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Covid-19 Shutdown: What can Restaurants and Bars do?

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THIS IS GONNA BE A TOUGH ONE…

Most of our favorite restaurants and bars are small, family owned businesses. Whether they have one location or multiple, most will struggle to survive during an extended mandatory Covid-19 shutdown.  All across the United States, governors, mayors and the federal government are mulling over their options to contain the Covid-19 outbreak in their areas.

Restaurant Covid-19
Restaurants are sitting empty during the Covid-19 lockdown.

So, what do we do now?  Here’s a list of a few things which could help your business survive the Covid-19 outbreak, and be fully ready to open and celebrate the “all-clear” order:

FOCUS ON THE PARTS OF YOUR OPERATION WHICH ARE STILL VIABLE

Delivery: Third Party

While the vast majority of a restaurant’s business is “dine-in” and bar service, those options may no longer be available to most operations in the country. Ohio ordered all restaurants and bars to close by 9PM on Sunday March 15th, 2020 with no indication on when they may reopen.  Restaurants are allowed to remain open for carry-out orders only.  Several restaurant owners voiced their opinions in a recently article posted by Cleveland’s CBS affiliate, Channel 19:  Here’s the Link.

Uber Eats, DoorDash and other delivery services are bound to see an uptick during the current lock-down crisis.  If you’re currently signed up then your operation is poised to take advantage of the increased traffic.  Yes, it is a far-cry from 3 turns of your dining room on a Friday night, but it is still better than nothing. 30% of less, is still better than 100% of zero.

Burger
Offering food delivery and carryout are good ways to provide revenue during the Covid-19 shutdown.

Delivery: Self

If your operation already has delivery, great!  If not, consider getting a limited version up and running.  Check with your insurance liability company about the coverage of vehicles used for business purposes first and what the limits are for delivery radius, etc.  I have already seen several local restaurants offering a 5 mile radius delivery for orders over a certain amount during the Covid-19 shutdown. Again, not ideal, but it’s an option.

If you already offer delivery service, consider utilizing employees who normally don’t deliver (servers, bussers, bartenders) as temporary options so they might make some money during the Covid-19 shutdown.  If you don’t have any of these types of employees in your operation, look for laid-off employees from your neighboring, or in-town businesses.  You can hire them on the mutual understanding, that when this crisis is over, they can return to their regular employment.  For those who’s previous employer can’t reopen, you may have found and auditioned an excellent future employee for your business.

Food Carry-Out

Most operations offer some sort of carry-out service for their menu.  Sometimes it is limited, sometimes it is the full offering. Consider special “family style” options which include enough to feed a family of 4 for a bundled price. Include the drinks too if possible.  Remember, the operations who cater to the needs of the public best, during any situation, are the ones who prosper.  Families are cooped up, frustrated, and if you can make their day easier by taking care of lunch or dinner, you’re filling a need.

Alcohol Carry-Out and Delivery

This is one you’ll need to consult your license on.  However, most liquor licenses provide the option for sealed containers of alcohol for carry-out.  This would usually be limited to unopened beer and wine or growlers.  No mixed drinks in sippy cups – Sorry!  Several municipalities require the sale of the items in retail packaging, i.e. six-packs, cases. Check your local laws first.

If  you are able to sell carry-out or deliver alcohol, do it. Not only is it a revenue stream, but it is an easy up-sell to a dinner order for frazzled parents and neighbors.

PLAN AHEAD FOR YOUR REOPENING

Party Time

This too shall pass.  When it does, be ready!  Get creative and start planning something like a “I Survived Covid-19” party (get your staff creatively involved in brain-storming.)  Design T-shirts, stickers, glassware…whatever.  Start thinking about the items in your freezer or stockroom which will make excellent drink or food specials. 

Plan a party for when your Restaurant or Bar reopens after the Covid-19 shutdown.

Make a Facebook event or send an email blast inviting people to your party with the date TBD. Have fun with it. Use pictures of your staff welcoming them back to your operation.  Social media is not shut down during this crisis: Use it as a force for positivity. Use your Insta-story to show how you’re preparing for your customer’s return after the Covid-19 shutdown. Give them, and your staff, something to look forward to.

CLEAN, INSPECT, UPGRADE

To-do, or not To-do

You know that “To-Do” list you’ve been meaning to get to for a long time? Now’s the time.  Many operations will still be paying salaried managers, chefs, and more during this time.  If they fall in the “low-risk” category, let’s roll up our sleeves and do all the things we talk about, but never have time to do. 

