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Changing Consumer Trends Post-Pandemic

Jun 28, 2021

When the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could gather without wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, many saw this as the beginning of the end of the pandemic. As a result, attitudes and expectations have shifted, and consumers are now thinking about how normal life should look. Despite many unknowns, if this pandemic has proven anything, consumers remain passionate about food. Food is still what unites us, and consumers are hungry for the hospitality they missed while being stuck at home for nearly 15 months.

 

A recent study conducted by Datassentials showed that consumers are now “more concerned about the economic crisis caused by COVID than are worried about the public-health crisis.” Most consumers have also become aware of the foodservice industry’s labor shortage and inflation indicators, resulting in higher menu prices. Despite these concerns, consumers have expressed a willingness to spend more at restaurants.

 

A desire to help restaurants recover from months of limited dine-in options and economic instability is the driving motivation of consumers. Especially strong among Boomers (41%) and less for Gen Z (23%), who looked to try new and exciting dishes not easily created at home. “Millennials proved more willing than any generation to shell out for expansive, upscale, healthful, and/or locally sourced ingredients,” an article in QSR Magazine reports. Additionally, Gen Z and Millennials were more likely to “use their social circles on a restaurant’s behalf, such as praising a place on review sites or getting bigger groups together to dine out.”

 

gen z trends

What will cause consumers to spend more at restaurants post-pandemic?

Datassentials reports the following:

 

  • Wanting to help restaurants and the economy recover
  • Wanting to socialize more
  • Ordering food not easily made at home
  • Celebrating special occasions at restaurants
  • Trying new and exciting dishes
  • Tipping servers more generously than before
  • Healthier food and beverage choices
  • Restaurants that go the extra mile to ensure guest safety
  • Restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients
  • Ordering more expensive menu items
  • Increased alcoholic beverage purchases, especially those not easily made at home
  • Ordering more appetizers and large plates to share with a group
  • More premium/upscale ingredients
  • Ordering catering for home or work
tipping
You may notice an increase in tipping post-pandemic

While consumer’s pent-up demand is helping restaurants to return to pre-pandemic levels, an industry-wide labor shortage is making it challenging for operators. Consumers are paying attention to how restaurants treat their employees. Datassentials found that Boomers were most concerned with getting laid-off and furloughed people back to work. Millennials feel front-line staff should be paid like “essential workers.” At the same time, Gen Z ranked health care as their top issue, with support towards subsidized child care and unionization for restaurant workers. With enhanced unemployment benefits soon coming to an end, along with generally reduced COVID concerns, we hope to see improvements in this labor shortage for restaurants.

 

One thing is clear. Consumer behavior dramatically changed during the pandemic. Restaurants that successfully focus on adaptability and awareness towards consumer expectations will see higher customer satisfaction and greater customer loyalty.

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How Are Restaurant Owners Preparing for Going Back to “Normal?”

May 07, 2021

In early 2021, U.S restaurants were allowed to increase their capacity from 50 to 70 % and reopen their establishments for indoor dining. All while continuing to maintain the six feet social distancing and mask mandates. Opening dining services to 100% capacity is underway in states like New York, Arizona, and Connecticut, with expectations to fully open by May 19th. However, Texas has been the trailblazer by fully reopening on March 2nd. There is not a lack of hungry customers; however, there is a lack of employees.

 

UNEMPLOYMENT

 

In Longview, Texas, Lamar Richardson, manager of Butcher Shop, say’s “I’m down about eight employees as we speak. And this has all happened in the last week. Every day, every shift, I have employees calling in or not showing up.” (Source). Most employers in Texas are experiencing similar circumstances and have limited their restaurant capacity due to staffing issues. The primary concern comes from restaurant compensation competing with unemployment benefits. Many workers across the country are distressed about the industry’s lack of a safety net, contributing to the problem. Andrew Chamberlain, Chief Economist at Glassdoor, made an analysis last year that saw a rise in data entry, warehouse, and “remote” positions. At the same time, restaurant positions remained vacant. To add to the issue, younger workers who traditionally fill these positions are opting not to work due to school commitments and the worry of getting infected. Corporate conglomerates stifle independent restaurants because of competitive benefits and stability. Additionally, parents are concerned about the risks of exposure and the effect on their children’s health. Restaurant managers have tried to incentivize workers with bonuses and hope the promise of a higher minimum wage will level the playing field.

