Amidst the current crisis, many restaurants can’t see a way to survive long enough to outlast lockdown.
Here’s how savvy restaurants are handling Covid to survive, and how you can too. Our top tips will help you keep your doors open, staff morale up, and customers happy.
This might seem obvious. If you don’t have a website or a social media platform, the good news is that now is the perfect time to do it cheaply (see below).
Even a Facebook page can be set up in minutes, and is a great place to start for locals.
When you set up your ordering systems, be clear with guests about what works best for you. People will understand that you are doing your best to serve them in tough times.
Share what’s happening behind the scenes
What’s the story behind your restaurant? What measures have you taken to support staff and their families? What staff are making food with you? What initiatives have you created to support care workers or people in need?
Include the human story
If you are struggling, ask your community for help. People love to help, and they care more than you know. Nothing unites people more than coming together for a good cause.
Document your journey to reopening. People walk past a closed restaurant and they wonder what’s happening, so share that with them. Make them part of your journey back to opening so that on the day you do open those doors, they’ll be there to celebrate with you.
Create new content
Share simple recipes to get people connected to your brand.
Film yourself on your smartphone sharing cooking tips. Make a TikTok cooking video.
This is an opportunity to build an entire new audience for your restaurant through social media.
Social media is fast and powerful if done with your customers in mind.
Start with free services where you know your customers gather, such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
You don’t need an app or a website to post recipe videos, human interest stories, or cooking tips on social media.
Here’s an example: Every Monday, post your menu for the week. Use that menu to create quick food prep videos or the story of why you chose a particular dish.
Get younger customers involved. Teens and young people are expert social media users, and they’ll think of things you might not.
Supplies are no longer available on a regular basis, so successful restaurants and chefs are reducing the menu, prioritizing dishes that travel well and reheat easily such as hotpots, curries, stews, lasagna, and pies.
Chefs are checking what foods they can get first from suppliers each week, and then offering dishes accordingly.
Menus are advertised at the beginning of the week on the restaurant’s website and on social media.
If you want a free solution for getting your menu online quickly, Pomelo Pay have created Free Menu Maker: an app for restaurants that will enable you to create and update your menu online and on the go, even if you don’t have a website.
Online and app solutions are good for everyone, as restaurants reopening will have to abide by guidelines that are likely to prohibit plastic menus, and apps will enable customers to place orders from their phones, whether they’re sitting in the restaurant, or at home.
You’ll save money on menus and save the environment too!
Check your freezer. Have you got large cuts of meat that could be extended in a soup or stew? Look on the shelves. Lots of flour? Make some specialty breads.
Bags of oats? Make porridge, or flapjacks, or oatmeal cookies. You get the picture.
Use this opportunity to get creative with staff. Being creative will boost everyone’s morale. You may have a skeleton staff at the moment, but coming together to create new dishes and new ways of doing things will give everyone a sense of ownership and purpose. Including you.
Some dishes such as chili can be batch-cooked and delivered in microwaveable pots. Perfect for hospital and other care workers who can’t get food so easily.
Other restaurants are offering all-day breakfasts that customers can order over the phone.
Meal plans are popular: you can offer a meal a day for a week, that customers can either freeze or heat up.
Offer frozen food portions
Restaurants are offering batches of frozen food: 4 portions of, say, chicken curry, lasagne, or shepherd’s pie.
Skip the utensils
Given that coronaviruses can live on metal and plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours, you’re better off avoiding any complicated protocols. Let customers use their own utensils.
Click and collect
Offer time slots where customers can pick up food that they have ordered in advance. If you have a large parking lot, this is a good way to put it to use!
Restaurants with existing drive-thru services have done well overall, such as In-N-Out-Burger in the US, and McDonald’s in the UK.
McDonald’s, who initially closed their restaurants at the start of the pandemic, has had to stagger the reopenings of their drive-thru restaurants and announce them only on the day they reopen due to high demand, with waiting times of 7 hours in some places.
Stagger orders over a longer period
Rather than offering meals between 12 and 2 pm, many restaurants are offering a 9-hour window, such as 12 to 9pm.
Offer a discount for online orders, or groceries at the till
Some fast food restaurants in the US are thriving, such as Jersey Mike’s subs. In March they offered a 50% discount for online orders, which exploded just after lockdown.
Pret A Manger is branching out into retail coffee to order online to create a new source of income.
Leon’s in the UK has been particularly imaginative, combining plastic screens with selling food items as a popup grocery store.
DIY goes culinary: Meal kits can be your new best friend
Patty & Bun, a burger eatery, started innovating straight away with their Lockdown DIY Kits. From locations in London and Brighton, their meal kits have become so popular – to the tune of 250 kits a day – that they are looking at taking them across the UK.
Want some Italian inspiration? Pizza Pilgrims have created Flying Pan Pizza kits that are flying off the shelves.
There are many international initiatives helping restaurants handle Covid. This website is offering restaurants the possibility of selling ‘dining bonds.’ Customers purchase bonds to be redeemed at the restaurant at a later date.
The scheme is worldwide, and you can sign on as a restaurant to participate here.