The past few months have demonstrated some of the most dramatic changes in consumer behavior that we’ve seen in our lifetime. In March alone, nearly 97% of restaurants in the United States were impacted by the mandatory dine-in closures. The industry saw a 22% decrease in sales during the same month when compared to the same period the previous year.
In the midst of this decline, restaurants are forced to navigate a constantly changing atmosphere of news, adapt to an evolving marketplace, as well as practice highly regulated health protocols to keep their customers and employees safe.
Restaurants alone are tough businesses to operate, even in the best of times – 60% fail within their first year, and 80 percent within their first five. So, to say this new frontier is a lot for restaurant owners to handle would be the understatement of the year.
However, we are starting to see individual states allow restaurants to reopen their dining rooms. These states, including Texas, have provided businesses a comprehensive list of operational recommendations that aim to reassure consumers about the safety of restaurants after dining rooms reopen.
So, how do you approach a restaurant reopening post-COVID-19 to ensure you’re prepared and ready to safely welcome guests back for a long-awaited visit, as well as succeed within the new marketplace?
We’ve put together a few reopening guidelines to cover necessary action items your restaurant should implement in order to successfully offer on-premise dining and win within this emerging frontier. Bon Appetite!
COVID-19 Reopening Checklist for Restaurants
As individual states and the federal government begin to roll back social distancing
mandates, restaurants have been permitted to resume on-premise dining.
Here are a few checklist items that will help you prepare your restaurant – from the back office to the host stand – for reopening day.
- Confirm that your state has allowed restaurants to re-open and offer on-premise dining.
- Check local government guidelines around reopening your restaurant for business.
- Figure out the permissible capacity number within the restaurant.
- Review the FDA’s COVID-19 best practices for restaurants.
- Take stock of ingredient availability and price changes. Then create your minimum viable menu based on customer sales and inventory availability.
- Purchase single-use condiment packages, menus, utensils, and placemats, or sanitize after every use.
- Order and provide disposable gloves and masks to staff.
- Communicate new SOPs and CDC guidelines to your staff.
- Institute COVID-19 testing for all current and returning employees like temperature screening when they arrive for the day.
- Announce your reopening to customers via email, social media channels, paid advertising, etc.
- Update your hours of operation online – website, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and anywhere else your restaurant has a business listing.
- Communicate your safety protocols to guests and the specific steps you’re taking to make sure their experience is safe.
- Continue to market your online ordering and off-premise dining options for guests who may not feel comfortable to come in and visit.
- Create front-of-house and back-of-house cleaning checklists, as well as require staff to wear masks and gloves at all times.
- Adjust your floorplan based on the local government’s capacity mandates (which should be 6 feet apart).
- Collect guest feedback through a survey or questionnaire about their dining experience and ask for ways you could improve in the future or make them feel safer.
How Restaurants Can Adapt To The New Frontier
The restaurant business isn’t what it used to be. If there was ever a question as to whether 3rd party delivery apps or online ordering had a permanent place among the restaurant industry, we now have a clear answer.
Mobile ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery are here to stay. March 2020 alone saw a 63% rise in digital restaurant orders and a 67% increase in delivery orders. Restaurant players and aggregators like UberEats and GrubHub are going to need to better define delivery relationships. Restaurants will need to decide if it’s more profitable to work with the aggregators or provide their own delivery operations.
Third-party delivery companies and restaurant concepts will also have a stronger focus on a touchless customer service customer experience. The future overall is one where delivery will be necessary, restaurant in-person dining safety is a baked-in concern, and the ability to scroll through a portal of multichannel offerings will be the baseline to be part of the marketplace.
It will also be vital for restaurants to understand consumers’ desires to assist and spend more at restaurants. There will be a balancing act between asking visitors for help and just letting it happen.
According to Datassential’s study, Money Matters, Baby Boomers said they plan to tip more post-COVID-19 and would try to visit restaurants more. While Gen Z and Millennials, who are less financially secure, were more likely to use their social circles to support restaurants, like praising a place on review sites or aggregating bigger groups together to dine out.
Understanding who your core user is will be key during the reopening. For example, if you have younger diners, develop promotions around a group or social event to bring diners in to visit.
Stay On Top Of Your Local & Federal Restaurant Guidelines
It’s imperative that you and your management staff stay on top of the latest guidelines and information coming from your state and local government. As we said earlier, reopening your business does NOT mean the business returns to normal.
It’s understandable that your first instinct might be to throw your dining room doors open and to start seating (and converting) customers as soon as possible. However, this isn’t a short-term problem. Most states that are in the process of reopening businesses have phased plans in place to get businesses back to “normal”.
The ability to move on to the next phase is subject to the success of the current phase. The key takeaway here is that there is no dependable timeline to base a plan off of. Instead, restaurant owners need to do their best to develop a reopening plan a few steps ahead of the next phase.
For example, Texas restaurants that are choosing to reopen during Phase 1 are allowed to operate their dining room at 25%. Looking at how other states are navigating the reopen process, we can assume that the next step, should phase 1 prove successful, would be to open at 50%.
Restaurants who take their time to have this foresight will be better equipped to set up their business operations for success. Staying informed will also allow your business to react as quickly as possible to any news updates, which can prove a game-changer in a climate of limited resources.
Look for Opportunities
“If you look at the word crisis in Chinese, it’s actually made of two characters, danger and opportunity,” Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach, says. “Yes, there is a danger out there. The opportunity is what can we do that we should’ve done before? One of the biggest things is controlling costs.”
One opportunity, since business is slow and there is less inventory coming in, is to learn how to better manage your food costs, potentially revamp your menu and widen your margins. Check out your historic menu trends, popular dishes, and items that are more cost and effort than they’re worth. Trim down your menu before reopening your dining service and take off items that weren’t selling pre-COVID.
Take this time to also prepare for your reopening and develop a digital marketing content strategy to hit the ground running when you’re ready to open your doors. Create event announcement images or videos, redesign your website, or even test out paid advertising like Google to promote your in-restaurant dining experience.
You’re Ready To Go!
While this time will pass and business will pick up, things will not necessarily go back to normal. This crisis has hit the restaurant industry hard and heavy, but it will end and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So have faith, change your mindset, accept that there’s going to be a new normal, and develop a solid reopening plan to survive and thrive.
Remember, we’re in this together. Envision Creative is here to help your restaurant navigate the reopening process and set up your business to be successful in the new post-COVID-19 economy. Talk to a member of our team to learn how we can support you and develop an action plan, so you can get your restaurant back on track!
Let’s crush those feelings of fear and uncertainty so you can reopen with confidence and clarity. Schedule your free 1-hour consultation call today to discuss the action plan that is best for your restaurant. Schedule A Call >