GRANTS

 

Brighter pastures have emerged for restaurants as the government confirmed on Monday, May 3rd, that they will be adding another $28.6 billion towards Small Business Association (SBA) grants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The maximum grant is $10 million, aiming to fix displaced revenue for restaurants with up to 20 locations. The SBA is dedicating the first three weeks of the program to fund women majority-owned/veteran-owned businesses and “socially and economically disadvantaged” applicants. (Source). Tamara Patterson, Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe owner, renovated her restaurant to 7,000 square feet with a 38 employee staff before the pandemic. She hopes the grant will provide her 11 remaining employees some needed time off and enough money to pay off lingering debt accumulated during restaurant shutdowns. Executive Vice President at the National Restaurant Association, Sean Kennedy, claims the grants are “an incredible first step that is going to help tens of thousands of restaurants.” Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has lost more than $270 billion; Kennedy is confident in receiving approval for more money if necessary. (Source).

 

Take-Out

restaurant covid
Takeout trends will continue

 

While most high-end restaurants focus on reestablishing their robust customer service experience, the most vital business model that remains is takeout, and delivery, specifically, takeout drinks, has become a revolutionary change for the service industry. For example, the Fish Market Restaurant Group in California took a hit within their 5 locations but saw an opportunity in the temporary liquor law change passed by the state. Instead of serving liquor out of mason jars, the company reached out to Oktober Can Seamers to create specially designed cans to be distributed within the restaurant. As a result, Oktober Can Seamers have sold to multiple restaurants to create pre-mixed cocktails into convenient, portable cans, helping restaurants stay afloat and produce an extra revenue stream. Most companies say that takeout strategies will continue throughout 2021 as the restaurant industry steadily climbs out of its financial recession.

 

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California is Set to Reopen on June 15 — Is Your Restaurant Prepared?

Apr 19, 2021

On June 15th, California is set to lift COVID-19 restrictions applied to restaurants and businesses, although a mask mandate will still be in place.

In a statement issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the belief is that “with more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to reopen California’s economy fully. We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic.”

 

While California officials may believe that vaccination rates will be high enough to resume significant parts of life by mid-June, what could this mean for your restaurant?

 

California keeps track of COVID through a tracking system that indicates that over 3.5 million cases and 58,000 deaths have been recorded. It also notes that over 20 million vaccinations have been administered, possibly signaling a move towards a less restricted future.

 

California knows about restrictions, maintaining the strictest among the states. Using a color-coded tier system, California was able to limit capacity to many public businesses. Now, many of these businesses are slated to reopen.

 

Is Your Restaurant Prepared?

Starting June 15, restaurants can enjoy the same freedom as pre-pandemic days. However, the mask mandate requires guests and staff to continue wearing masks.

 

waiter mask
Mask wearing will continue to be required for restaurant workers and guests

 

What this means for your restaurant is no limited service capacity for indoor spaces, shortened hours or cut-offs for bars that don’t have a restaurant, and a move towards a safer, healthier future.

 

This isn’t a signal that all is clear; citizens and businesses alike must continue to keep their guard up for a while longer.

 

Still, this is a clear sign that we are moving closer to pre-pandemic levels of freedom and security. According to Gov. Newsom, we can look forward to more than 30 million newly vaccinated people with at least one dose by the end of the calendar month. “It’s incumbent on all of us not to announce mission accomplished, not to let down our guard,” noted Newsom.

 

Failing to follow some safety guidelines may shut down the reopening.

 

June 15 Marks an Important Milestone

 

While it’s difficult to predict what the future holds, it seems clear that many have great hopes for it. An almost complete reopening of California’s regulations can provide a barometer of how things might go for other states.

 

California’s reopening will comply with OSHA requirements and public health mandates, including masking, testing, and continued vaccinations. Large outdoor events may be allowed to be held with regular testing and vaccination verification.

 

Our Restaurant Training Program Can Help

 

Remaining in compliance with OSHA and public safety regulations is deeply important to the safety and future of your business and clientele.

 

It’s no better time that NOW to incorporate a restaurant training program like Synergy Sync that can help train staff on essential practices to help run your foodservice operation efficiently

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Delivering Exceptional Service in the Drive-Thru

Mar 15, 2021

By Mike Walls

Your key areas of focus should be:

  • Order accuracy
  • Speed of service
  • Friendliness during the brief connection
  • Preparedness
  • A high-quality, consistent product

Order Accuracy

Accuracy is critical in takeout, drive-thru, and delivery orders. Ideally, the order should be taken directly into the POS system and entered immediately. Be sure to provide the total right away to prompt the guest to have payment ready at the window. Always double-check orders for accuracy while packaging the order using the receipt and then triple-check by listing the items in the bag as the order is delivered to the guest.

