The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the food and beverage industry extremely hard. The sad truth is that many restaurants that closed during the pandemic will not be able to open again when indoor dining is widespread and safe.
However, some establishments have continued to thrive. They’ve adapted despite the constantly shifting landscape of COVID. You can learn from these businesses.
Keep reading to learn 7 strategies that successful restaurants have used to stay afloat during the pandemic.
1. Prioritize Takeout
It may seem obvious, but there are many types of restaurants where takeout wasn’t typically used before the pandemic. Higher-end restaurants, for example, aren’t known for boxing up filet mignons and handing them out in plastic bags.
If you can, set up a takeout order station in a front-facing window of your restaurant. Post the menu next to the window. Pedestrians will stop to read it, and passersby in cars will instantly know that you are open for takeout orders.
If you live in an area where everyone travels by car, consider setting up a curbside pickup food station as well.
2. Expand Delivery Services
Even if you were already delivering, you should think about branching out. Are you on all the apps? Some patrons are highly preferential when it comes to DoorDash versus UberEats. You could be losing business if you skip even one of these delivery platforms.
Additionally, consider expanding your in-store delivery team. Are there any front-of-house staff who would be willing to pitch in on deliveries?
Finally, consider expanding your delivery radius. Even if it’s just by a few blocks, it can make a big difference. You might find that some new regulars were just barely outside of your old range.
Some establishments, such as Scimecas Market in Kansas City, Missouri, have even begun a program to ship their goods nationwide.
3. Sell Pre-Packaged Food
Some people are fine with waiting for a takeout order on the street, but some prefer a more grab-and-go method.
Almost anything can be pre-packaged and sold right out of the fridge. Of course, there are already-assembled items such as sandwiches and salads. But also consider selling packaged items that still need some assembly.
It may seem odd to sell, for example, packages of plain but cooked pasta, but for some families, this could be exactly what they’re looking for.
Anything that you prepare in-house, such as sauces, pickled vegetables, cured or smoked meats, or even cocktails, can be packaged for a quick takeaway.
4. Assemble Meal Kits
This takes pre-packaged items one step further with some marketing strategy applied. Many people want quick food that’s still fresh, but don’t want to (or don’t have time to) put much thought into what exactly will go on the menu.
Consider assembling complete meal kits including appetizers, mains, sides, and even desserts or drinks, and selling it as a complete meal for two (or four, or six, and so on).
Even better, add customizable options to the meal kit menu. For example, you could ask patrons to pick one pasta main, one sauce, a vegetable side, and a dessert. The options for different bundles are nearly endless.
5. Holidays and House Specials
More than anything else, what separates a successful restaurant from a middling one is creativity. We’ve laid out some ideas about products, and now it’s time to incorporate some marketing strategy to really draw in the crowds.
Market your takeout, prepackaged food, and meal bundles according to whatever is going on around you. With the right marketing, you can create any number of occasions that would call for a good meal.
An obvious one would be a romantic meal kit for two for Valentine’s Day. Or an Irish House Special for St. Patrick’s Day. But this strategy isn’t limited to holidays.
Is there a storm approaching? Put out a sandwich board marketing a Complete Storm Kit, including meals that can be eaten cold in case of a power outage, non-perishable snacks, and even alcohol.
Is there a parade, festival, or other outdoors event upcoming? Package a bundle of water bottles and high-protein snacks for sale.
The more creative you are, the more options you have to create the opportunity for people to want to purchase your food and drinks for the occasion.
6. Start a Rewards Program
A rewards program can mean the difference between a customer choosing to go to your establishment to get their 10th item free or to go to that other place down the block.
Small printed cards saying “buy X number of items, get the next one free” are cheap to produce, but can pay back in spades.
The reward can be anything that makes the most sense for your restaurant – whether that’s a free item, accrual of store credit, entering customers into a giveaway, and more.
7. Whatever You Do, Advertise It
However you choose to push sales during the pandemic, your strategies will be useless unless customers know about it.
Successful restaurants get the word out about why you should choose to eat there. The pandemic is a great time to up your traditional advertising in local publications and online.
Further, make sure that your deals are prominently displayed for everyone who walks and drives past. Plaster the exterior in posters, sandwich boards, neon signs, and more to make it clear to passerby why your restaurant is an especially good choice.
Even regular customers won’t know if you’re starting new programs, bundles, and deals if it isn’t communicated to them. So make sure everyone knows.
The Key to a Successful Restaurant
The bottom line is that during this challenging time, businesses must be innovative, flexible, and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
To have a successful restaurant in 2021, you’ll need to put your head down and really do the work to stretch your resources and flex your creative muscles.
And that you’ve learned 7 strategies of successful restaurants, it’s time to apply them to the real world. Get out there and see what you can do!