How to Prepare Your Restaurant For Reopening After The Coronavirus Pandemic

After months of restless waiting, restaurants can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as states take their first few (albeit tentative) steps to reopen the economy. While each state works at a pace that still maintains the safety of its people, companies are also finding fresh opportunities to sustain their business. From embracing no-contact home deliveries to enforcing masks and hand sanitizer dispensers for their entire workforce, they are leaving no stone unturned in their attempts to restart and revitalize their business.

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If you are a concerned restaurateur eager to get back to the grind, here are 10 smart tips to employ, to prepare your business for life after the Coronavirus pandemic.

1. Understand the new normal

If you are that entrepreneur just waiting for “life to get back to normal”, there’s news for you. The way you run your business in the near future is unlikely to be a replica of your past!

For instance, cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC which are seeing high crime rates now, usually known for their crowded restaurants, are expected to open with the heaviest restrictions. These are the states in which you can expect to find a hand sanitizer dispenser at every corner, invariably reminding you of the recent pandemic and the rules of social distancing. On the other hand, a far less populated Alaska has already opened all its business with almost no restrictions.

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So, before you jump into your business with full throttle, take time to understand the updated rules and restrictions that apply to your state. The last thing you want is to be slapped with legal hassles due to non-conformance, as you reopen business.

2. Embrace E-commerce

Regardless of the state of the pandemic in your city, the people of America are wary of rushing into crowded places, and rightly so. So even if your state allows you to open the restaurant with no restrictions, you should expect to receive at least 50% of your business from online orders.

Fortunately, you do not have to start from scratch in setting up a functional e-commerce website for your business. Popular food delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats already have an established presence in the market, are mobile-friendly, and come with their own base of loyal fans. So partnering with them can help you quickly ease your way into the space of online orders and home deliveries.

This also means that you may need to modify your menu for takeout. For instance, people will be more excited to order from your restaurant when they receive quality food with larger portions. So if you begin to serve family-sized meals, perhaps with a side salad thrown in, you can expect to win customers even during these tumultuous times.

3. Welcome guests, online and offline

What if you were to run a unique guest video on your restaurant’s YouTube channel (but of course, you should have one!), inviting a loyal customer to share his or her special experience at your restaurant?

Perhaps they can speak of the way your crew maintains the highest safety standards with stringent use of gloves and hand sanitizer dispensers to reduce risk during this crisis. Or perhaps they can speak highly of your chief chef’s delicious chocolate cake that made their Nana’s birthday special, even during a global pandemic.

It is these sharings by “guests”, online and offline, that will make your restaurant personal and hence extra special to your customers in the post Coronavirus world.

4. Strengthen your online brand presence

In the post-Wuhan virus world, the largest “city” is expected to be the Internet, with billions of people logged in at any time. So, if you do not have an established brand presence in this populous city, you are almost non-existent! This is the reason an increasing number of smart restaurateurs are readily investing their dollars in building the eatery’s online brand. Whether it is embracing social media to post the latest delicious updates to your daily menu, or using email to remind customers of monthly offers, take the virtual route to “stay in touch” with your customers.

As one anonymous food critic remarked, “A lot of restaurants have shut down their business, for good!” You want to remind your loyal customers that you are not that business.

You will also want to stay on top of online reviews, (including Yelp, Facebook, and Google) so your reputation stays squeaky clean in the virtual world. As the experts remind us, one bad review unattended by you, is all it takes to bring down an otherwise thriving business!

5. Make the most of gift cards

Here is another thing that hospitality experts remind us about the restaurant business – only 80% of gift cards are redeemed by customers. This means that you stand to make a guaranteed 20% profit on their sales. This statistic alone should be enough to add them to your restaurant’s repertoire of exciting offers. The best part is that they can be purchased online, redeemed online, and even supported through no-contact deliveries.

Another exciting thing about gift cards is that they fulfill a person’s social need to give, especially during vulnerable times. They are still birthdays and holidays to celebrate even during months of crisis, and people will naturally look for gifting opportunities that can be redeemed in a safe future.

