While the news headlines may be gloomy, don’t lose hope – there actually are foodservice operators who are managing to make lemonade from a whole lot of lemons right now. The ones forging a way through these stressful times are getting creative: Wingstop, which is experiencing an uptick in sales right now, is tapping into an oversupply of chicken and offering a free delivery promotion that is driving sales. Farmers Restaurant Group has shifted to a bodega concept that sells meal kits customers can schedule for pickup using OpenTable. Another operation that has nimbly shifted its approach is Front Burner Restaurants, which operates eight restaurant brands in six cities in the southern U.S. At the start of the pandemic, Front Burner had to furlough 4,000 employees, but it quickly shifted gears to create Furlough Kitchen, a non-profit concept that offers one free meal kit a day from its restaurants to hospitality workers who have been furloughed as a result of COVID-19. Through the support of community donations and anticipated federal stimulus funding, the company rehired employees working in its catering operation, as well as some of its hourly employees who take orders, post on social media and carry food out to customers for curbside pickup. Regular customers, suppliers, vendors and others in the community have been generous with donations and other support, and tips are collected into a pool that is distributed on the pay cards of furloughed employees. Furlough Kitchens currently has two locations and expects to open five additional locations from its existing restaurants soon. In a recent Restaurant Business podcast, Front Burner CEO Randy Dewitt said they are currently funded through the next 60 to 90 days. He thinks that finding a way to keep his restaurants open – even if they’re not profiting right now – should help with their eventual recovery. The community goodwill he is building in the meantime won’t hurt.
During times that feel difficult and unprecedented, it helps to look for silver linings. Right now for many people, one of those silver linings is feeling an increased sense of pride in our communities and a closer connection to them – even as we have to keep our physical distance. Neighborhoods are coming together to provide help for the vulnerable, and that includes people isolated at home and businesses working hard to survive. While the restaurant industry has long been adopting a local approach to suppliers, times like this prove the value of simply being a good neighbor as well. A recent NBC news story from San Diego reported that a couple launched a GoFundMe account to help two groups important to them: healthcare workers on the frontlines of coronavirus treatment and local restaurants that are part of the fabric of the city. The account collects donations from the public and the funds can be used by healthcare workers at San Diego hospitals to buy takeout or delivery food from the city’s restaurants. The account, which launched on March 16th, was just $1000 shy of its $15,000 goal at the time of this writing. Consider tapping into the ingenuity of friends and supporters of your restaurant in your community. Many are looking for ways to be useful during these times and want to help you work through them. Make it easy for them to support you by purchasing gift cards on your website – or by sharing the website https://supportrestaurants.org/, a global initiative that allows people to buy gift certificates for their favorite restaurants below face value but redeem them at face value.