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Covid-19 is rewriting the rules of competition. Here is a look at how some fellow Independent restaurateurs are adapting to succeed!

January 2019

Comfortably-Distanced Dining

At their upscale table-service ristorante in Vero Beach, FL, Amadeo Amelio and his family have long satisfied regulars with fresh seafoods, veal, or pasta entrées prepared to order.

During lockdown, Amadeo shifted to curbside takeout. As Florida partially “reopened,” he welcomed customers back into his dining room … in a controlled way to keep his team and guests safe while still creating a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

KEY IDEA -To meter guest flow, the restaurant takes a limited number of reservations for 4:30 pm, 6:00 pm, and 7:30 pm.

KEY IDEA -Guests are not expected to wear masks at their tables. But Amadeo’s team remains fully masked and gloved. To reduce the risk of table-to-table cross- contamination, servers rewash hands and put on fresh disposable gloves between visiting each table.

Arriving guests can access touchless hand sanitizer in the lobby. After a single use, laminated menus and pens are also set aside for thorough sanitation.

So far, guest reaction is positive. An hour and twenty minutes is long enough for them to relax and enjoy an excellent meal while still giving Amadeo’s team time to wipe down chairs, tables, door handles, etc. between seatings!

Amadeo Amelio, Owner
Pomodoro Grill
Vero Beach, FL

 


 

Streamlining Menu Eases Short-Staffing

When Covid-19 left pizzeria owner Adam Tucker short-staffed, his team strained to keep up with remaining orders. Without knowing how long “social distancing” might continue, he took a hard look at his menu mix, comparing by-item profitability vs. labor-intensity.

KEY IDEA – Adapting to a leaner kitchen crew meant focusing on reshaping the menu to items which were 1) higher margin, 2) relatively popular, and 3) quick and easy to make. On the other hand, he dropped cold subs and custom salads, which were less popular, low margin, and time-intensive to prepare.

Dropping “low profit, high labor” items made life easier for Adam’s time-constrained team and helped boost profitability. Phasing out highly perishable lettuce, bread, and sliced deli meats also made inventory management a whole lot simpler.

Adam Tucker, Owner
Mifflin Pizza
Mifflinville, PA


 

Employee Appreciation Day

When Covid-19 hit Ohio, pizzeria owner Steve Cocca lost 25% of his kitchen and delivery drivers to distancing. Meanwhile, when his dining room closed, his servers were suddenly idled. Making the best of the situation, he offered prep and driving positions to former servers. Since then, his remaining team has pulled together, adapting to new roles and responsibilities without complaint. As his team worked tirelessly, Steve wanted to memorably thank them.

KEY IDEA – Two weeks in advance, he gathered the team and explained that an upcoming Saturday would be “Employee Appreciation Day.” On that day, he would still pay their full wages, but whatever pizza sales the group made would go directly into a pot to be equally shared. He challenged them to spread the word to make the event (and the pot) as big as possible.

Employees made signs, posted announcements on Facebook, told their friends, etc. Then, that Saturday, they worked harder than they had ever worked before. As a result, orders actually TRIPLED as loyal customers showed their love. One customer even added an extra $100 to “the pot.”

The event far surpassed Steve’s hopes because it had given his team something tangibly positive to work toward together. Most importantly, giving customers a way to express their appreciation helped Steve’s team feel truly loved by their community.

Steve Cocca, Owner
Cocca’s Pizza
Boardman, OH


 

Shifting from Dine-In to Dine-Out

Not too long before Covid-19, Jonathan and Brianna Cowan opened a beautiful woodfired pizzeria with table service, tapas style antipasti, and upscale mixology.

Then overnight, dining in was out and dining out was in. Recognizing that social- distancing might be around for a while, they shifted to becoming “the best dang takeaway restaurant we can be!”

Because of their signature thinness, woodfired pies often don’t “travel” well for off-premises enjoyment and lose heat especially fast after being cut.

KEY IDEA – Their solution was brilliant. To slow cooling, they boxed their pies uncut. Then to reinforce this point of differentiation, they began giving customers attractively packaged “Takeaway Toolkits” with every order. Outside, the kit’s paper envelope explains that Wooden Paddle pies travel whole, “which keeps them hotter and crisper in transit.”

KEY IDEA – Inside, the kit contains a sturdy metal pizza cutter engraved with the pizzeria’s logo, reheating instructions for leftovers, red pepper, Parmigiano, and napkins.

Providing a sturdy steel cutter every time might seem pricy. But most customers stop taking new ones, once they have one or two at home. Engraving the cutters also provides a lasting reminder that pizza from the Wooden Paddle is truly a cut above.

Jonathan and Brianna Cowan, Owners
Wooden Paddle Pizza
Lemont, IL


 

Generous Customers Help Feed Thousands

When pizzeria owner Erik Cilen read that local schools cancelled student meals due to Covid-19, he worried for struggling families.

KEY IDEA – Without asking for help, Erik simply pledged on Facebook to feed any hungry child in his community for as long as he could. His selfless offer touched hundreds of hearts. By morning, Facebook members far and wide had shared and reshared his offer +10,000 times. Soon, neighbors and distant strangers rallied to his cause, contributing money and/or volunteering to deliver donated meals to families as far as 25 miles away.

Thanks to generous customers, Erik’s hard-working crew has fed +7,000 local families, first responders, and hospital staff…while earning community gratitude and respect. BRAVO!

Erik Cilen, Owner
New York Pizza Department
Hixson, TN