Deep, Deep Clean

The walk-in cooler racks, the back of the walk-in freezer or the ceiling tiles.  Yes, many of these things may be on the weekly deep-clean list (you have one of those, right?) but let’s look deeper.  Get out the ladder and take a look at your operation from a different perspective.  Get down on your hands and knees to look under things you never have before…and do it all with a flash light.  You’d be surprised how many places get missed because of bad illumination. Sit at every table, in every booth, and at every bar stool.  Are they wobbly? From a certain perspective, can you see dust build-up on a ceiling fan or vent you never noticed? 

Back when I was in hotels, we encouraged our housekeeping inspectors to sit on the closed toilet in the guest bathrooms. It’s amazing what you see when you look from a different perspective.  They immediately noticed little cracks in the tile, or peeling wallpaper under the sink which had gone unnoticed before because they only walked into the bathroom with a clipboard.  But, I assure you; the guest notices all of those items and tempers their reviews of your operation with them.

Focusing on cleanliness without the distraction of high-volume business during the Covid-19 shutdown is a great way to allocate your limited resources at this time.

Paint and Build

One of the biggest obstructions to painting, remodeling and building for restaurants is the need to work around your busy times. Some operations go much smoother when you’re closed for business. Now’s your chance!

Take on some of those projects you’ve been putting off during the Covid-19 shutdown.

Grab a paint brush to spruce up the public areas, bathrooms, dining room or bar.  For many operations, you’ve already got the touch-up paint on hand from when you last painted.  For others, this is the perfect excuse to make a change.  Bartenders, servers and others could be recruited for this task.  If you can offer daily pay, it may help those struggling to make ends meet.  Unfortunately for others, spending money at all may be difficult. But we, as owners, can take this opportunity to roll up our own sleeves during this Covid-19 shutdown to make improvements to our own facilities. 

If you’ve already begun a remodel or construction project, this may be the opportunity to get it done more quickly because the crews no longer need to come in after close, or before you open.  Get your place looking in tip top shape for the “All-Clear” party we spoke about before.

MENU AND MARKETING

Pictures

Were you already planning a Spring Menu re-design?  Have your chef make the dishes as intended and photograph them for the website and social media.  Use these dishes as staff appreciation meals for those working during these trying times.

Use the Covid-19 downtime as an opportunity to tweak your menu and photograph new dishes for social media and your website.

If you weren’t planning a menu tweak, maybe you should.  When else will you have a quiet kitchen to properly contemplate work-flow redesign, storage, etc?

Analysis

Print out all of the sales reports (you never look at) for the last 6 months or year and point out the stars, workhorses, and dogs of your operation.   What sells?  What’s profitable?  What’s not?  What are the top 10 items you sell?  What are the bottom 5? 

Sharpen your pencil and make some factual, numbers-based decisions.

Sell Gift Cards

Use this time period like the holidays for gift card sales. Maybe even offer a discount or promotion for buying larger amounts of cards.  This is revenue you’ll need to weather the storm.  This also guarantees your restaurant or bar’s biggest fans will be chomping at the bit for your re-launch.  Many news outlets and online posts are encouraging patrons to support their local business in this way.  Offering them something in return for their loyalty can only help to improve your standing within your community.

Sell gift cards during the Covid-19 shutdown to provide much needed operating capital.

YOU CAN DO THIS, BE SMART

Many businesses, big and small have seen all kinds of adversity and Covid-19 is no different.  From 9/11 and natural disasters to economic ones, the veterans of the restaurant and bar industry can tell you some stories. We’re still here.  And while it may seem we are in our darkest hour; make sensible, rational decisions based on the facts in front of you.  Don’t panic or cling to unhelpful emotions when trying to figure out “now what?”.  There is a lot to be done, and you have willing hands waiting to help you.

Stay safe, and good luck. We look forward to gathering at your restaurant or bar again soon. Cheers!

For the latest updates on the Covid-19 outbreak, here is the link to the CDC website.

What are some of the things your restaurant or bar is doing to cope with the Covid-19 shutdown?  Do you have any more suggestions?

Write them in the comment section below.

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Chuck Johnson is a 30 year hospitality industry veteran, former owner and has contributed to various print publications and radio programs throughout his career.  Email at: cjohnson@eriehospitality.com

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