Speed

Make sure to follow a routine that provides guests with a consistent experience while ordering at the window and preparing the orders. Interactions should be short during peak hours to increase throughput, so be sure to build your systems, routines, and habits for optimum speed and accuracy. Your physical space must also be designed to flow towards the pick-up window with no wasted movements or fetching. You want the cooks or barista’s hands to be in action, not their feet, whenever possible so they can focus on preparing an item or component, sending it in the right direction, and beginning the next one right away. Can you change your line’s layout to prevent unnecessary movement by placing everything for each order within arm’s reach?

Friendliness

How can you express hospitality during a 30-second interaction? The best way is to smile and sincerely thank everyone while inviting guests to come back again soon. A smile should be part of the uniform.

Preparedness

Take care of non-customer-related tasks in off-hours only. You don’t want to be rushing to take out the trash, manage breaks, or stock supplies during a rush. Know your rush times and be ready for them by using a checklist with time constraints that indicate a set of tasks that must be finished before a particular time. Be proactive and set yourself and your team up for success.

 

drivethru-order
Ensure you’re delivering a high-quality experience

A High-Quality, Consistent Experience

Everything must come together to provide a high-quality experience. Keep hot food hot under a heat lamp and cold items cold away from the heat. Bag hot and cold items separately. Ensure packaging does not ruin the product by allowing it to cool too quickly or to steam and become soggy. What items can you pre-package or bundle that won’t affect quality? Can tasks be shared differently to increase efficiency? Is the menu board, exterior entry zone, order zone, wait zone, pay/pick-up zone, exit zone, and parking lot as clean and welcoming as the restaurant’s interior?

Analyze and continuously improve in these areas, and you’ll turn guests into raving fans and regulars!

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Are Off-Premise Dining Options Here to Stay?

Mar 15, 2021

In an article in QSR magazine, Takeout and Delivery Is Now Essential to Customers; we see the shift to off-premise dining was initially geared toward survival in the early days of the pandemic. However, since then, “roughly half of full-service operators said they devoted more resources to expanding off-premises business since the onset of COVID.”  As a result, in many cases, off-premise dining represents a “larger proportion of sales than it did pre-pandemic.”  The National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Report examined some of the most significant off-premises shifts and shared how these “operational trends will influence consumers’ restaurant decisions in the coming months.”  Nearly 68% of all adult consumers say they’re more likely to purchase takeout food from a restaurant than they were pre-COVID.

 

Curbside

“Curbside was broadly the single-most adopted off-premises jump…” and was the least capital-intensive option for many operators. As a result, 8 out of 10 fine dining, family dining, and fast-casual operators have added this option. It offers a key benefit to diners and restaurants; unlike third-party delivery, it provides convenience at no extra cost per order. Take a look at the restaurants of the future designs coming from some of the industry’s top chains, Fast-Food Restaurants of the Future.  In addition to curbside parking spots, they offer integrated smart technology that alerts employees of a customer’s impending arrival.

 

curbside pickup
Curbside pickup sign

 

Delivery

Nearly half of full-service and slightly fewer fast-casual operators introduced delivery in 2020. Operators were more likely to add third-party delivery rather than set up their own in-house option; however, some did both.  Third-party was the easiest and “quickest path to expand reach to an already dedicated customer base.”  It has been reported that nearly two-thirds of delivery customers prefer to order directly from a restaurant, so there is an opportunity for brands to capitalize on this and reduce some of the commissions tied to third-party delivery.

 

Drive-Thru

Drive-thru restaurants have always been viewed as the ultimate in convenience and speed.  However, during the pandemic, they were a lifeline for restaurants that had them. During mandated dine-in closures in April, May, and June 2020, drive-thru visits increased by 26% and represented 42% of all restaurant visits.  As more restaurants reopened in July, drive-thru visits still increased by 13%.  But what about those without a drive-thru option? Obviously, “adding a drive-thru takes space, capital, and likely landlord sign-off.” However, real estate developers are opening up to the idea as they begin to understand consumer demand. “Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed, and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” reports David Portalatin, a food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.

