With repeated lockdowns and restrictions on dine-in, the food and services industry is facing one of the biggest challenges in recent years. Amidst these troubled times, restaurants are struggling to create contactless dine-in experiences and scrambling to online delivery models all in a bid to win customers’ trust and stay afloat. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed us to the need for crisis management and adopting a disruptive mindset regardless of the size or concept of the restaurant. In this article, we will talk about how can restaurants can handle disruptions better and prepare for 2021.
How Restaurants Can Manage Disruptions Better?
1. Remain Aware Of Current Events
As a restaurant owner, you must be proactive and aware of the market trends and potential threats to your restaurant. This will not only enable you to anticipate an upcoming crisis but also prepare your team to deal with it.
Whether you are relying on gut instincts or a combination of guesswork and past week/months sales data, you should have the ability to monitor demand trends and forecast sales. You can also use demand forecasting tools to get more accurate estimates. This enables you to have realistic expectations for profits and expenses, and streamline your inventory accordingly.
2. Crisis Planning and Preparation
A crisis management plan outlines how you would respond to any situation that can have an adverse impact on your restaurant’s profitability, reputation, or ability to operate. Having a crisis management strategy allows you to take quick and strategic actions to minimize damage and salvage your restaurant amidst a crisis.
Your restaurant crisis management strategy should focus on
- Controlling and managing the adverse effects of a crisis on your restaurant.
- Adopting measures to normalize operations while containing costs.
- Maintaining brand image and customer relations.
Establish systems and practices to detect early warning signals of any potential crisis. Have a well- documented crisis response plan and allocate specific tasks to individuals in your management team covering different aspects such as financial forecasting, supply chain management, community outreach, and customer relations. Ensure that your crisis management team is well aware of its role in a potentially delicate situation and has been trained adequately to handle it. During any crisis, employees look to management for leadership and guidance. Your managerial team should be ready to take up the responsibility and communicate the expected roles and actions to each employee.
3. Embrace Disruption and Evolve
Whether it is a legacy brand like Dominoes or chipotle’s or a startup like SweetGreen success in the restaurant industry is mainly dependent on your ability to adapt to changing technology and keep up with the trends.
As a restaurant owner, you must develop a mindset for constantly evolving and embracing change. Let’s take the example of Tender Greens that revolutionized the way the supply chain worked.
Before opening its first store, Tender Greens entered into an agreement with Scarborough Farms. Instead of just buying produce from Scarborough Farms, Tender Greens brought them in as an equity partner. The arrangement proved to be a lucrative bet for both parties and paved the way for future innovations.
Over the last decade, we witnessed the fast-casual boom redefining restaurants as we knew them and forcing operators to focus on speed and convenience. As digital technology reshaped the market and consumers got accustomed to shopping online, food aggregators and third-party delivery services stepped up to provide customers with the convenience that they had come to expect from online orders. Self-service kiosks and mobile ordering took food on the go to a whole new level.
Change is the one constant in the restaurant industry. You have to evolve and innovate continuously to stay relevant in the face of the ever-changing customer tastes and preferences. All innovations in the restaurant industry ultimately boil down to one question- what do the customers want? Convenience, speed, ease of use.
While embracing technology we must consider the problem that we are looking to solve. Let’s take the example of customers struggling to keep up with their busy schedules who hate waiting for their meal to arrive. What can you do to reduce wait times in your restaurant? A table ordering system is a great solution that allows customers to immediately view the menu via their tablet, place an order when they are ready, and pay after their meal.
You can also go for something as simple as this Texas restaurant that provides a bell at each table to call for a server’s attention. Similarly, to cut down wait times on takeout and delivery orders, you could consider allowing customers to order and pay from their mobile devices.
Analyze each aspect of the customer journey inside your restaurant and work out ways in which you can optimize it.
Speed Vs Experience
Many restaurants focus on speed while compromising on experience. What we must understand is that there can be no trade-off between these two. As restaurant owners, we must learn to balance speed and experience and ensure that you deliver a stellar dining experience to all your customers including takeout and delivery.
Ease of Use
Another thing you must consider before adopting any new technology is the ease of use. For instance, while more and more customers like to order food on the go, the last thing they want is another app on their mobiles. Adopting platforms that allow mobile orders, text orders and voice ordering from digital assistants can help you resolve this.
Technology can enable you to deliver stellar customer experiences. Adopting a customer-first mindset and analyzing the frustrations that customers may face can help you identify and leverage technologies to eliminate the pain points and create a more satisfying customer experience.
To provide a great customer experience you need to streamline operations both at the front end and back-end. The front-end of your restaurant does not work in isolation. If your back-end is slow or disorganized, it not only impacts your operating costs but also affects the ability of the front-of-the-house staff to deliver orders efficiently and in time. Technology can help you manage and automate almost every aspect of restaurant operations. However, the goal of every technology upgrade should be to simplify an existing system and make it more efficient.
Efficient Use Of Data
Another issue that restaurants face is the collection and use of data. The accelerated rate of growth of technology and automation of processes in the restaurant industry has set in the process of data collection from various sources. Restaurants, now, have access to an overwhelming amount of data, but they are still struggling to use this data to add value to their business. A CRM tool can help you collect and organize data from your POS system, reservations management system, marketing campaigns, and other sources. By analyzing this data, you can understand the behaviors and meal preferences of the different segments of your customers, and create customized marketing strategies.
4. Establish A Robust Supply Chain
A robust and consistent supply chain minimizes disruption and is crucial to your restaurant’s success. You must invest time and resources to strengthen your restaurant’s supply chain.
- Build strong relationships with your vendors and suppliers.
- Diversify your supply chain by building relationships with several suppliers to ensure that you can maintain continuity in your supply chain and are able to bargain the best prices.