Finally, gift cards will also get you money upfront, which is a great thing to keep your business going during challenging times.

6. Frequently run virtual promotions

Here, you probably already know that terms like “promotions”, “marketing” and “advertizing” take on a whole new meaning in the virtual world. It is not just about getting more business, but also about establishing your brand, making it exciting for others to be associated with your business. Hence, unabashedly embrace ways to promote your restaurant in the digital world.

This could include sharing some of your (not so) secret recipes through YouTube videos, running contests on Facebook to guess that special ingredient that makes your restaurant’s lasagna so unique, sharing a “healthy cooking tip of the day” on Twitter, posting scrumptious gourmet pictures on Instagram to revitalize the taste buds of your prized customers, or simply letting people know that your cozy restaurant now also offers no-contact delivery!

Yes, in the virtual world, social media can and should quickly become your restaurant’s new best friend. And the more people decide to engage with your business in this virtual world, the more opportunities they will find to help it thrive in the physical world.

7. Pace yourself

Consider that you live in a southern or western state in the US, which allows businesses to open full time with minimal restrictions. Yet, is your business ready for full-time service? You decide. This could depend on a host of conditions that are unique to your business, including the kind of restaurant your run, your locality, customer habits, availability of crew, legal guidelines within your state, etc.

For instance, it may be worthwhile to reopen your business only for a few hours a day, perhaps during lunch and dinner times, with a restricted menu that is quick to make and easy to deliver, before you go full steam. Your reputation and financials are likely to suffer far more damage if you open with a full crew, only to serve an empty restaurant hall.

Here, some smart restaurateurs are also opening for just a couple of hours a day with popular yet pre-made items, to facilitate takeaway, for those newly returning to work. This is yet another clever option as your restaurant reinvents itself as a smart, “fast takeaway food” service, to sustain itself during challenging times.

8. Take this time to re-haul your business

Despite all the suggestions provided here, it may well be that you are forced to run only a limited part of your service, to sustain your business during this time. Fortunately, this may also be good news.

The words “re-haul” might strike terror in the conventional restaurateur’s heart. But these times are anything but conventional. The resourceful entrepreneur understands that if a business fails to reinvent itself when times are changing, they may well be setting up their business for failure in the future. Ironically, it is “lack of time” that prevents most entrepreneurs from transforming their business. Well, the universe has heard our grouse and given us all this time in the world!

Some things to consider transforming include:

  • Your daily menu – what still works versus what is worth getting rid of, or what is “too pricey” to sustain.
  • The responsibilities of your crew – could/ should this include social media updates? Customers tend to love pretty pictures of food and crew, and these are easy to address.
  • Managing your costs – what can you buy in bulk versus what absolutely needs to be fresh? Also, what needs to be thrown away from your business altogether?
  • Vendor partnerships – You may need to especially “overhaul” this part of your business, including food delivery apps while striking off vendors with unrealistic prices.
  • Budget for digital marketing – an absolute must-have for sustaining ANY business in the post Coronavirus world!

9. Invest for the future

Here, your “investment” perhaps involves your time and effort more than money. For instance, consider (re)training your staff for the post Coronavirus world (though the virus will remain an issue until we have treatment or a vaccine) – like including a drive-through service, prep for more takeaway orders, the inclusion of more “fast food items”, rules of social distancing as per state laws, etc. You could also train your staff to train for the future, including making videos that could help newcomers and also be posted on your social media profiles, updating any in-house instruction manuals, etc.

Even if your restaurant seems empty for the next few days or weeks while you reopen business, have enough to-do tasks for your crew lest they get restless about an uncertain future.

10. Don’t forget that hand sanitizer dispenser!

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In closing, it is at this time that businesses will have to relook at the meaning of the “safety first” paradigm, especially for their crew and clients, and live it with uncompromising ferocity in order to reduce risk! Regardless of your personal opinion, educate your crew about the use of masks and hand sanitizer dispensers, so even if you err, you are on the right side of the law.

Interesting related article: “What is E-Commerce?