 

An article in Restaurant Business Online highlighted how fast-food chains are embracing AI and other technologies and are working to make their drive-thrus smarter.

 

Check out our current client, Hi Auto, and their Drive-Thru of the Future, using conversational AI built to function in a noisy environment. Hi Auto works with drive-thru brands using voice automation to streamline their ordering, improve customer satisfaction, increase revenue and lower their labor costs. Additionally, Hi Auto record calls for 60-90 days while their AI learns the menu. In these 60-90 days, the operators receive essentially a “complimentary data-driven drive-thru operations assessment” that will tell them how often (or how not often) the team is upselling, wait times, lag times, customer service experience, wrong orders, etc. Operators can use this information to better train and develop their team, operations, and overall customer satisfaction.

As the demand for these off-premises options has exploded, there is also a heightened need for new and different types of containers to transport menu items. Ensuring that your food can travel well should be a top priority for restaurants investing in off-premise dining options. This means that operators must rethink packaging and find innovative ways to ensure that food arrives at the right temperature.  For example, operators are looking to preserve the integrity of hot foods and finding vented containers that keep crispy food crispy in transit.  Additionally, with the surge in takeout and delivery, restaurant “operators have to make sure customers feel secure that their food is safe.” California passed legislation mandating that operators that use third-party delivery have to “secure containers to indicate they haven’t been opened or violated.” Novolex developed a new bag for delivery that includes “tamper-evident seals to communicate sanitation and safety.”

 

Early in the pandemic, some states temporarily loosened rules that prohibited restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks for off-site consumption. A new bill introduced in California would permanently allow restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages for takeout, as long as the drink is sold with a meal order. The ability to offer alcoholic beverages with off-premise orders can provide a much-needed lifeline for many restaurants to increase their off-premises revenue stream.

 

According to Upserve, it’s not just younger people flocking to off-premise dining options; consumers of all ages are coming to expect these services.  The National Restaurant Association reports that “more than 60% of the restaurant foods are consumed off-premise.  By 2025, off-premise is likely to account for approximately 80% of the industry’s growth”   So, off-premise operations are here to stay and will likely be a significant part of the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery and future.

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Preparing for the Return

Mar 14, 2021

By now, your wait staff and workers are well versed in COVID-19 safety protocols: masks, gloves, distancing, sanitizing, occupancy awareness—the whole nine yards. These measures are key to following local and state mandates, no doubt. As more strides are being made in the fight against this unforeseen pandemic, there now seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccine rollouts are here, and people are getting them. With over a year of people feeling stuck and trapped in their homes with not much to do, a phenomenon of “pent-up demand” may be on the horizon.

 

We’ve all been relegated to watching movies at home, eating take-out at home, and experiencing the outside world on their computers at home. People are eager to finally get out and get back to normal. Restaurants should be prepared. No, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to follow health and safety guidelines —in fact, guests now would come to expect it.

 

Guests Returning for the First Time

 

We’ll need to acknowledge those guests who are willing to venture outside their home for the first time in a while, and some will need reassurances. For those who are noticeably anxious about dining out again, you can start by asking, “Are you comfortable with that seating arrangement?” or “Please let me know how we can increase your comfort level.” 

 

returning to restaurants

 

Starting the conversation will help increase comfort levels and build trust. When you can address the issue when you have the opportunity, you’ll own the situation. Encourage teams to inquire and thank returning guests who may have held off on dining out this past year. This show of empathy will help break down the barriers we’ve placed between us this past year.    

 

Now, when things do go back to a relative “normal,” your restaurant staff will need to brush back up on the basics. Training is key, and below are a few important points you’ll need to cover:

 

  • In-person customer service: when food isn’t out on time or a guest has another issue, it’s always good to understand how to handle these scenarios.
  • How to handle busy hours like lunch and dinner: brush up on managing orders and lines when there is an influx of guests.
  • Managing inventory: it’s always important to make sure inventory is sufficient, especially when you expect guest counts to get back to where they were.
  • Employee scheduling: there may be more staff on hand, so it’s important to iron out their schedules.
  • How to market promotions: to encourage more patrons, you’ll likely have a promotion as things get back to normal. Training your staff properly to let guests know about certain promotions is vital.

pent up demand

 

Synergy Restaurant Consultants has a cloud-based training program that can be utilized across multiple locations to train staff on best practices. Synergy has honed their 33 years of restaurant consulting experience in one simple-to-use eLearning platform, also available in Spanish.

