While every foodservice outlet has suffered from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, some have been able to “rebound” more easily than others. In a few rare instances, operators are doing even better than they had pre-crisis.
Look no further than these innovative operators for ideas and best practices that can help your business survive—and even thrive—now and in the future.
Offer Food for Families
Selling the convenience of family or group meals is a great way to encourage cost-conscious consumers to order—particularly during uncertain (or downright difficult) financial times. Chains like Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A have quickly begun offering value sizes, as have independent restaurants across the country. Cincinnati’s Sacred Beast Diner, for example, transformed into “Beast Mart.” The newly branded establishment offers a weekly rotating menu that includes two “Hot & Ready Beast Kits” of entrées and sides (available in two- and four-serving options). Whole-bird rotisserie chickens fit particularly well into family meals, with outfits ranging from Boulder, Colorado, butcher shop/market Blackbelly to chains like Boston Market putting them in the center of their new menus.
The Beast Mart menu also includes do-it-yourself (DIY) items like a Lemon Ricotta Pancake Kit—a tactic that has become extremely popular in the wake of dine-in service shutdowns and self-quarantine orders from coast to coast. Consumers surveyed by Datassential cite take-and-bake comfort foods, build-your-own pizza kits, and taco kits as the DIY meals in which they’re most interested. These options add an entertainment component to mealtime that appeals to both adults and kids—and help bridge the gap between eating out and cooking at home.
As restaurant chains like Panera and Subway start delivering groceries, bundling items that go together can help pique customer interest and fill pantry and fridge gaps. New York’s Kinship Coffee, for example, is bundling growlers of its popular cold brew with customers’ choice of dairy or plant-based milk and delivering it to their doors. Growlers don’t just have to contain coffee. Consider bundling alcoholic drinks with meals—an excellent way to increase margins for those states that allow it. From high-end cocktail kits to pitchers of margaritas to a $1 add-on “mystery beer,” these are fun ways to boost sales and ease quarantine blues.
The days of including a free roll of toilet paper with every order will pass, but the value and convenience of bundled items will remain.
A Clean They Can See
Overt displays of cleanliness can do a lot to overcome lingering customer discomfort over on-premises dining. When asked what restaurants could do to make them feel safe when businesses reopen, consumers overwhelmingly chose “Regularly/visibly wiping down tables, kiosks, other things people touch” as the practice they most want to see. Seven in 10 respondents said such behaviors were “absolutely required,” in fact, for them to feel better about dining in.
There are a few other concrete steps operators can take to further restore confidence: cleaning tables before a new party sits down; making hand sanitizer available by txhe entrance and outside restrooms; enhancing cleaning schedules to keep dining areas and bathrooms spick and span; moving to disposable paper menus; and making sure there are no open containers of food. If customers can visibly see these cleanliness efforts front of house, they will rest assured that operators are taking sanitation seriously in the kitchen as well.
Take to Social Media
The most successful operations have engaged actively with their audience on social media, pulling the curtain back to share the challenges as well as the high points. A heartfelt post about what you and your staff are going through helps bring you and your customers closer together. This is also a good opportunity to actively communicate your safety protocols, which you should also consider posting to your website for greater transparency. And don’t forget to say thank you!
Social media is also the ideal testing ground for new menu ideas. Seattle’s Addo has embraced this with a quickly evolving menu that helps the restaurant not only use up inventory but also keep their offerings feeling fresh. Chef Eric Rivera also started offering online, interactive cooking classes complemented by a set of ingredients delivered to customers’ homes—a concept many chefs are adopting.
Other operations have been incorporating online experiences. The Seattle-based fine-dining destination Canlis, for example, live streams piano performances during the standard three-hour dinner rush on weeknights. Its messaging: “Your dinner now has a soundtrack, sweatpants optional.”
Customers want to see that restaurants are giving back to their communities. They’re especially interested in programs like “Buy One, Give One” meals for hospital workers, first responders and other essential personnel on the frontlines. Such efforts are also a great way to boost team morale and deplete inventory that might otherwise go to waste. Brooklyn fried chicken joint Pies ‘n’ Thighs allows patrons to deliver a bucket of fried chicken to hospital workers, while fast-casual chain Chicken Salad Chick has empowered local franchises to donate meals to hospital workers and first responders via its “Feeding the Front Line” initiative.
Can’t spare the food? Consider hosting an online cooking class and donating sign-up fees to a local cause. You can be sure that customers will remember your efforts in the community long after the crisis is over.
Embrace Low-Labor Options
You’re likely looking to streamline your pantry as well as your staff as you prepare to return to business-as-usual operations. That’s where products that are pre-cooked, prepped or easy to assemble can be a lifesaver. Whether you’re feeding a hungry line of kids or a new remote workforce ordering delivery to their homes, these options can help you save money, time and labor as you enter the “new normal.”
The current crisis is bearing down hard on operators of all sizes and concepts. Gathering inspiration from your team and your customers can help you develop the creative ideas that make the difference. If we can be of any assistance, let us know—Perdue Foodservice stands with operators and is here to help.