How Restaurants Can Pivot in the Post-COVID Economy

The world is changing—and restaurants are, too. Here, guest blogger and food industry insider Rebecca Riddle serves up tips for pivoting your business in a post-COVID climate. Let’s dig in.

Whether you want to call these times unprecedented, uncertain, or just downright awful, the coronavirus pandemic has left no sector of the economy unscathed. While everyone is feeling the impact of this global tragedy, the restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit. 

Restaurants are my life. I’ve worked in them, written about them, and have considered dining out my hobby for as long as I can remember. Not knowing when the next time I’ll be standing at a crowded bar waiting for my tequila soda (splash of grapefruit juice, please) or attempting to keep my head above water as I serve a packed dining room during Sunday brunch is scary. Thankfully, restaurants are adaptable. Here’s how you can pivot your business model: 

Take-Out Takes Over 

Even if you offered take-out and delivery in the pre-COVID world, the stakes of the to-go game have risen considerably. As you learn to cater to customers who are largely homebound, it’s incredibly important to differentiate yourself from the competition and create the feeling of a special at-home dining experience. 

Consider reevaluating your menu and eliminating items that don’t travel well. Without the ambiance of your dining room or the genuine hospitality of your servers and bartenders, your food has to do most of the talking. 

Just because more customers will be enjoying your food from their couches, it doesn’t mean you can’t use take-out as an opportunity to drive home your branding. Flimsy plastic containers can be replaced with sturdier (and hopefully, biodegradable) alternatives that come brandished with your logo. Everything from utensils to napkins to condiments can serve as a vehicle to market your brand. 

Adding special touches to take-out orders like hand sanitizing wipes, after dinner mints, or a quippy note are all ways you can let your customers know you care—and increase the chances that they’ll become take-out regulars. 

Do Outdoor Dining Right 

Weather permitting, many restaurants are now able to offer outdoor seating. With summer in full swing, many people are taking advantage of being able to return to restaurant culture in a safe outdoor setting. That being said, customers who choose to eat out are probably doing so less frequently, meaning dinner at a restaurant has become more of a novelty experience. 

Haphazardly setting up a few tables and chairs outside isn’t going to cut it. Perfecting your patio requires an initial investment, but it’s necessary in order to keep your customers comfortable. Consider purchasing:

  • Quality Umbrellas – Covering tables with umbrellas can protect diners from both the sun and the rain. Not only do you need to keep your customers protected from the elements, but you also don’t want to risk an umbrella toppling over and injuring someone. Umbrellas that tilt to move with the sun and include weighted bases are great options.
  • Fans – This purchase kills two birds with one stone—fans will help keep customers cool, and the increased air circulation works as an added safety precaution. If your business is located in a particularly hot climate, you can even get fans with built-in misters.
  • Dog Bowls/Treats – As you transition to an outdoor model, you’re probably going to have a few four-legged customers. Keep dogs and their owners happy by providing water bowls and treats.

Take Care of Your Staff 

Six months ago, no one considered working in a restaurant dangerous. Aside from the occasional cut or burn in the kitchen, restaurant staff didn’t incur much personal risk when they came to work and clocked in. Today, anyone who’s working outside the safety of their home has proven just how essential they really are. Your business should recognize and respect this new dynamic.

Your staff’s safety should be your primary concern, so be sure to provide them with everything they need to stay safe and healthy. Taking temperatures and stocking up on masks, cleaning supplies, and gloves is just the first step. Be sure to train your staff on proper protocols, support them if they encounter issues, and recognize that they’re also adapting to an entirely new work environment. 

Not only will caring for your staff result in a team that works harder and smarter, but your customers will also recognize your dedication to making safety a priority. Teamwork has always been a key to making a restaurant operate smoothly—that’s one thing coronavirus hasn’t changed.

Be Prepared to Pivot (Again) 

One lesson businesses can take away from 2020 is the importance of thinking on their feet. No one knows what tomorrow holds—so as you find ways to adapt and adjust, keep in mind that things can change overnight. Rules, regulations, and laws vary by region and are subject to frequent changes. Monitoring the situation closely can help you prevent missteps and make choices that are practical for your business. Stay on top of the news, expect the unexpected, and hope for the best. 

COVID-19 has presented a true challenge to companies everywhere. But as players in an industry built on hard work and on-the-fly thinking, restaurants will continue to provide the world with hospitality, community—and good food.

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