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The State of COVID-19 and Restaurants

Mar 04, 2021

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, from small family businesses to five-star fine dining establishments. Even celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay acknowledged that his restaurant empire is already 60 million Euros behind where they’d be in normal circumstances.

 

In response to COVID-19, most, if not all, people have changed their typical dining rituals. Local 4 Detroit News surveyed its viewers about their dining habits and attitudes before and during the pandemic. The survey found that pre-pandemic, 1,767 viewers ate out 1-3 times a week, and only 29 said they never dined out. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers look quite different: only 583 viewers eat out 1-3 times a week, and 1,201 said they never dine out at all. In fact, 56 percent of viewers said they would not dine out currently.

 

That said, the situation is rapidly evolving, from state safety mandates to the availability of vaccines. These changes have the potential to affect customers’ perceptions of dining out. Here is the current breakdown of what is allowed in each state and some considerations for restaurants to keep in mind.

 

Current Restaurant Regulations, State by State

One useful tool is this frequently updated interactive map provided by the New York Times. The map shows the states where there are mask mandates, curfews, and bans on individual establishments in real-time.

 

Masks

Businesses must uphold mask mandates whenever customers aren’t actively eating or drinking to avoid health code violations. There are currently mask mandates in most Northeastern, Midwestern, West Coast, and Southwestern states.

covid-19 on restaurants

Curfews

State curfews can affect restaurants’ operating hours. Although it could impact business, restaurants are required to adhere to these curfews. Currently, there are curfews in Virginia and North Carolina.

 

Types of Establishments

Restaurants are allowed to be operational in most states. However, bars cannot be open currently in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New Mexico. In Arizona, no bars or nightclubs are allowed to be open. Furthermore, there is currently no indoor dining permitted in Oregon. These regulations change often, and the most up-to-date information can be found here.

 

Social Distancing

CDC regulations dictate that tables should be spaced 6 feet apart to reduce spread from respiratory droplets. Additionally, in any establishment where patrons must wait in line, it would be wise to mark the floor with stickers or other icons to help customers visualize 6-foot spacing.

social distancing

Future Possibilities for Restaurants

While it is tough to follow the changing rules, there is hope for restaurant owners and operators in the future, including government help, an increasing prevalence of available vaccines, and continued training to keep all staff members aware of updates to safety protocols.

 

Seek Help From the Government

Released in January 2021, Biden’s latest COVID-19 response plan, the White House, outlined a plan to prioritize funds to help small businesses. These funds will go to PPE supplies and construction to adjust their physical spaces to account for social distancing, including adding outdoor seating. The Small Business Administration will also be working with the Department of Labor to disseminate the most up-to-date information on worker safety. Having a training plan in place for employees can help keep staff knowledgeable of the most up-to-date safety practices.

 

Vaccines

As vaccines become more widely available, some patrons who previously felt uncomfortable dining out could shift their attitudes. Another possibility is that restaurants could potentially increase their safety measures and reputation as a safe space by requiring proof of vaccine for entry. In this case, it will be essential to train staff to look at vaccine cards for their validity (similar to training staff to examine IDs for proof of age).

 

Training

As the COVID-19 and state-by-state guidelines are changing daily, restaurants must keep training their staff regularly. Restaurant training is crucial for keeping waitstaff, cooks, and management up to speed while implementing the latest safety measures and recommendations.

 

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Drive-Thru, Drive-In, and Walk-Up

Feb 15, 2021

By: Chef Natasha Reta

Drive-ins and drive-thrus hardly seem like an innovation of our current time. Drive-in movies, drive-thru dairies, and drive-thru pharmacies have all been around for decades now. And as some counties considered limiting drive-thrus due to carbon emission levels, we were hit with a worldwide pandemic that required the public to utilize the “safety bubble” of their vehicle to receive testing, vaccines, medications, and necessary groceries.

As restaurants slowly reopen, the industry will need to shift the guest’s dining experience to protect their community’s safety and health. The need for distanced and contactless service demands increased as the public resumes “normalcy” while returning to work and under strict health guidelines. Many restaurants have utilized this time to improve their takeout and delivery and incorporate curbside or drive-thru services.

 

drive thru

 

Houston-based salad fast-casual location Salata says drive-thru has become a priority in expanding into the future. It will utilize a new mobile ordering app in hopes of facilitating an order-ahead drive-thru window.

