As states and the federal government limit restaurants to drive-thru, take-out, and delivery business, foodservice establishments are forced to pivot their business model overnight. Third-party delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub are responding with free delivery and lower percentage fees but as more people hunker down at home, these services may not keep pace with demand.
By switching to curbside pickup and self-run delivery, restaurants can maintain a level of cash flow, provide work for key staff members, and serve their local communities during these incredibly challenging times. And while it’s tough right now to think about it, this crisis will end and guests will flock to restaurants once again. Weathering this public health crisis presents operators the opportunity to hone their systems for survival today and prosperity tomorrow.
Knowing Your Guest: Evolving Perceptions and Concerns
We’ve all seen the news reports of empty grocery store shelves, and Costco lines circling the block. As concern for personal health and safety skyrockets, public perception surrounding the safety of restaurant food grows. According to a Datassential survey conducted during March 13 and 14, consumer’s fears are focused on the cleanliness of employees and food safety. Based on previous viral outbreaks like Norovirus and E-Coli, today’s restaurant guests are acutely aware of hygiene issues in restaurants and workers coming in sick.
These concerns, coupled with the unknowns surrounding coronavirus, compound each other in the minds of consumers nervous about home confinement and getting access to essentials. In putting together a business strategy focused on take-out and delivery, it’s critical for restaurants to provide verbal, written, and demonstrated policies that address customer fears.
Below we’ve included detailed and actionable steps on how to pivot to today’s restaurant business reality while building trust with customers, staff, and the community. This plan is based on three objectives; namely, cutting expenses, preserving sales, and improving operations.
Step 1: Cut Your Menu
A smaller and more focused takeout and delivery menu helps reduce expenses and complexity in this critical time. You also want to reduce menu complexity for your customers who are undoubtedly overwhelmed during these uncertain times. When paring down your menu, look at your product mix and identify top sellers along with items with good profit margins and those that are easy to make. Look for menu items that cross-utilize a number of ingredients to keep inventory low.
Most important, select menu items that will look and taste great out of a to-go box. For some customers, their take-out order is an introduction to your food. It’s critical to make a great first impression so stick with items like undressed salads, cold sandwiches, and sauced foods for your to-go menu. Items that don’t hold up well include hot fried foods, nachos and quesadillas, and delicate fish.
Beyond your standard menu items, consider adding family meals and meal kits to your to-go menu for a value-driven price for families on limited budgets. These can include pre-cooked mains and sides with storage and reheating instructions, or build-your-own meal kits for items like tacos or rice bowls. Offering multiple days worth of meals for a discounted price are attractive to customers who need to watch their spending. Designing to-go items tailored to the unique needs of your customers demonstrates your commitment to them, and reinforces your positive brand image in their eyes.
Step 2: Pay Attention to Packaging
Your to-go packaging is just as important as the food inside, so make sure that team members who package to-go meals understand what packaging to use for each item. To address customer concerns about food handling, use a sticker to alleviate any worries about tampering. Create a checklist for your to-go orders to ensure that team members are checking order accuracy, correct packaging, and utensils. On this checklist, it’s helpful to include a list of specific cleaning and sanitizing procedures you’re following in the kitchen to reassure customers about your commitment to safe practices.
Step 3: Enforce Food Safety and Employee Health Policies
Considering the public’s concern about restaurant kitchen cleanliness and food handling procedures, it’s more important than ever to retrain and reinforce proper hygiene and sanitation practices. Below are a few ideas to help you exceed these standards:
- Managers should familiarize themselves with the CDC’s guidelines on hygiene, as well as answers to questions about food and the coronavirus
- Create a team member check-in procedure to make sure they are not showing any signs of illness, their uniforms are clean, and they are practicing appropriate personal hygiene practices.
- Retrain all team members on correct handwashing and glove usage. Set a 15-minute kitchen timer all day to remind every team member to change gloves and wash their hands.
- Retain kitchen team members on sanitizer bucket and solution usage. Quat sanitizer solution is effective for only two hours or if it becomes dirty. Set a 60-minute kitchen timer to remind team members to fill a clean sanitizer bucket with fresh sanitizer solution.
- Set a regular schedule for a manger to check dishwasher functioning and water temperature, as well as usage and inventory levels of required cleaning and sanitizing chemicals. Place orders when 25% of chemical pars have been reached.
- Ensure that all to-go packaging, napkins, and utensils are stored underneath a shelf or tabletop, wrapped in a bag, or are turned upside down to prevent physical contamination. Keep packaging inventory in cases until needed.
- Instruct managers to monitor the kitchen for food safety compliance and spot-train as needed.
Step 4: Develop Low- or No-Contact Guest Service Steps
When setting up procedures for taking, filling, and completing to-go and delivery orders, design each step to minimize contact between team members and guests for everyone’s health and safety. As you develop your service procedures, include ways to demonstrate your commitment to recommended hygiene steps. Below is a set of recommended steps of service for to-go and delivery orders:
- If you’re using third-party delivery services, encourage guests to place their orders on your website by clicking links to delivery companies. Many are waiving restaurant fees if guests place orders from the restaurant website.
- If your POS is enabled with touch-free payments, encourage guests to set up Android or Apple Pay through your website and social media feeds.
- For guests using a third-party delivery service, let them know on your website that they can request a no-contact delivery by texting their driver.
- Designate a manager or shift supervisor to take phone orders and enter them accurately in your POS system. Make sure to capture a guest name and phone number for each order and a pick-up time for advance orders. For curbside pickup orders, provide guests with a phone number to call when they arrive for their order.
- For advance orders, package orders no more than 20 minutes in advance to maintain food temperature and quality.
- Package all orders using the above-mentioned order checklist and a clean set of gloved hands. Once the order is filled and checked, staple the checklist to the outside of the order bag.
- When guests arrive and call for their order, have a greeter wearing gloved hands open the door and direct them to the cashier. If the guest is paying with a credit card, the cashier uses hand sanitizer and puts on a new pair of gloves before ringing up the purchase. Once the cashier hands the credit card back to the guest, the cashier removes and discards their gloves in front of the guest.
- Place signs at the cashier and on the front door listing specific cleaning and hygiene practices you are following to instill confidence in guests.
- Consider using staff members as delivery people, as long as they have required personal auto insurance. Train your staff to deliver orders while wearing new gloves for each order and by calling the guest to let them know their order has been placed at their front door.
Step 5: Make Marketing Organic and Authentic
In this precarious climate, you may resist the use to market to your guests for fear of looking opportunistic. You can avoid this by taking a “let’s help each other” messaging approach. With more of the population facing home confinement, a message of caring and honesty makes a genuine and lasting impact.
Some marketing and messaging suggestions include:
- Have your top leaders and owners post to social media instead of your marketing team. This may sound counterintuitive but their lack of polish will make their message feel more authentic.
- Be forthcoming and honest in your messaging. Everyone is facing a new set of challenges right now, so encourage guests to do business with you so you can provide them with freshly prepared foods brought directly to them.
- Ask guests to post a review on Yelp that describes the great experience they had with your take-out and delivery.
- On social media, post photos of your team members wearing gloves or sanitizing the kitchen to emphasize cleanliness. If you are donating food to local charities, make sure to spread the social word.
- Besides bounceback coupons, you can include kids coloring books and crayons, small toys and games, or cookies with a handwritten message to make a heartfelt connection with guests.
No one knows what the next few days and weeks will hold for the foodservice industry. By putting these strategies in place, restaurants can work to weather the coronavirus storm and ultimately come through with a stronger brand identity in their communities and a more efficient business overall.