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Opening Your Doors in a Post-COVID 19 World

Some states are starting to test the waters of the new reality and open their doors back up to dine-in restaurant business. Understanding what this new normal might look like, at least in the short term, will be critical to attracting, retaining, and growing your customer base again. It is still a game of gaining share of stomach; however, the rules are changing. 

 Food Safety for Teams Members and Guests

 Now, more than ever, consumer perception of a restaurant’s food safety practices will impact their choice of where to dine out and if to dine out. When it comes to food, taste has always been king. In this new world, taste still matters, but safety is now top of mind for consumers in choosing a restaurant option. So, you must find a way to provide the great tasting food safely.

A recent survey by Datassential reported that 43% of consumers now state cleanliness and sanitation are their top considerations when selecting a restaurant. Returning guests will be looking for activities and indications of food and employee safety like regularly cleaning surfaces, employee safety apparel, food coverings, or individually wrapped condiments and serving ware. Re-educate and reinforce food safety behaviors with your team members before you open your doors. Announce new procedures to your customers online today, and have signs and information available in-store once you do open.

Concern for restaurant team members is also a part of this more significant focus on safety. Emphasize attention and care for employee health and well being. Checking an employee’s temperature before starting their shift being might be a necessity. Enforcing stay-at-home policies for any signs of illness is a must.  

To help with employee safety while at work, consider temporary updates to the workflow in your kitchen, storage, prep, cleaning, and even serving areas. Evaluate if activities and stations can be altered to limit employee cross-over and enable everyone to have adequate spacing.

Clean-up Menus for Simplicity and Trends

With the potential for lighter traffic and reduced staffing in the short term, now is the time to simplify your menu. Focus on the menu items that contribute the most to sales. Do what you do best and ensure that they perform as needed through carry-out and delivery options.

Evaluate your recipes for the opportunity to improve on the quality and value you get from your ingredients. Using cleaner or better-for-you ingredients can add the nutritional or sustainability features to your menu that today’s consumers desire.

Simplification does not mean ignoring the trends of the day. What was hot at the start of the year (plant-based, sustainability, global flavors), still matters to your guests and can help drive new business. The absence of menu innovation was a mistake too many restaurants made during the last industry set-back in 2008. Learn from the past and keep moving forward by introducing new menu features, test new LTOs and give your guests the excitement they have been craving.

Such enhancements can refresh your menu and provide an opportunity to communicate with your current and potential guests. This will enable you to provide a share stealing experience for your guests.

Embrace Technology

If you haven’t yet made a move to online or app-based ordering and payment, don’t delay, start today. Touchless transactions are a growing expectation, and now a significant way to help your guests and team members feel safer. Recognizing investments may currently be a challenge; this one is necessary. Mobile ordering and payments will immediately give your business those positive safety features consumers now expect. Additional benefits may include shorter ordering lines, reduced labor needs and increase transaction speed for years to come. The days of multiple people touching menus are gone.  It is critical you figure out how to deliver the “menu” experience another way.

This investment in frictionless ordering and payment can also help facilitate enhanced marketing efforts. The more you know about your guests, the more strategically you can design your promotions and communications. Information and communication are key to future success!

Email newsletters and social media are an incredibly useful and cost-efficient way to market to your current and prospective customers.  More than a third of diners follow restaurants on social media, with 78% stating that Facebook is their favorite social platform to find restaurants. Create a dialogue with your guests. Keep them informed of what is going on with your restaurant, what is new on your menu, and that you are, in fact, open for business.

 Source: “Which company is winning the food delivery war?”,, 4/21/20

Take-out, Delivery, and Family Meals Forever

For many, carry-out, delivery, and family meal deals might be your current life raft. Just because the doors will be opening again, don’t lose focus on these options that were a trend before the virus.

Younger consumers have been driving the delivery trend for the last few years. Now that even more people have discovered the convenience of delivery app usage, the trend will likely continue, even after the doors can open.

Embrace this new opportunity to drive sales beyond the dining room. Review your menu offerings and packaging solutions to optimize each dish for in-home performance. Include reheating instructions and serving suggestions.

Start Your Post COVID Marketing Now

Don’t wait until the doors open to start communicating with your customers. Even if you have temporarily closed, share your plans or thoughts on reopening on your website, social media, and in email communications. Let consumers know what you are doing differently to ensure their safety and that of your team. Share menu updates, new features, or any other changes they will see when your doors re-open.

Even after the restrictions are lifted, guests may stick closer to home. Consider adjusting your advertising radius to those living in your more immediate area. Many people may still be working from home, or just choosing to spend in their towns to support local recovery. This may mean some lunchtime regulars are not back immediately, but it is also an opportunity to develop a new group of consumers.

Since the downturn of 2007-2008, the foodservice industry has had an impressive run of growth. The industry will come back; it will just look and act differently for a while. The time to get ready is now.

Maximize what you do well. Update food and team safety policies and training. Innovate your menu, your technology, and your marketing. Most importantly, get started now! The US food and beverage industry will rebound!  The question is how much of it will be yours?