5 Steps to Survive the Restaurant Apocalypse

We are well inside the pandemic curve, the black swan event of the decade, and no one seems to know precisely when or how it will end. The businesses in general and the restaurants, in particular, have been struck hard. All of us are trying to improvise daily.
I will not mention any numbers, stats, or predictions of the economic damage. You can find some good references at the end. My point is, whichever direction this crisis takes, we are all in this together, and the only way out is to keep moving forward. In these strange times, to win is to survive.

Yes, you can stay open.

Therefore, I am going to focus on five steps that you, the restaurateur, may follow to sustain your business through this crisis. It is also important to mention here that I have learned about these steps from some of the most persistent and creative restaurant owners in our customer base. In other words, I am merely aggregating their collective learnings in this article.

1. Be scrappy and creative

First, you have to plan based on what you already have - the capital (Cash, Line of credit, etc.), the equipment, the staff, and also your motivation. It's essential, to begin with, this mindset because to get creative, we must first acknowledge our limitations. With that, here are a few ideas -

Create a much more simplified menu, may be tailored for family-style servings such as a dinner package for four for easy curbside pickup. Another option could be to sell by tray sizes. In fact, given that patrons have more time at hand with their families, meal kits are getting popular as well.

Reduce business hours to maybe only four hours and try to maximize the pickups and deliveries within that window. Your local authorities might have mandated this already. You can get even more efficient by encouraging your patrons to order ahead.

The goal should be to run the business as lean as possible. Remember, these are not regular times, and everyone, including your patrons, gets it.

2. Request support from everyone

Once you have a plan to work with what you already have, it is now time to look outside for what additional resources you can tap into during this time. Call your bank to get the economic relief and an expanded line of credit. Call the credit card companies for increased spending limits. Renegotiate payment terms with your vendors. Despite their challenges, they would be happy to keep you with lesser payments than to lose you altogether.

Be forthright about the situation with your staff. Ask for cooperation in building the new schedule that hopefully involves everyone. Make sure to lead by example, where possible. True leaders reveal themselves during times of crisis. It is valid for you and also for your staff. Pose a challenge, and you may be surprised by the hidden talents.

Last but not least, don't be shy to ask for support from your patrons. Reach out and explain how you are trying to adapt. Ask for their opinions about say menu choices. It is not only an excellent social media strategy but also the best input for your decisions. Your patrons will feel involved, and they will shower you with more business and positive social media shares in their groups.

3. Expect the unexpected

As you will try to adapt to a new normal, there will be a few surprises. A side-effect of running a leaner operation is that you can't quickly backfill a staff member. It is also possible that in the coming days, your inventory supply might become less reliable. Depending on where you are and how this crisis unfolds around you, you will likely face disruptions beyond your control.

Therefore, you should be at peace with the fact that you may not be able to operate every day. Once you accept that, try to be strategic about which days to close and why. Remember, it's okay to lose a few battles to win the war.

4. Over-communicate

Communication is vital even in regular times, but in a day-to-day changing situation, you will have to go the extra mile. Begin frequently posting on social media and explain how you are following all the safety guidelines. How about running a social media poll to find out what menu items or portion sizes, your patrons would prefer? Update your patrons daily at a specific time about your menu, hours, and any other topic that will resonate with them. It never hurts to stay on top of their minds.

Most likely, your staff communication is already good enough, but just in case, encourage them to be more open about their availability in advance. Of course, you also will have to be transparent about your plans. The same rationale for over-communication extends to your vendors and anyone else connected to your business.

When it comes to tools, Facebook, Twitter, Emails, Text messages, or even phone calls, use any means that are appropriate and efficient. Just make sure to be consistent across channels. Your website and Facebook posts must not have different information. If it sounds a bit challenging, you are correct, and that brings the next step.

5. Now is the perfect time to try new stuff

Whether it is a new technology or a new process, if it can help to make things just a bit more manageable, you must try them. Do not be shy to take advantage of free-trials. Many vendors have begun free promotions to do their part to keep the industry afloat as much as possible. Because, and I cannot repeat this enough, we are in this together.

By the way, after the free trial, if you like the service but cannot yet afford to pay for it, ask for extensions. You have nothing to lose, only to gain.

As a local business, you are the beacon of hope for your city, your staff, and even your peers. Every day that you manage to keep the business running, you are supporting yourself and so many more around you. Good luck! And keep me posted.

Here are some relevant articles about the current economic environment for restaurants:


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