5 Strategic Tips to Keep Your Restaurant Moving Forward During the Pandemic

I have had a lot of industry people, clients and friends asking for advice on the macro effects of Covid-19 on restaurant industry; how long will it persist? How is the industry going to handle this post pandemic? Where is the end of the tunnel? Right now, at the writing of this article, I don’t have an answer for the long-term recovery of the restaurant industry. The Canadian government have been swift in the creation and implementation of many financial relief packages for owners and staff alike, legislation changes have welcomed additional revenue streams to restaurant operations across the country.

Whether it is enough to fully help the hospitality industry recover is said to be seen, but with the changes to the current market; I have five strategic tips on helping your restaurant in the micro and that will hopefully help your business in the short term to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t have all the answers right now, but these are my five focuses that every restaurateur should be doing if you want your business to exist in this crazy time.

Cultivate a Good Relationship with your Landlord

A lot of people have been talking on social media that they don’t know how to handle with

their lease agreement. the first and foremost thing you must do right now is talk to your landlord. Having an open dialogue with them, being honest with your situation and plan going forward, including how you are going to operate, projected income and how rent falls into your expenses. At the end of the day, it has to be a symbiotic relationship; you don’t want to be kicked out, and your landlord should want to keep you there, empty spaces will be a new norm at the end of this and landlords will hopefully see a portion of rent paid being better than no rent from an empty space.

I also have noticed that many people are comforted due to the possibility of payments being deferred. Deferred payments are just that, deferred, you won’t be exempt from paying them a few months later, this includes all your fixed expenses including phone, power and water. Deferment of any expenses now should be a short-term debt.

I also advise you to have frank discussion with any of your accounts payable and try to negotiate with them your outstanding arrears. Be honest, transparent and show them that you have a well thought out strategy to tackle the next three to six months.

Devise A Takeout Plan

If you have a restaurant, and you had to close the doors, find a way to deliver or pick up food. Anything is possible, impossible just takes a little longer. I have heard some restaurant owners saying that they didn’t implement the food delivery or take out model because it didn’t reflect their brand or style of service. The way we did things in the restaurant industry does not exist anymore, we need to adjust and pivot to this extreme change. Getting your food into customer’s hands is much more important than presentation, your customers know this, and adaption of your menu is paramount. Pick five or six things on your menu that are easy to go. If you don’t have those, then transform them in pick up items, you can continue to cook within your style and brand and still over amazing take out food and drinks.

That means you must create a well-thought-out take-out plan that adapts to your current food offerings, helps to increase a revenue stream and keeps a minimal amount of staff employed. Take out is not the savior here, but a little money to offset expenses is better than no money at all during this time. A takeout plan is not only about a revenue stream, it is also a brand and marketing tool to keep your restaurant relevant during this pandemic.

Be aware that, in a few weeks or months, when everything goes back to normal and the restaurants open again, people will remember the places that continued to operate during this period, and those places will be the ones that overcome this break.

Improve Your Marketing Strategy

If you do have a takeout plan, you have a marketable content right there. Start by having your chef cooking all the dishes on the menu, make a video on it and publish it on your social media channels. People love to know the story behind what you may see as every day, it is heightened even more so now during isolation. Start doing one video a day, take photos of your food and drink offerings, talk about the struggles and successes during the pandemic; honesty, documenting and vulnerability is key to building a new brand outside of the normal circumstances.

Be aware that the way your restaurant existed three weeks ago, as operators, as an industry, is not applicable anymore. The way we did things needs to be fix, so look forward. If you stand still and don’t innovate, you won’t be seen during this period and that means that when this is over, you won’t exist.

Start doing Facebook and Instagram marketing which I have seen become widely utilized by restaurants that shunned it a month ago. Make Instagram posts and stories, Facebook updates, add a focused demographic and geographically region and boost them to your target market. For $5 a day, you can hit 1000 people inside your delivery services delivery area; these are simple things that you can do right now, that will stand out from other restaurants in the long run.

Turn Your Inventory into Cashflow

At this level, you already negotiated and reduced your bills, devised a takeout plan and improved your marketing strategy. Therefore, you must turn all your inventory into cashflow, especially bar inventory like wine, beer and liquor. With the new legislation, this is a must do addition to you take out, figuring out new and creative ways to move your inventory such as Wine Nights, full bottle cocktail kits, six packs of beer are all ways I have seen in the last few weeks.

How much do you charge for your wine? If you got $10 from selling a bottle of wine, that’s great, that’s better than have that bottle of wine sitting there on your shelf and most likely on your credit card or in your accounts payable. You need to turn everything you have in your inventory: food, drinks, everything into cash. You don’t need to reorder everything over again; be creative with your features in the kitchen and the bar, changing the menu daily if you must.

Be Careful with Your Money

Be careful with your money, more so than you were before. With the government bringing down more relief for the hospitality industry, you need to meet with your accountant or financial specialist and spread any revenue or government grants or loans over a planned six to twelve months. Keep your costs as low as possible through step one, maximizing your cash flow through moving stagnant inventory as suggested above, spread it as thin as you can for the foreseeable future. Avoid going heavier into debt at this stage and make rational, well thought out decisions with a professional financial planner.

There are a lot of tips out there to help operators survive during this time of recession, but these five tips are the most essential for your business in the micro short term while we wait and see what the next three months brings. I believe that if you put into practice these 5 tips, it will help you in the short term gain a more unique, innovative and forward thinking mentality to the hospitality industry that exists now, not the one that we lost.

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Victoria, BC based hospitality consultant, author and speaker. Follow @shawnsoole on Instagram & check out my blog www.soolehospitality.com/blog for my podcast

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Shawn Soole

Shawn Soole

Victoria, BC based hospitality consultant, author and speaker. Follow @shawnsoole on Instagram & check out my blog www.soolehospitality.com/blog for my podcast

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