Pokeworks is also developing a prototype drive-thru concept to fulfill third-party delivery and mobile app-based orders. The Pokeworks drive-thru lane, also known as their “Cruise Thru” lane, will not allow on-site ordering. This option will speed the pickup process for delivery drivers and customers who use the Pokeworks Rewards App. It also minimizes order mistakes and multiple contact points.

Multiple other chains have announced reinvention of their drive-thru and takeout services such as Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Burger Fi, El Pollo Loco, and La Madeleine. Checkers & Rally’s also recently announced it was testing stores with dedicated drive-thru lanes. While many chains and franchises have drive-thru prototypes in the works, several independent restaurants are challenged by their drive-thru counterparts.  Several operators have embraced the need for enhanced takeout by incorporating takeout windows for walk-up customers. Many even utilize this window to allow for a ghost kitchen pickup during off-hours of the restaurant.

This has indeed been a challenging year for us all. Still, in time of unprecedented challenges, we will utilize creative thinking and innovation to rebuild business in the restaurant industry’s ever-changing future.

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Reflecting on 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021

Dec 17, 2020

As we say goodbye (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!) to 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we know that the restaurant and hospitality industry will continue to face challenges, at least for the first few months of 2021. Looking towards Quarter 2 as vaccines are rolled out across the country and warmer temperatures allow for pleasant outdoor dining, we are hopeful that restaurants will see a surge in on-premise dining as consumers take advantage of the ability to dine out. Additionally, after the first quarter, there may be more optimism on the catering side of off-premise sales as at least some office workers return to their communal places of work. Catering menus may necessitate individually boxed or plated items instead of the traditional shared or large platter catering menu options as there is uneasiness concerning health and safety. If you haven’t adjusted your catering menus to include individual plates, boxes, or meals, now would be a great time to do so and update them across all ordering platforms.

 

catering

 

We’ve learned a lot in the industry over the last year, including turning/reacting and adapting throughout ever-changing circumstances. Although some changes may be temporary, there is no doubt that many industry trends will be here for the long run.

 

  • A focus on food safety, cleanliness, and sanitation will be important to guests and potential guests into the new year and beyond. It will continue to be critical that you are not only practicing elevated sanitation procedures but that you are showing your guests precisely what your team is doing to ensure their safety. A great way to do this is to include photos and videos on your social media channels highlighting cleanliness and sanitation and the measures you’ve taken to make it easy for guests to ensure their safety, for example, sanitizing or dining room handwashing stations.

 

  • Contactless ordering and pickup will continue to grow and become a competitive advantage. Now’s the time to make sure your online ordering platform is user-friendly and is programmed correctly to ensure an excellent guest experience.
    • Does it prompt for upsells: sides, drinks, desserts?
    • Does it ask if the guest needs utensils?
    • Are menu items described correctly and easy to modify (photos are a bonus)?

 

  • Takeout and off-premise dining will continue to be popular with guests seeking menu items that travel well and are appropriately packaged along with value or perceived value, all being points of differentiation.
    • Take a hard look at your menu items and if they need to be modified for takeout
    • Make sure your packaging holds items well and that each container is the appropriate size for the item it’s intended for
    • Give your guests as close to the same experience for takeout as they experience with in-house dining. Appropriate sauces, condiments, and “freebies” (such as complimentary bread) should all be included with takeout orders
takeout packaging
Takeout packaging

 

One of the many challenges during this time has been to continue to provide great service with the many restrictions we have to follow while also supporting our teams and the challenges they face and, of course, fighting the labor dollar battle that never gets easier. We all know high turnover is not only costly from a training standpoint, but it also affects your guest experience and the potential they will return. Supporting your team, especially during these challenging times, will most certainly improve retention and reduce the headache of hiring and training new team members. As we look to 2021, the prediction is that forward-thinking organizations will look for ways to broaden team member empowerment, recognition, and contribution to improving not only guest experience but team member experience (along with business reputation and bottom-line profits). One thing we may take away from this experience is that the guest is not ALWAYS right…sometimes, we need to step up and support our team because it’s the right thing to do! As operators, ensure you’re checking in with your team regularly to understand how you can best support their work, goals, and even their life outside of work.

 

As we look to spring and summer, and our communities emerge from hibernation, operators should consider ways to bring entertainment value to their guest experience. We will all be thrilled once we can go out, enjoy a great meal and service and feel a sense of ease while dining, but there will be even more enthusiasm for communal experiences and entertainment once we can safely enjoy these types of events paired with great food and drinks. Consider planning for live music, live sporting events, trivia, or other games and holidays to deliver the entertainment your guests will likely be craving.

