It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, but the effects seemed to sting the restaurant industry just a little more. In many states, they were forced to drastically change their operations almost overnight, and unfortunately, many who couldn’t adapt didn’t make it. We know a lot more now than we did in the beginning about the disease and what we can do to keep our guests and employees safe, but that doesn’t mean we are completely out of the woods.
Flair-ups in local infection cases and the uncertainty of variants still have the restaurant industry on its toes. While you can’t plan for everything, you can anticipate how COVID and government regulations in response to it will affect your business and simultaneously plan your business’s future during and hopefully after the pandemic.
How to Anticipate and Compensate for Rapidly Changing COVID Regulations
No matter how hard we try, we can’t predict the future, and situations like these can sometimes blindside us. The trick is to be as prepared as possible before you are hit with a surprise and have plans A, B, and C when that surprise happens.
1. Be In The Know
The best possible thing owners and managers can do is form relationships with local municipalities to get some insider knowledge of possible changes coming down the pipeline. Knowing someone in the mayor’s office isn’t always an option, so the next best thing is to diligently stay on top of news and trends relating to the virus and potential changes. For instance, if the news reports that your city or county has seen a major spike in cases or that a local restaurant has been noted as the source of a super spreader event, that is the time to start preparing for potential changes.
2. Be Ready to Be Carry-Out Only at a Moment’s Notice
Hopefully, it will never come to this again, but the death knell for most restaurants that didn’t make it through the pandemic was not adapting to a carryout only setting. Even restaurants that had carry-out options in their regular business plan were not ready for the scale of organization necessary to run a carry-out only operation. Those that were ready or adapted quickly could maintain revenue streams and retain employees who weren’t desperate to find work elsewhere.
3. Make Your Dining Room COVID Compliant
It is improbable that restaurants will be forced to close their doors again, but there may be situations where high community spread reduces capacity limits. We hope that this virus is under control soon, but we have to prepare for the worst, so it is essential to make sure that your dining room is COVID compliant in case there is a new wave. This means extra spacing between tables, plastic barriers when possible, and touchless payment options – it probably wouldn’t even hurt to keep a box of masks in the office just in case.
How to Get Staff Back to Stay
As things have gotten back to normal in some areas, restaurants are struggling with a new dilemma: historic labor shortages.
Restaurants have adapted to this new problem in many ways, including reducing hours, reverting to carry-out only at times, and limiting the number of tables that a server can have – sometimes going on a wait when the dining room is nowhere near capacity. Some restaurants are getting creative to get their staff back.
1. Higher Wages and Free Food
This one seems pretty obvious, though it may be a painful idea for some business owners. If you are paying more or at least equal to your competitors, your employees won’t have the temptation to jump ship. Even something as trivial as a free shift meal can make a huge difference in retaining staff.
2. Receiving and Responding to Feedback
There is no way to know if your employees are happy if you never ask them. An open-door policy is the best practice, but that may not be enough. Set up quarterly anonymous feedback polls to determine what you are doing right and what you can improve.
Employees who feel heard and appreciated are more likely to stick around.
3. Offers They Can’t Refuse
We are starting to see all over the corporate world incentives for any number of positive behaviors. A few examples are bonuses for referring new hires, attendance and retention bonuses, and other incentives like paid time off or healthcare coverage for part- time workers. All of these added potential benefits will attract new employees and retain the ones you already have on the payroll.
How to Get People in The Door in a COVID World
You can have all the staff in the world, but it won’t matter if you don’t have guests to serve. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many consumers more cautious about being in public places and left many questioning whether their old favorites even survived the shutdowns.
1. Showcase Your COVID Safety
It is one thing to be COVID compliant in the government’s eyes; it is another to win over guests returning to your restaurant. Make sure to highlight the improvements your guests can see and tell them about the ones they can’t.
The first step is to let people know that you are still open and would love to see them return to your establishment. Try to entice them in with a coupon or deal that will get them through the door so you can prove that their safety is important to you.
3. Create a Rewards Program
If you don’t have a recurring rewards program for your guests, now is the time. A coupon may get them in the store once, but a rewards program will have them coming back over and over.
Don’t Just Hang In There – Hustle Through It
From the start, this has been one of the most difficult times in most of our lives. There has been uncertainty and turmoil about health, the economy, and the future – people have felt it individually and all through the corporate chain.
Restaurants are cornerstones of the community as they provide not just food, but employment, a place to gather with friends and family, and often community support. Hopefully, the worst of times is in our rearview, and we can all look forward to a sense of normalcy again, but until we can finally breathe that collective breath of relief, we are all in this together.
If you are looking for a way to make your restaurant more profitable in a post COVID world, contact us to see how we can help.