- Use tools to collect, integrate, and analyze data to ensure that you have reliable sales and inventory forecasts. This can help prevent overstocking and wastages.
- Always have a backup plan in place so that you can meet your inventory requirements in case of a supply chain crisis.
Preparing Your Restaurant For 2021
1. Implement Native Online Ordering
Circumstances over the past year have forced more and more customers to order food online for takeout or delivery. Due to the pandemic, a large section of your customers are using digital channels to order food for the first time and are struggling to adapt to this new way of ordering food. Your goal, therefore, should be to provide a seamless online ordering experience; menu suggestions based on order history, ability to save orders, and fast checkouts can help you retain customers.
If you haven’t gotten on board with online ordering just yet, now is the time to implement a system. With a native online ordering solution, you can have complete control over the customer experience and make huge savings on third party commissions.
2. Invest in Long-term Changes
a. Delivery Services
For some time to come, customers will prefer to order from restaurants that offer delivery. You should ensure that you provide a seamless delivery experience to your customers from start to finish. Create a delivery-specific menu that only offers items that can travel. Pack delivery orders in good quality containers and hire trained delivery riders. By using a delivery app powered by real-time navigation, you can update customers in real-time with the order status and expected delivery time
If you don’t offer delivery already, now is the time to consider adding it. If proving an in-house delivery service looks like too much work and is beyond your means you can always tie-up with third-party services like GrubHub and Uber Eats.
b. Offer Curbside Pickup
Contactless Delivery and curb-side pick up are here to stay
- Advertise to your customers that they can still get contactless delivery and how to go about it.
- Publicize that you provide curbside pickup and customers can pick up their to-go orders safely.
- If possible, start offering drive-thru.
c. Rethink Your Restaurant’s Layout
You may want to rethink the seating plan in accordance with the capacity requirements in your area. Make adequate distancing arrangements for customers in the waiting area. Consider waiting area for delivery and pickup orders and the possibility of providing a dive-thru.
d. Say Yes To Outdoor Dining
Restaurant patios are becoming increasingly popular in both the US and Canada with the restrictions on indoor dining. This offers a great opportunity to increase available seating for dine-in customers. Several U.S. cities have relaxed and streamlined processes for obtaining outdoor dining permits. In cities like San Francisco, restaurants have moved to close streets to facilitate outdoor seating. If you have an outdoor patio, now is the time to capitalize on it. Even if you cannot afford fancy decor, invest in durable weatherproof furniture and outdoor heating to welcome dine-in customers.
e. Table Reservation Systems
With limited indoor seating and guests still stressing over gathering in public places, taking reservations well in advance can help you avoid large crowds in the waiting area and also help you adhere to the social distancing requirements.
Besides taking reservations over the phone, you could also get onboard an online platform to take reservations, reduce wait times, and monitor capacity.
f. Contactless Dining Experiences
Invest in technologies that can help you minimize person-to-person contact. Identify the nature and type of interactions between employees and customers to figure out solutions and pin down technologies that can help you minimize contact. Self-service kiosks, table-side ordering devices, and mobile order-ahead solutions enable guests to place an order and pay with no human contact and also reduce wait times for take-out orders.
3. Innovate and Diversify
Several Restaurants are adapting to the change by rethinking their menu. For 70 years Canlis in Seattle, Washington has been synonymous with fine dining. During the current crisis, they reinvented by narrowing down their menu. They now provide bagels and breakfast sandwiches in the mornings and burgers, salads, and ice-cream, in the evening all available via a drive-through.
Saint Dinette in St. Paul, Minnesota renowned as a fine-dining haven released its new menu exclusively for takeout, and delivery offering sandwiches, sides, and “combo meals.”
Swedish hotel Stadt in Lidkoping transformed its bedrooms into private dining spaces, accommodating groups of 2 to 12 people. Orders are taken over the phone and diners can opt to stay overnight for an additional fee.
Pizzerias known for their fresh handmade pasta and wood-fired pizza are taking up a challenge by offering pizza kits for home delivery.
Many states have lifted their laws on alcohol delivery, allowing restaurants to serve drinks to go. As Alcoholic drinks are a high-margin menu item, restaurants have grabbed this opportunity by offering Margarita to-go, Whiskey Tasters, and Cocktail Kits.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Offer family size meals
- take-and-bake meals
- Promoting gift cards – In addition to being an immediate source of revenue, gift cards encourage repeat visits and help you reach new customers. Considering the current situation you should opt for e-gift cards. There are several service providers that are working to provide restaurants with digital gift cards. Compare and select the best available option.
4. Managing Your Staff and Backend Operations
The safety and wellbeing of your staff is equally important. Working with smaller teams, staggering shifts, limiting the number of employees allowed simultaneously in break rooms and monitoring staff’s health on a daily basis can help you cope up with this challenge to some extent.
Technological solutions can also help you in streamlining operations and minimizing contact.
a. Use communication boards or digital messaging to convey pre-shift meeting information.
b. Consider switching to a digital time card system that allows employees to clock-in from their phones.
c. A Kitchen Display System (KDS) system integrated with your POS can also help reduce. the interactions between front-of-house staff and the kitchen staff. A KDS displays orders as they are fed in the POS and updates change in orders and additions in real-time. It also tracks the time taken to prepare an order which helps the service staff work more efficiently.
Integrated with your restaurant POS, Kitchen Display Systems help to reduce wastage at your restaurant by monitoring order volume and inventory levels and alerting you when there is a shortage.
In the coming year, we can expect customers to pay more attention to cleanliness, health and hygiene standards, convenience, and ease of use.. as restaurant owners, it should be our goal to implement solutions and technologies that help create a stellar dining experience for our customers.