3 Ways to Make Your Restaurant Profitable During COVID-19

Chris Rumpf

Founder and CEO, 15+ Years of Restaurant Technology Innovation

3 Ways To Make Your Restaurant Profitable During COVID-19

The biggest question facing most restaurant managers and owners in the last 4+ months is, “How can we be profitable?” COVID-19 has been a rollercoaster for hospitality. Yet despite nationwide shutdowns, some restaurants are not just surviving, they’re smashing previous sales records. Every restaurant faces its own unique set of challenges, but there are some common threads among those that are seeing success right now.

Keep Your Business Model Fluid

The restaurants that have stayed profitable have had to adapt repeatedly at the drop of a hat. Those that have dug their heels in the ground, however, are struggling to stay afloat.

The easiest way for a restaurant (and in many states, bars and breweries) to keep money coming in right now is to incorporate carryout and delivery into their business model. 60% of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once a week. Not providing carryout and/or delivery reduces your ability to serve your market. You’re basically handing that money directly over to your competitors. Third-party services have taken some of the guesswork out of how to add this to your offerings, but 70% of consumers would rather order directly from a restaurant. Setting yourself up for online ordering isn’t as hard as you may think. In fact, Flyght can have online ordering set up and operational in less than 48 hours.

Depending on your market, carryout and delivery alone may not be enough to keep you in the black. However, capacity restrictions and a general lack of faith in inside dining mean that you need to think outside of the restaurant. Literally. Where can you place a table and chairs outside of your establishment? On a lawn? In a parking lot? On the sidewalk? In the street? We’re not kidding with that last one. Whatever it takes, find space. Create space.

In general, diversifying your income is a good move. Right now, it could save your restaurant. Providing multiple ways to support your business enables people to support you in a way that fits their needs. Many restaurants are adding markets or even going full grocery. Another option is selling merchandise. If you don’t already have merchandise, you can partner with a local retailer, like Jupmode in Toledo, or utilize one of the many sites that enables you to design branded merchandise and leave the order processing and fulfillment up to the site. Once you have merchandise, add it to your social media sites, as well as your website. If it makes sense with your business model, now may be the time to create an online shop.

Cut Costs

This seems like a no-brainer, but there may be places you can save money that you haven’t thought of yet. It’s important to note that we’re saying cut costs, not cut corners. Delivering an inferior product will only hurt your business.

If you’re still offering your full menu, it’s time to reevaluate. When was the last time you costed out your menu? Are there recipes that call for ingredients that aren’t used for anything else and continuously go bad before they’re fully used? Scaling down to a limited menu can reduce waste and cut costs.

While you’re reevaluating your menu, consider developing family-style meals and meal kits. Most of us out here are not trained chefs. The meals that we prepare at home are rudimentary, at best. Meal kits enable your customers to bring your full dining experience into their own homes. You can package these meals based on surplus inventory, low-cost items, or any variety of ways.

Something else you may not have taken stock of in awhile is your technology. In this new contactless world, customer experience is rooted in technology. It needs to be as contactless as possible, but it also needs to be efficient. If someone tries to call in a carryout order and gets a busy signal, chances are, they aren’t ordering from you.

The great thing about technology is that as we’re able to do more with it, we usually figure out how to do it for less money. Outdated technology may not only cost you customers, it could also be costing you more out of pocket. One last thing to remember as you scale up all of your technology — protect it. Cybersecurity tends to take a backseat during rapid change, this exacerbates old weaknesses and creates new ones.

Differentiate Your Brand With Marketing

I know we’ve been harping on the importance of process, signage, and marketing since Coronavirus started, but I’m going to say it again: you need solid process, signage, and marketing.

Social media is a direct line to your customers. Use it! But use it wisely. The restaurants that do a great job of adapting their processes and conveying these changes to their customers will survive this. The restaurants that don’t will make things harder on the entire industry.

The pandemic has created an opportunity for you to differentiate your restaurant beyond cuisine and decor. True, people want to see that you’re taking cleaning seriously and your staff is wearing PPE, but the information that you share (or not) on your social media feeds also indicates what the customer experience is like in your restaurant.

  • Do you have a clear plan to make sure your establishment is safe?
  • What are your dining options? Carryout, delivery, outside seating, inside seating?
  • Have your hours changed?
  • Has your menu changed?
  • Has the ordering process changed?
  • Is your restaurant crowded?

These are all things that people are wondering when they visit your website and social media pages. Are you answering those questions?

While we’re at it — we’re 4.5 months into this, please stop taping signs that you printed in the office to the doors and on every available surface. Social distancing isn’t going away any time soon, invest in some well-branded, and thought out signage to direct the flow of traffic in your restaurant. The first thing that people look for when they step into your restaurant is instruction on where to go next. Your signage should set the tone for the rest of the dining experience starting from that moment.

It may be a while before profits return to what they once were, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We hope you’ll view this as an opportunity to adapt your operations, reevaluate customer service, and communicate with your customers in a new way. It could mean the difference between surviving and thriving.