This is a fight restaurant owners sure didn’t want or ask for. But here you are in the ring, and your foe, COVID-19, landed a right hook before the opening bell even sounded. It doesn’t fight fair, and right now, you might be staggered, just trying to stay up. But you know you can’t throw in the towel - you’ve worked too hard to give up now. Are you going to just take it and hope to make it till the final bell? Or, can you get off the ropes and take the initiative - making the best of a tough situation?
If there’s one benefit to major disruptions like this, it’s that they can create space for opportunity and innovation in surprising places. Think of it - how often do ordinary interactions like ‘how to order and pay for food’ need a new approach? Not often. Yet, here we are.
With certainty, normalcy will return and many of the current measures and mandates will become unnecessary and fade away - but when? Experts warn that it could take months or even years to develop the adequate tests and vaccines, and that we can expect additional waves in the future. What effect will this all have on consumer psyche? Will customer expectations be permanently altered?
So while COVID-19 managed to get a sucker-punch in to start things off - there are still several rounds to go. If you want to get off the ropes and fight back, there are some unique opportunities to be had that can help restaurants emerge from this fight even stronger than when it began. Here are the two main approaches that can help make this happen:
- 1. Optimize Where Customer Interactions Happen
- 2. Invest Where You Can Get Short and Longer Term Win-Wins
Optimizing Where Customer Interactions Happen
COVID-19 didn’t waste any time disrupting, and because people suddenly couldn’t sit down or even pick up food inside, most restaurants had to improvise ad hoc ways to take and fulfill orders on the fly, safely, while also managing every other part of the business. Understandably, this has created some inconvenient experiences - and customers have been largely supportive and flexible in response knowing how difficult and unprecedented the situation is.
But customer experience will play an increasingly critical role in how successfully restaurants are able to navigate the storm going forward. While it’s true customers are understanding, it’s also true restaurants that optimize to improve their customers’ experiences have a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd, drive more business, and win new customers. Here are some ideas for how to do it:
Improve How Pickup/Takeout Happens
As COVID-19 broke out and locations had to close to in-house diners, online ordering became essential to many restaurants, and just as many were wishing they had it to fall back on. If it isn’t clear by now, online ordering is important and will only become more so going forward.
Even with online ordering, phone orders are often THE way many restaurants take carryout orders. Restaurants with a single phone line that experienced a sudden spike in call volume likely found that this was a significant bottleneck for them, Takeout orders will remain the preferred way customers get food for months, so restaurants should look into adding extra capacity to their phone or dedicated lines and personnel to field the orders.
Takeout for High-End Establishments
For restaurants that didn’t previously offer takeout - like high-end and specialty establishments - COVID is the perfect chance to introduce this capability and test offerings targeted at a wider audience.
While lockdowns are in place, people can’t come into the restaurant - but even after, will people want to? It’s a significant unknown. There’s an opportunity for businesses to offer things like curbside pickup so people can get their food without having to even leave their car and minimize the risk of contracting coronavirus - making the process much easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Implementing a well-run curbside pickup system can wow customers, increase order volume and stand out from the crowd.
Delivery might be a worthwhile option to explore for places that don’t already offer it. It will add some complexity to your operation, but since people are largely stuck at home and generally averse to going out while COVID-19 is a threat, offering a delivery option can open your business to a much larger customer base than it’s currently able to access.
COVID-Proof Your Dining Experience
A top priority for restaurants reopening will be to not only minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their establishments, but also to ensure customers just feel safe while they’re there. Diners want to see that the appropriate precautions are being taken and that their safety is top of mind. This will include doing things like frequently disinfecting, sitting fewer tables, having staff wear masks, putting down markers or guidelines to help with social distancing, offering disposable silverware, and even screening guests for symptoms before they come inside.
Another possibility to consider is positioning physical barriers between tables. Clear windows or partition screens can be set up to isolate tables from each other without altering the look and feel of the environment too considerably. Plus, it’s a creative way to show guests how serious you are about their safety, which is the most important thing for earning their trust during these times.
Invest Where Short & Long Term Opportunities Align
There are many different ways restaurants are adapting to challenges posed by coronavirus , but the way to really come out ahead is by focusing investment and effort in solutions that will improve things now, as well as in the future. And because of current and future government stimulus, favorable financing options may be available to use for that purpose.
Mobile Food Tents (Concession Tents)
Investing in food or concession tents, or another vehicle for outdoor mobile food vending, is something that can shore-up and improve operations now and yield value for years. Fortunately, with the summer months ahead, it will be easier to offer consistent service outside in the open air where coronavirus is less communicable. During normal operations, you can use your food tent to make pickup/takeout orders faster, easier, and more professional. Right now is the perfect time to get a jump on ensuring you can fully capitalize on the warmer weather.
Food tents can also be customized in a lot of different ways both to meet a restaurant’s functional needs, or to stand out by offering an epic experience that pulls in customers. They can be outfitted with precautions for coronavirus, like sneeze-guards or windows. Below are some cool examples:
A Better Website
Investing in your website will help you drive more business now, during COVID-19, and in the future. With a strong web presence and functional website, not only will you be able to take more orders and increase sales, you’ll have the opportunity to capture customers’ email address and information. This will all you to communicate news, offerings, and anything else that helps support your business.
There are also third-party platforms that can help you increase exposure, like GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash. If you haven’t yet signed up for these platforms, it’s probably time to give them a try.
Contactless Payment Processing
Right now, people don’t want to pass cash and cards between one another if they can help it. Adding a touchless payment processing system, like Square or Clover, is the direction payment is headed anyway, so getting a jump on it and making the investment now, during COVID-19 when your customers want it the most, is a win-win that will provide benefits today and going forward.
While COVID-19 has been especially unforging to restaurants from the beginning, such a unique circumstance has also uncovered opportunities to make long lasting improvements, and even come out ahead when it’s all said and done. It’s definitely not easy to do, and the challenge remains immense - but for those that are able and willing, the COVID-19 crisis can evolve from a fight for economic survival into an opportunity to thrive for the future.