By Marc Gordon
For many, what used to be a fun and enjoyable trip to a restaurant has now been reduced to a chore. First it was the closing of the dining room, with takeout being the only option. Then patrons were not allowed into the takeout area and would instead have to wait curbside, or they would have to pay extra for soggy fries from a food delivery service.
From what restaurant managers and owners have told me, the joy has long since gone for them too. Plummeting sales, higher costs, staffing issues, and uncooperative landlords have resulted in hundreds of restaurants across the country permanently closing.
However, for those who have managed to stay the course, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may already be offering outdoor tableside service, albeit with reduced capacity. For other areas, the rules for pickup have loosened. On June 3, for instance, Toronto gave the green light to food trucks to operate this summer.
While industry groups and the general public use social media to demand lawmakers allow business to reopens, and local governments try to balance public safety with economic growth, there is a key factor that is being ignored.
Human behaviour is the one variable that will overshadow government legislation and free enterprise. What people think and feel will be the most influential factor in where – and if – they dine out.
This can leave you with some tough choices. Is it worth opening up with an aggressive marketing campaign at the risk of having an empty dining room? Or perhaps should keep things status quo and let sales dictate your strategy? In this case, the risk is that you may be caught flat-footed should demand rise too quickly.
The truth is there is no one-size-fits all answer. From quick serve to fine dining, there are a multitude of factors to take into account. Still, there are some common strategies you can implement to give you the best chance at successfully reacting, pivoting, or charging ahead.
- Assess your financial situation. Heavy debt or poor cash flow may force you to put aggressive plans on hold. When given the green light to open up, call your accountant before getting caught up in the excitement.
- Talk to businesses outside your industry. Ignore the #backtowork social media posts. Instead, reach out to other industries that are already open to see what customer expectations are. Are they demanding safety, offering convenience, or are they indifferent?
- Reduce your menu. Your customers will cut you a lot of slack if they can still enjoy only your signature dishes in a comfortable and welcoming setting.
- Communicate with your staff. Even if you are unable to hire them all back, being open and honest is the key to keeping them loyal. They will also be more open to changes such as redeployment or split shifts.
- Strategize with suppliers. It’s been slow for them too, so approach them with a partnership mentality. Ask about payment options, smaller quantities, and delivery schedules. Also use them as a source of knowledge: ask what they’ve seen others do and what seems to be working or not working.
What’s important to remember is that customers won’t care about having to wait a little longer for service or seeing a reduced menu. What they’ll care about is having an experience that makes them feel welcomed and appreciated – and creating one starts with listening.
About the author
Marc Gordon is a recognized customer experience expert. He regularly appears in print, on television, and on radio for his opinions on business events and trends. As a professional speaker and consultant, he helps organizations build stronger relationships with their customers. Learn more at marcgordon.ca