COVID-19 is not done with us yet, as recent virus spikes and tightening local restrictions around the country have demonstrated. While everyone wants to avoid a repeat of this past spring’s restrictions, if you were suddenly faced another four- to six-week lockdown this winter, could you power through? What would your top concern be? The restaurant industry management platform Restaurant365 asked this question recently in a large survey of operators that included independent restaurants, restaurant groups, fine-dining and quick-service establishments, and full-service franchisees and franchise brands. The top concern – for nearly 26 percent of respondents – was generating enough revenue to break even. So what can you do now to fortify your operation and make sure the items you are offering are generating the largest-possible profits for you? Are there profits lurking on your menu that you could promote a bit better? Now is the time to identify which items give back to your restaurant. Sure, you might be able to tell right away that your bar menu and desserts are money-makers. Can you reinvent those items for take-away? There are likely other items that may not seem profitable on the surface but save you money because they minimize preparation time and ingredients. The app Eat says high-profit menu items that are often overlooked include, among others, low-prep dishes, nose-to-tail items, foods that minimize waste, and foods perceived as value items.
No question, the restaurant landscape will look a lot different once we emerge from the pandemic. Technomic estimates that 20 to 25 percent of independent restaurants won’t reopen. It’s easy to dwell on the sad realities of losing these businesses, but what if this period is what is required to usher in an industry transformation that many restaurant operators and employees would argue is long-needed? In a recent Eater report, two dozen restaurant leaders were asked to predict what the industry might look like in five years. Many of them see reasons for optimism – but first, they say some broken systems need to be overhauled when it comes to employee compensation, food transparency, consumer education about the true cost of food, management of the supply chain, and changes to the ownership structure of restaurant businesses. In the meantime, what’s clear is that consumers’ demand for restaurant meals won’t diminish – and as the Washington Post reports, new service formats like ghost kitchens are actually experiencing significant growth right now to meet that demand. While the experience of dining on restaurant food may well change in the coming months in years, perhaps the range of new restaurant businesses that emerge from this period will serve as incubators for fresh ideas on making the industry work more sustainably for all.
The reopening of restaurant dining rooms across the United States has been a study of extremes, whether in terms of guests’ responses to restaurant reopenings, operators’ willingness to enforce new health and safety guidelines, or even the guidelines themselves. As we enter the summer months and jurisdictions look to accommodate outdoor dining in previously unseen ways, we’re likely to see an even broader range of approaches to kick-starting restaurant sales. While your state and local authorities detail the precautions your business must take to protect against the spread of COVID-19, there is also room for some imagination within the rules you must follow. Hearing from operators who have deftly maneuvered through their own reopenings may help you sidestep some challenges (or even just plain awkwardness, like how to go about confirming the accuracy of orders when everyone in your establishment must wear a face mask, or determining how guests can best store their masks while they eat). A new website launched by Team Four Foodservice, www.foodserviceceo.com, can serve as a guide to the many guidelines restaurants are following right now. The site includes information from health and safety authorities but also recommendations from industry consultants. It may offer you some ideas that make sense to implement in your business. In any case, leaning on your network of restaurant operators as you reopen can help you tackle existing challenges and anticipate potential ones.