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Planning for a restaurant’s future in a cash-strapped environment

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Photograph courtesy of RTI

“So what do we do now?”

That’s the question many restaurant owners and managers are asking themselves. As restaurants across the country continue to reopen their doors and welcome back employees, management’s focus is naturally not only on the present but on the future as well. What will the future look like for the restaurant industry?

This, of course, is a mammoth question with no real answers, but the following tips may help businesses prepare for many unforeseen outcomes in the road ahead.*

Reach out to guests

In this new market, restaurants can’t afford to wait for guests to come to them. Many would-be customers, after all, have adopted new habits of ordering online or cooking more meals from home, and while nostalgia will bring some of them back, making contact with other potential customers is essential.

Restaurants can begin this proactive approach by reaching out to those in their email drip campaign—if there is one—and by increasing the frequency of social media efforts. Operators want customers to not only know that their restaurant is open once again, but to understand the guidelines surrounding safety precautions, hours and reservations. This is also a good time to showcase all the ways in which staff is working to make the venue safe for guests. And don’t be afraid to showcase a little of the team’s personality in these posts. Everyone can use a lighter moment these days.

From there, it’s time to reach out to customers who may not fall into the groups listed above. These are customers that may need some convincing to try a certain restaurant—maybe for the first time—and price promotions and unique offers may be your ticket to stand out.

Don’t abandon delivery business

Now is not the time to abandon food delivery or enhanced takeout service that may have been added during the pandemic. Remember that many guests may still not feel comfortable dining inside a restaurant and others could have come to appreciate the flexibility delivery offers. Understand the market. If competitors are offering this service, removing it from one’s own portfolio gives them an advantage.

Reinvent the menu

Another way restaurants can stand out and draw notice from past and new customers alike is to reinvent the menu. Food trends are ever-changing—even during a pandemic—and reinventing the menu to address modern trends such as comfort food, paleo, “clean” food and plant-based proteins can give restaurants a leg up on their competition.

Rethink the design of the restaurant

This is about more than keeping tables six feet apart. In the current market ,many restaurants will need to change permanently.

For example, if takeout service has been booming, it might be time to add a permanent drive-through window or set aside another area for this task that feels more permanent and can safely accommodate increased traffic and use.

This is also a good time to think about adding additional automated solutions to the restaurant. Automated payment and cleaning solutions do more than just increase efficiency, they can also minimize interactions between employees and customers and employees with other employees. If restaurants haven’t done so already, now may be the perfect time to invest in automated payment solutions to remove these employee/customer interactions.

In the kitchen, operators can reduce staff time by investing in automated cooking solutions to automate oil management and the removal of grease buildup. This allows restaurants to send employees home more quickly and reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Garner additional revenue in unconventional ways

For many people, the way they use restaurants going forward is going to change. Dining out may move from a mere convenience to more of an event. As such, customers adopting this mentality will likely go out less often but will be interested in spending more. For restaurants, this means potential success parameters lie in selling desserts, bottles of wine, appetizers and other mark-up items to raise the overall ticket price while delivering the event-like experience guests are seeking.

Another way to gain additional revenue is to consider selling recipe boxes for some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items. Tie these menu boxes to a gift voucher purchase, and customers have a reason to come back, even as they’re enjoying the restaurant’s food from home.

Moving forward in the new era

While the future is uncertain in every market, the restaurant industry certainly faces some of the largest questions. Navigating these paths will require restaurant owners to manage conservative cost protections against aggressive strategies to bring in new customers. But as the industry looks to the future, there are benefits to looking to the past. The strategies that have supported businesses since they reopened still hold true, and there’s no reason to abandon them until the path forward is clearer than it is today.

*Nothing herein constitutes legal advice or other formal direction or guidance of any kind. The information herein is offered for general information purposes only.

This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies

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