Restaurant owners today need agile strategies to thrive

In the months ahead, restaurants and bars will need to find additional ways to adapt to the (hopefully) short-term reality of COVID. This is particularly critical as the weather cools and winter approaches – eliminating the option that many have for outdoor dining as a sit-down revenue source.

Current guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration alone are not enough—food and beverage establishments will need much more support to reimagine their full range of business options and how to safely deploy them. They also need flexibility to experiment an test new ways of marketing and revenue generation in a safe and convenient way for diners.

The Brookings Institute, a Washington DC-based research organization and “think tank” outlined a few other ideas for restaurants to continue adapting to the new normal. That new normal in Michigan for the time being is that restaurants can operate indoor sit-down service at 50 percent capacity.

1) Restaurants should begin with light, quick, and cheap trials of new dining ideas, ranging from unique takeout-only items to other specialized services, understanding that as the seasons change both the weather and the pandemic will continue to evolve.

2) Owners can look locally and regionally for inspiration on how to adapt the outdoors for human use, creating cooking space, shade, and seating. Perhaps they can contact local artists and designers to infuse solutions with both joyful energy and reinforcement of social distancing. For example, a colorful geometric paint design on a parking lot could show diners how far apart to stay, making it easier for children to comply.

3) Restauranters need to innovate and stabilize the pivot to takeout and delivery. Many restaurants report that third-party food delivery platforms charge high fees that erode what little profitability is left in the restaurant industry. Instead, local public-private partnerships and business networks can pool resources to build their own platforms for delivery. According to the Brookings Institute, The Seattle-based nonprofit Ventures launched an online store featuring products from local entrepreneurs. SeoulSpice, a restaurant chain in the Washington, D.C., region, is selling goods from three other local businesses through a new online bodega.

It will be difficult for restaurant demand to return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon. So they must find ways to make takeout and delivery viable in the short-, medium-, and long-terms. It makes sense to develop delivery-specific menus that are shorter and consist of items that travel well. Many restaurants are also finding ways to move up the supply chain as grocers. This innovation can be connected to social need through prepackaged meals or grocery delivery boxes to quarantined seniors and other consumers.

4) Technology and website investments are recommended – not only have consumers’ behaviors changed in the near-term, but the coronavirus impact will create long-term expectations as well with delivery, direct ordering online and take-out conveniences. Restaurants should consider investing in their online presence during this time, not just with their own website, but by being visible on such sites as Yelp! and Trip Advisor, or other sites that rate restaurants. Update your Google Business profile as well. Some of these efforts require little to no out-of-pocket dollars.

5) With winter approaching here in Michigan, there may be occasional outdoor options under a heated tent with social distancing still in place that could appear on certain weekends to diners. Many municipalities in metro Detroit have been flexible in allowing restaurants to engage in outdoor activities (prior there is space) from a licensing or zoning perspective.

Certainly restaurants aren’t the only businesses still struggling because of the impact of the pandemic and many of those businesses can take some of the recommendations above to heart as well.

Remember the team at Bashore Green also provides legal services for small businesses. If you have questions, we can help.

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