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Restaurants: Use the crisis as a business reset

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Written by Chris Patterson, independent contractor, and Kimberly LiVecchi, MBA Business Management, Proprietor of Navigator Consulting

Many things have changed for Washington businesses during these last few traumatic months amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some are good and some not so much. Inside each of these changes will come opportunities, as well as new challenges. Still, one thing is absolutely crystal clear, business as usual is not going to be what we think it is.

It is true, we all got blindsided by the quarantine. Game planning for that was a pure impossibility. However, we have the good fortune of planning for things to reopen.

How many opportunities do you get for a business reset?

I can think of no better time in the life of your business to act on that wish list you just couldn’t get to. If you weren’t fully profitable before, now is the ideal time to act.

Start thinking about training and resetting good operational practices now. Make sure every recipe has been costed out. Make sure every training program is thought out and ready to go. If you have not updated your pricing, how about now? There is no better time to take a critical look at your profit structure than in this moment.

What is the best way to be ready to come back? 

Let’s look at it in three parts:

  1. Staffing
  2. Menu
  3. Guests

A thorough evaluation here sets you up to be knowledgeable, prepared and ultimately more successful. Communication with your staff, your supply representatives and your customers puts you in a strong, proactive position.

Your staff

Communicate with your staff. Hopefully you have already been in contact with them. This simple action goes a long way for staff morale.

How has this new landscape changed for your staff? Will they be able to come back to work? Have their needs changed? How much notice will they need before returning to work? Some of your staff may be affected by school closures.

Make sure to meet with your staff early – before reopening. There will be new expectations and the need for refreshers. Theirfirst day back should not be with guests who also have new expectations and anxieties. Address these apprehensions with your staff beforehand, as well as their personal expectations and anxieties.

Menu

Communicate early and often with your supply representatives. The supply chain will be different. If you think you will return to the full power of your pre-quarantine menu immediately, you are going to be in trouble. You had to stop, so did your supplier. You can’t sell 70 percent less of what you were selling pre-quarantine and not see a ripple effect.

Some manufacturers have reduced or stopped manufacturing altogether. Some manufacturers may not have the people power to ramp up production. Shipping has been disrupted and distribution warehouses have drastically reduced inventory on hand. It may take weeks to get up to full inventory.

So, what do you do?

Start the conversations now. Skype with your sales rep. Explore which of your needed products are in good supply and readily available. Where is the shortage risk? What is your supplier’s plan for replenishing their inventory? What happens to them is going to have an impact on you.

Consider this, if you have adjusted to a takeout-based menu, be prepared stick with it for a bit longer and pepper in non-takeout menu items when your supplier can reliably fill orders.

If takeout has been a pivot for you, how will you integrate your takeout system with the return of dine-in? You may want to consider phasing it out slowly or keeping it permanently. Either way, this will mean a change in systems and staffing.

If you closed temporarily, follow the 80/20 rule. Be prepared to start with the 20 percent of your menu that includes the most popular or profitable items and add to your menu as supplies become more available. Planning and communicating ahead of time will help you to make a strong return.

Guests

Clearly, there is an amplified awareness level of germ transmissions in the guest’s mindset. Many of us knew someone who was taken ill or worse.

There will be different expectations of sanitation from angles we haven’t yet thought of.

How about making this your golden opportunity to review what you have been doing well in sanitation and what you could add on moving forward? You want to be the clear leader, demonstrating you are the right place for which the public can spend their money and entrust you with their safety and health.

Lastly, take some notes so you don’t forget:

  • What are the adjustments and adaptations you made during this crisis? What worked? What did you like, what did you not like?
  • What would you do again if there was a sudden disruption in sales, staffing and supply?

Our industry has found a new strength we may not have had before, and we have proven our ability to adapt.

Planning is the key, and now is the time.  

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” Zig Ziglar