Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi
Spring is known as the season of renewal and rebirth. After the restaurant industry has suffered a year-long “economic winter” due to the pandemic, it feels like change is in the air. Hopefully Independents will soon begin experiencing “economic spring.”
Over the past year, I have been exceptionally proud to be associated with so many Independent restaurateurs who, with grit, determination, and resilience, have continually adapted to radically challenging conditions.
Resourceful restaurateurs have repeatedly stepped up to do whatever it takes to overcome adversity while simultaneously striving to keep their teams and customers healthy.
In the short run, “whatever it takes” has included closing dining rooms; repurposing staff; offering curbside pickup; improving takeout/delivery packaging; streamlining menus to increase profitability, deliverability, and/or kitchen efficiency; and adding/ improving online order-taking, etc.
In colder climates, some even conquered inclement weather by creating heated outdoor dining shelters. Some restaurants who hadn’t previously self-delivered may have added 3rd Party Delivery services.
Tough times have also taught important lessons about labor costs and profitability. Some labor-intensive table service restaurants were forced to shift gears by slimming service staffs and adapting to mostly takeout/delivery. Others reevaluated profitability by daypart and found that they could reduce hours of operation by closing during less productive periods and, ultimately, stay in the black financially.
Now, as the weather begins to feel like spring, it seems that the pandemic may be turning the corner. If so, it is my belief that the restaurant industry will also be positioned to experience its own rebirth.
As lockdowns, dining closures, and stay-at-home orders gradually diminish, restaurants will increasingly be shifting from “survival mode” to “prosper mode.” As that happens, individual restaurateurs face a variety of choices and opportunities.
The easiest course of action would be to try to go back to “the way we always did it.” But for many restaurants, this transition will provide the opportunity to further evolve and grow. However, I would urge you to “put yourself in your customer’s shoes” and think about what changes they actually liked and should be incorporated into the “new normal.”
Here are a few things to provoke thought:
During the pandemic, many restaurateurs learned how to accomplish more work with fewer team members.
But as hourly wages continue to climb, some operators may prefer to remain “lean” in their staffing.
Casual restaurants previously offering table service might consider reopening dining rooms with counter service instead. A potential “positive” for the customers is that ordered entrées arrive at the table faster (since orders are placed upon arrival). Restaurateurs also benefit from leaner staffs and faster table turns.
Also, during the pandemic, consumers demonstrated they are willing to pay premiums for delivered foods. As a result, restaurants utilizing 3rd Party Delivery might consider replacing them with self- delivery. One study I read suggested that on $50 entrée orders, some bigger city consumers are paying 3rd Party Deliverers combined “service fees” from $8 to $15 (excluding tips). If self-delivery is not viable, Independents may want to adopt a tactic already in use by chains – creating a higher priced menu for 3rd Party Delivery Apps to help offset merchant fees.
Reopening in-person dining also provides the opportunity to freshen up menu appearances and to reevaluate prices (never be afraid to make a reasonable profit on items that deliver value). Think about menu redesign in a way that highlights exceptional and/or unique items which really allow your place to stand out from the crowd while also reassuring “regulars” that the menu lineup has not changed while they were away.
Finally, remember that your “regulars” have missed dining with you as much as you have missed seeing them! So welcome them back with the same excitement that you would bring to staging a “grand reopening.” Consider visual ways to brighten up your dining space, from rearranging pictures and décor to introducing fresh greenery or flowers. Even if your team remains masked, remind them that they can still share customer smiles with their eyes!
Whether we have entered our “economic spring” yet remains to be seen. However, I remain exceptionally optimistic about the future of Independent restaurateurs. To our restaurateur customers, thank you again for making us part of your ongoing success.
Until next time, Ciao!
President and Co-Owner