2020 caused many disruptions for small businesses, including restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Many of these businesses were forced to stop offering in-house dining and switch to a model of only pickup and delivery. Even when restrictions lifted, restaurants in many locations were only allowed to fill up at 50% capacity or less.
The future of dining out is quite uncertain as 2021 approaches. What can such business owners do to help see them through this challenging period? The following are some tips for restaurants and other food-related businesses to keep in mind.
Stay in touch with customers.
It’s important to let your loyal customers know that you’re still open and to keep them appraised of the latest developments. For example, some areas, such as California, have gone back and forth with restrictions, alternately allowing and banning indoor and outdoor dining. Post messages on your social media and website to discuss your latest policies. Send out messages by email and text if you have customers’ contact information. Communicating with customers not only keeps them informed, but it serves to remind them to visit (or order from) your business.
Emphasize your safety and sanitation policies.
People are understandably concerned about safety when it comes to their food, whether they are dining in, picking up orders or getting deliveries. You should do everything possible to reassure them that your business is taking steps to keep everyone safe and healthy. Google Think points out that searches for “is food delivery safe” have gone up 650% since March 2020.
Even if the steps you’re taking are ones that are required by law or part of your normal practice, your customers will still appreciate knowing about them. This includes making sure your food business is following proper cleaning procedures and ensuring your staff is healthy, washes their hands and wears masks, as well as practicing sanitary procedures for deliveries and anything else that may apply.
Offer your customers incentives.
Diners have many choices when it comes to ordering food. Offering coupons and specials give people an additional reason to order from you. It also gives you an excuse to contact your customers. You can offer discounts via apps such as Grubhub or directly via your website or social media pages.
Invest in mobile marketing.
Mobile marketing works well with all your promotion strategies, especially when it comes to reaching customers with special offers and coupons. People tend to read text messages quickly, making it a great choice for sending out same-day offers around lunch or dinner time. You can send out texts when your policies change regarding dining options or other issues. Mobile marketing apps also make it easy to issue coupons to customers via text.
Consider new business models.
While any restaurant can shift its focus to pickup and delivery, if you’re finding it hard to function and stay open during this challenging “new normal,” you can also consider more drastic measures. Even if you’re not serving diners in your restaurant, you still have to pay the operating expenses for keeping it open. Here are a couple of alternatives to consider.
Turn your restaurant into a virtual kitchen.
Virtual kitchens aren’t exactly what they sound like as they are real, brick-and-mortar kitchens. However, they do operate in a virtual mode as they’re made strictly for delivering food. The big advantage of this model is that costs are much lower than a traditional restaurant. Many virtual kitchens are spaces shared by several restaurant owners, allowing costs to be quite affordable.
Virtual kitchens are an attractive model for people considering a new restaurant. However, those who already have a restaurant but are finding it hard to keep up with expenses can consider switching to this model.
Start a food truck.
Food trucks are another alternative to traditional restaurants. Modern food trucks are much more advanced than the old-style hot dog carts, allowing for the cooking of complete meals. A food truck can supplement your restaurant, especially during a time when indoor dining is limited or prohibited. If you already have customers, your food truck can have a built-in customer base. Be sure to check local laws and regulations before getting started on this enterprise.
Understand that these times demand creativity and flexibility.
Restaurants need to be adaptable and flexible in these uncertain times. The good news is that people always have to eat, and they enjoy dining out, even if they have to make adjustments. It’s up to you to make things as comfortable, convenient and safe for your customers.