expedited a long-term shift from in-house dining to online orders and delivery services. These are likely to take up a larger portion of your sales than before, even after the pandemic has passed. Consumers will have grown accustomed to the safety and convenience of off-premises options, and will seek restaurants that can meet their needs post COVID-19.

Restaurants should expect a cautious return to on-premises dining, and should adjust to accommodate customer concerns. Enabling a renewed guest experience in a post-pandemic world includes prioritizing health throughout everything you do: from online reservations and queue management and dining room distancing to no contact mobile ordering, pickup, and payments.shutterstock_1723546069-Sanitizing-Restaurant

Sanitization and safety will be the top priority. Minimizing contact with staff as well as menus and payment terminals will be important as your guests ease back into their normal dining routines. Consumers are more informed than before about the spread of pathogens, and there are other seasonal viruses that cause concern.

Sanitizing Your Restaurant

Cleaning and disinfecting will be a top priority moving forward, so it’s good to prepare and train your staff for permanent changes to procedures. Make sure you learn and can execute proper cleaning best practices, and monitor your operation to ensure these are being followed regularly by all staff members.

You’ll need to conduct regular cleaning and disinfecting for common areas like the kitchen, your dining space, and your bathrooms. You’ll also need to sanitize a number of things you may have not paid much attention to before:

  • Door handles
  • Menus
  • Trays
  • Phones
  • POS systems
  • Payment terminals
  • Other commonly-touched items
On top of that, it’s important to update your procedures when it comes to how you handle your employees, food, and packaging. ServSafe training will be critical to keep up with new laws that may be put in place.

 

Conduct employee health screenings before shifts by checking temperatures and ensuring no cough, sore throat, or other symptoms are present. Make sure employees stay six feet away from others whenever possible, and wash hands before and after each customer or order interaction. Gloves and masks may be worn by staff members for optimal contamination prevention.

 

"Although we may be coming out of the pandemic, the new food safety practices we have put in place may never change. We have raised the bar on protecting our customer’s health, and I don’t see things going back to the way they were before" – Rick Smith, Hometown Pizza

 

All to-go and delivery orders must be properly handled, and all food packaging must be free of contamination and safe for customers to touch. You’ll want to continue utilizing no contact procedures well after the peak of the pandemic to ensure your employees and customers stay safe. Printed safety labels should be used to secure all to-go packages to minimize tampering throughout the delivery process.

Social distancing should still be followed whenever possible. Space out tables so that they are six feet apart, and limit tables of more than six guests. Provide signage and sanitizing stations as resources for guests to remain as safe and at ease as possible.

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Moving Forward

In the wake of the pandemic, the future is still uncertain. However, there are ways to protect your business from the worst effects of these unfortunate circumstances, and come out on top ready to take on a brave new world.

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We are here to weather the storm with you and provide the tools, resources, industry expertise, and guidance that will prove critical to restaurants as they look for ways to maintain and adapt operations to fit the current circumstances. For more information on how you can survive, thrive, and revive during these times, contact our experts today.

Resources for Continued Support

 

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