How the Restaurant Industry Can Tackle the Cold Weather Season

In this Q&A, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine gets advice on from Guy Bloch, CEO at Bringg on how restaurants can prepare for the colder months ahead. 

As we approach winter and dropping temperatures, what are some of the biggest challenges the restaurant industry will face in the coming months?

The biggest challenge will be on-premise dining and the shift from outdoors to indoors as temperatures decrease in many regions. With rises in COVID-19 cases, and the fact that experts believe that contracting the virus is more likely in indoor spaces, many people may not feel comfortable moving indoors for dining. Additionally, we’re already seeing some states roll back certain re-opening measures in order to get more control over the recent uptick in cases – that could be damaging to the restaurant industry if some measures restrict indoor dining capacity or eliminate indoor dining completely.

The other issue is that, even if restaurants are lucky enough to have outdoor space, in certain parts of the country the strongest heat lamp in the world cannot combat a winter storm, a nor’easter wind or below freezing temperatures. Outdoor dining will simply not always be possible in certain regions, no matter how much preparation has gone into outdoor dining planning. The winter is going to be a major hurdle for the restaurant industry, particularly in northern states.

What do you see as a solution to meeting these challenges?

First, despite the probability that many restaurants may have to put a pause on outdoor dining, planning will still be key. Restaurants should continually review their current indoor dining policies and ensure they are consistently in compliance with state guidance. Ahead of the sudden shift to indoor dining, as there will likely be many people who are comfortable with it, it will also be important for restaurants to look closer for potential issues that could impact the safety of their employees and diners. Are certain tables too close together? Is there an opportunity to put more plexiglass barriers between tables? Are there ways to further reduce server interaction with customers?

The second solution to meeting the winter challenges in the restaurant industry is to ramp up delivery and curbside capabilities. Early in the pandemic, there was a rush to offer different fulfillment options, especially when many restaurants were completely closed to on-premise dining. With the possibility that some restaurants may have to lean more heavily on delivery and pick-up than they have in previous months, technology that can manage order fulfillment and delivery orchestration will be critical, especially for larger chain restaurants experiencing significant increase in off-premise dining demand. 

Management of off-premise dining is very difficult – it’s not a box of shoes being delivered to the customer – it’s often a hot meal that the customer wants immediately, within the hour. If that meal goes cold or the quality of food decreases because of a lengthy delivery or fulfillment process, it often results in a lost customer. The stakes are high in the restaurant industry. Leaning on technology to support improved delivery and fulfillment for customers will be a key success factor, while manual processes might hinder workflows and, ultimately, success.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the support you expect technology to give to the restaurant industry during the winter?

Yes – technology streamlines workflows in order fulfillment and delivery, which improves speed, efficiency, delivery capacity and profitability for restaurants. If the winter months and a rise in cases limit a restaurant’s ability to have on premise dining, curbside pick-up and delivery will be the core revenue stream for that restaurant – and technology can protect that revenue in several ways. 

Technology creates more efficient routing for delivery drivers, can predict the timing of deliveries, can optimize delivery management, can alert restaurants when customers pull up curbside to collect their orders and can ensure order fulfillment at scale.

Additionally, technology can connect restaurants with different delivery networks and fleets or give them the tools to power delivery in-house. It minimizes the reliance on marketplace apps that often take a significant portion of the total basket revenue, which diminishes a restaurant’s revenue. 

Ultimately, there is no single solution that will help restaurants be successful through the winter months – it will take several approaches to ensure success. But technology is a significant part of that equation, and restaurants should not shy away from exploring it. Technology is so advanced now that implementation often only takes mere days – it is not a business disruption, but a business enabler.