by Jen Cheney
The restaurant world has been turned upside down by the rapid ramifications of COVID-19. How restaurants fare through this will depend largely on their ability to pivot their focus from an exceptional dine-in experience to To-Go and Delivery, as well as their ability to create and maintain a relationship with their customers from a distance.
First, check with your local authorities. There may be specific standards that need to be met — both for safety as well as legality. The first steps include the obvious hygiene and cleanliness of your employees and work space. Hands should be washed often, gloves worn and changed, areas cleaned frequently. Next, provide packaging for the items that can be placed inside a bag or other type of packaging that can be secured, in order to prevent the original items from coming into contact with anything else until the customer opens it. Make sure you have a process clearly defined for staff, train them on it, and continuously audit the process to ensure that standards are being followed. Also, provide detailed explanations of the process and expectations for your customers. They can use a system like Hostme to quickly communicate with you on their arrival and allow for a smooth transaction. Let them know beforehand what to expect. Restaurants that have not communicated well can end up with a crowd of annoyed customers, which is not good for business or anyone’s health.
Offering larger “Family Style” meals not only streamlines your process for order-taking and completion, but it makes ordering simpler for your customers as well. Look over what is popular at your restaurant and make choices that will appeal to the largest segment of your current customer base. Focus on crowd pleasers and what you can pack and send out for groups. Choosing two or three specials to offer is a great start. This will also be a win for your customers — simpler choices for the family means less stress.
As restaurants adjust to the current situation, so should the systems that work to support them. Hostme’s app started as a reservation system, but as COVID-19 loomed, we added new, easy, online ordering features that we were able to quickly roll out for our customers without any added fees. By employing your own servers to deliver the food, you can avoid the predatory delivery services, as they charge outrageous commissions. Unfortunately, while the initial visibility of the big names in delivery services can feel like a liferaft, they leave you out at sea when it comes to the additional fees they take from the restaurants themselves.
As we are all affected by the quarantine, many are feeling grateful for our frontline workers. Your restaurant can help focus that appreciation and generosity — as well as create relationships with your local hospital, emergency, and police forces — while at the same time supporting your community. Run a promotion that says for each meal served, you will donate one to the staff of a nearby hospital. Or offer your customers an option to make a donation that will be converted into meals for the first responders.
A common complaint restaurants are hearing now from customers is that their favorite dishes they enjoyed in the restaurant are not the same quality at home. Now, we all know the work that goes into putting together that warmed plate, perfectly presented with garnish, with the ambiance of your location to set the right mood. But your guest is hoping for that same feeling as they enjoy their order at home. So go through your offerings and look at what isn't going to cut it after sitting for 15 minutes (or more) in a container. If you can change the way you package it, do so. Provide detailed instructions on how the dishes can best be reheated and stored. This will help elevate your to-go orders, and prevent leaving your guests with a bad taste in their mouths.
Most importantly, reach out and let customers know all the steps you’ve taken for them while we are all hunkered down. Create a marketing campaign on Facebook, highly targeted to the local area and to the right audience. For instance, promote family meals to families with children. Mom and Dad will appreciate the simplified menu, without having to spend an hour trying to order several specific meals. Promote your signature to-go cocktails and tapas to the younger, hip crowd — perfect for their weekly online group chats to unwind. Once everyone gets back together, their first stop will be to your place, because they were all envious of that meal they saw their friend enjoy! If your marketing budget is limited, approach local groups “virtually” and let them know that you are open for delivery. You can check the Facebook pages for these local groups to get a real feel for what the group wants, so that you can make more targeted decisions.
As restaurants adjust to the sprawling repercussions of COVID-19, the systems that work to support them are doing so, too. Hostme is rolling out a simple, user friendly ordering platform. Our focus has been to be a tool that restaurants can implement quickly, without cutting into each order’s margins. At Hostme, we know that times are stressful, and the big delivery partners are taking advantage of an already difficult landscape. Our job is to help you to more easily navigate that landscape through this crisis and beyond.