 

Lastly, if you will be re-opening (or opening a new) a location in 2021, consider how you can take this opportunity to retrain your team, implement systems to improve guest experience, improve and modernize your menu offerings. Build anticipation through marketing as you lead up to your re-opening. Sometimes, when you take a step back and regroup, it allows you to assess what needs to be done to put your business on the path towards success.

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Restaurant Covid Training

Jun 25, 2020

Handling difficult customers is an ever-present challenge in restaurants. But, like everything else in our post-COVID world, this too has become more complex. In recent weeks, restaurants have scrambled to reopen by reconfiguring their dining rooms for social distancing and equipping team members with masks, digital thermometers, and disposable menus. Dine-in restaurants are attempting to serve customers with a pent-up need to get out of the house and restart some semblance of normal. Some of these patrons comply with social distancing and mask use, but others are defiantly ignoring these guidelines. This leaves restaurants — specifically, front-of-house employees — tasked with managing customer compliance on top of trying to provide great customer service.

To balance these varied levels of customer cooperation with protecting the health and safety of everyone in the restaurant, team member training is critical. As reopening guidelines and guest attitudes change and evolve, restaurants must continuously monitor what’s happening both inside and outside their four walls so they can train team members to handle guest challenges and update training based on the shifting service environment.

Below is a step-by-step plan for quickly creating and adapting your team member training program in response to COVID-19 guidelines and customer demands:

1. Train team members on scenarios as well as tools. Most team member training programs focus on tools and procedures, like how to use a digital thermometer to take a customer’s temperature, or how to sanitize guest tables. These protocols are obviously important, but what about when a guest refuses to wear a mask? Create a list of possible guest challenges and conduct role-playing sessions so team members are equipped to handle touchy situations, especially those that put other guests and team members at risk, and when to involve a manager. It’s also crucial to remind team members why following their training is essential — not just to them but to guests and the larger community.

2. Review federal, state, and local guidelines every week. Assign one of your managers or your Safety Officer with staying on top of restaurant operating guidelines. By having one person in charge of monitoring these mandates, it places the responsibility on one person and eliminates the need for all managers to keep up with this information.

3. Conduct regular safety and compliance walk-throughs. During each shift, the manager on duty must walk the dining room to make sure team members and guests are complying with all service and safety guidelines. This helps take some of the enforcement pressure off of team members and demonstrates your restaurant’s commitment to the health and safety of all.

covid cleaning
Frequent sanitizing should be outlined in your SOPs

 

4. Use pre-shift meetings as a key communications tool. Take a few minutes before each shift to gather all team members and discuss how the restaurant is adhering to COVID guidelines. Make it a point to cover a different topic each time, like hand washing, sanitizing, and mask use, to keep team members engaged. If someone on the team has done an exceptional job, recognize and praise them in front of their colleagues. Pre-shift meetings are a great opportunity to answer questions and alert team members to any new training requirements.

5. Conduct weekly management meetings. Gather all managers once a week to review any new guidelines or requirements identified by your designated manager or Safety Officer that might require new training. In addition, each manager presents what they’ve observed during their shifts — success stories, new challenges, and recommended changes to existing procedures.

6. Provide team members access to the latest information, tools, and training. Team members are more likely to carry out what they’ve been trained to do when you make compliance as easy as possible. Make Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), FAQs, and training information readily available through employee bulletin boards or go digital with restaurant operations software.

7. Deliver ongoing team member support. As part of their shift walks, managers should identify team members who may need additional compliance and guideline training. The goal is not to punish but to provide additional support to help those team members be successful. Support can take the form of on-the-spot coaching, an offline conversation, or retraining on specific procedures or scenarios. Providing this level of oversight and development makes it clear to team members that compliance is an ongoing priority.

8. Lather, rinse, repeat. This process of presenting a training plan, administering the training, and supporting the training with oversight and coaching, is critical to making your COVID compliance efforts successful. In fact, this process can be used for any restaurant training program, including the introduction of new menu items, upselling, and food safety.

 

As restaurants continue to feel their way through a complex and confusing path to normalcy, training all team members should be a constant goal. Team member training is not a “set it and forget it” effort. With the rapid pace of change in today’s hospitality environment, safeguarding the health and safety of your team members and guests is your most important endeavor.