foodservice pandemic

Can your foodservice business survive future pandemics?

By David Hopkins, president of The Fifteen Group

No one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected almost every industry, undoing the standard systems and procedures of many businesses. And while it has been a trial for the restaurant industry in particular, it will also be a very valuable learning experience for this community.  

It’s no big secret that restaurants aren’t the most profitable of businesses or the easiest to navigate. But by taking concrete lessons from this pandemic and utilizing them to prepare for future events, the foodservice industry will only benefit.

The importance of takeout

One of the key realizations from this time has been that restaurants will benefit from having a solid takeout and delivery system in place. While in the beginning many operations scrambled to set up this new model, restaurants that already had this in place were able to remain open and continue making a profit without interruption. Setting up an online store, if you are planning to pivot your operations to offer grocery or prepackaged goods, will also be vital.

It will also be important to strategically plan your delivery strategy. Delivery options have been a point of much debate during this pandemic, with many restaurants choosing to opt out of third-party delivery apps in order to avoid high service fees. These restaurants adopted other methods, such as in-house delivery or smaller, local delivery services. Consider your options ahead of time and decide which route you will be taking if the time comes in the future.

Implementing a plan

There are many moving parts involved when dealing with new, unexpected circumstances, and for this reason it can be extremely useful to have checklists in place. Take time to reflect on the systems and procedures you put in place when closing your operation, as well as those you’ll institute when reopening. Consider what worked, what didn’t work, and what you learned to create a streamlined process for the future.

Hone in on your message

Many businesses have struggled with messaging around this pandemic, especially in terms of what to say on social media. In the wake of a new and unknown experience it can be difficult to determine how to communicate with customers about the state of your restaurant. Now is a good time to take what you have learned from your communications strategy during COVID-19 and develop standardized messaging that you can easily put in place when you need to. Put together a strategy, or even a script template, that outlines the health and safety procedures your business is taking, as well as any other relevant information.

Focus on best practices

Pandemics, disasters, and shutdowns almost certainly mean an initial over-supply of inventory for restaurants. This was definitely the case with the COVID-19 shutdown, with many operations unsure of what to do with their unused stock. As time went on, industry best practices became apparent, such as donating food to frontline workers, shelters, and charities, and also “unloading” excess wine inventory by selling it at a discount to the public, where applicable. Having a plan in place for surplus inventory can bring goodwill to your brand while eliminating unnecessary product waste.

While the future of foodservice is still unclear, it is definitely a strong possibility that restaurants will have to experience another unexpected event and potential short-term shutdown at some point in their life cycle. And while disasters take an aggressive toll on the industry, having a plan in place can certainly help mitigate the impact. In looking at experiences from the past few months, it’s clear that the resilience and creativity of restaurants have helped them through this trying time. That can-do attitude, paired with careful planning for the future, will help this industry survive another event of the COVID-19 magnitude.

David Hopkins is president and founder of The Fifteen Group Inc., a leader in restaurant profit maximization. With offices in Toronto and Vancouver, The Fifteen Group has helped over 1,000 restaurants achieve their profit goals. Visit for more information.

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