Advice For Restaurateurs In 'New' Future

Normally, we restaurateurs anticipate future success through past experience and knowledge: new items, LTOs, and special offers.  But now our past experience and knowledge is unfortunately not enough.  If so, we need to go beyond and proactively plan for a “new” future.

COVID-19 is going to change many aspects of our lives.  This is especially true of interaction and socialization.  Here are six ways to handle the “new” future in restaurants.

Immediately gain guest trust. Establish a thorough, step-by-step safety program for your restaurant, including ongoing testing of every employee.  Most important, share this program with your guests now, prior to reopening, on your website, FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter posts.  Once you reopen, share this information on-premise, at point-of-sale, and on the menu. A separate “trust” pledge could be given to every returning guest.  



Educate  and motivate every employee. Take the “trust” pledge and train every employee on the importance of his or her understanding and commitment.  They need to feel safe, and they need to be able to easily share your restaurant’s safety commitment for every guest.

Anticipate a significant change in revenue. Most probably, social distancing will be mandated, at least for several months or more.  This could mean a huge decrease in guest count, top-line sales and profit by 50%.  Are you ready?

Change your on-premise thinking. If you are decreasing guest count, then you must increase your average check. What to do?

-- Perhaps daily/weekly specials become “prix fixe.”  Don’t gouge, but incentivize guests to spend a little more for a little more value.  

-- Take a page from one of the large chains (Olive Garden) and offer an additional “take-home” meal for half-price.  

-- Refresh your menu of beverages and suggestively sell them (high profit).

-- Develop a combined on-premise and take-out loyalty program. Incentivize your best customers.  

-- Promote off-peak dayparts through POP and social media: 2-5 p.m. pie and beverage, after-9-p.m.dessert and drink specials.  Importantly, think of fun ways to brand them, too.  Sonic has done a terrific job creating a Happy Hour for afternoon drinks.

Change your takeout thinking. Currently, we have a captive audience, with takeout all the consumer has.  The future will not be captive.  

So, think of takeout not just as “food being taken out” but as “your restaurant brand being taken out." Create an experience! Evaluate your menu for high likability items and make sure they are flavorfully transportable; slight adjustments may be needed.  Also, add items to enhance the experience: tablecloths/placemats and candles, kids/family games, trivia cookies, next week’s specials with an offer (on-premise or takeout).

Measure to maximize profit. Finally, any good plan needs goals and measurement.  Analyze your current business in dollar: average check, on-premise, takeout, day-parts, beverages, entrees, sides and desserts.  Once you have a solid snap shot, project what is going to chang -- e.g. less on-premise capacity.  Then, set goals to capitalize on the change: on-premise vs. take-out, average check, menu mix.  Prioritize and budget your investment expenditures accordingly.  Measure, measure, measure each program’s ROI to maximize profitability. 

Now you are ready for the “new” future.

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