What Can I Do to Help My Restaurants and Community Battle the Effects of COVID-19?

This edition of MRM's "Ask the Expert” features advice from Buyers Edge Platform. 

Please send questions to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

Q: What can I do to help my restaurants and community battle the effects of COVID-19?

A: During this unprecedented time, now more than ever, we need to come together as a single community to face the challenges that each of our businesses, and your business, face. While it’s no easy task to sometimes make it through the day-to-day within this new operational structure, there are ways operators can come together and make a difference.

Below are some ideas you can implement to help your operation stay profitable while also providing for the communities in which you live and work.

  1. Add "Grocery to go" to your operation. With grocery store shelves barely stocked, you can (and should) successfully add grocery items to your delivery, take out, or drive thru menus. Save your customers a trip to grocery store, sell off inventory, increase cash flow, and attract new customers during COVID-19. In order to implement, be sure to:
  2.  Clear out your walk ins first. Plan to sell your existing inventory before you add more. This will work to decrease spoilage and provide room for a new shipment of inventory better aligned with your new operational structure.
  3. Communicate. Set up a clear line of communication for your customers to order grocery items. Add notifications on your website, delivery service sites, and social media platforms. This can get overwhelming fast so be sure to also set up one single source with a person responsible to monitor all new orders. If you use an ordering platform, simply add your grocery offerings as menu items. And if you’re taking orders via phone, make sure your staff is trained to ask every person if they need grocery items for their homes.
  4. Simplify Pricing. You have enough to deal with. Don’t try to price each item out, charge for a bundle “Grocery-to Go kit” and do not allow substitutions. Choose items that best serve your operation and are commonly desired grocery items.
  5. Booze it up. If your operation is in a place that permits, allow customers to add a bottle of wine or 6-pack of beer to their order.
  6. Incentivize. For every customer that orders via takeout or delivery, give them a voucher or offer a discount for in-house restaurant dining once quarantine guidelines lift. Prepare to welcome them back.

Based on our research, the top 40 grocery items currently being purchased run the spectrum. Here’s a look at the Top 25. You can view the full list on our COVID-19 Operator Support Center resource page for the industry. Once you know what you want to purchase, reach out to your distributor to add these stocked items to your orders today.

  1. Bread
  2. Milk (gallon)
  3. Eggs
  4. Butter
  5. Orange Juice (gallon)
  6. Toilet Paper
  7. Potatoes
  8. Bacon
  9. Chicken (pre-packaged ONLY)
  10. Ground Beef (pre-packaged ONLY)
  11. Sour Cream
  12. Paper Towels
  13. Lysol (Spray bottle only)
  14. Laundry Detergent
  15. Bar Soap
  16. Diapers (offer 3 sizes)
  17. Canned Fruit
  18. Canned Vegetables
  19. Apple Sauce
  20. Rice
  21. Bleach (gallon size only)
  22. Sugar
  23. Spaghetti noodles
  24. Spaghetti Sauce
  25. Coffee and/or Tea

Understand the ‘CARES’ Act. On March 25, 2020, the United States Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), aimed at providing financial relief to the American people businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic downturn. Seek to understand the CARES Act and how it may help. If you need to speak with someone about it, our legal and finance teams are working together to develop guidance for restaurant operators. Call our hotline at 1-800-260-0598 for assistance or visit our Operator Support Center.

Get involved in your community. Call any of your contacts at local public schools and see if there is a way for you to tap into the Free and Reduced Lunch funds for food for families in need. The news media has talked a lot about the plans to feed kids during this shut-down. There are creative ways for restaurants to contribute their resources to this cause. Additionally, long-time Dining Alliance produce distributor, Katsiroubas Brothers, is working with the Boston Resiliency Fund to help deliver produce and groceries to families in need. See if there is a need in your community for this type of service, especially if you already have in-house delivery vehicles, and offer the service. If you or your employees are concerned about coming in contact with someone, you can always provide door ‘drop-off’ deliveries to reduce the risk.

Support hospital and healthcare workers. Produce Alliance has created a unique opportunity for you to help first line medical responders and hospital staff, who are all on the front lines to help stave off the crushing wave of serious COVID-19 cases across the country. Make a donation or send free food items to your local healthcare facility to help feed medical personnel. Our communities need to show support to each other now more than ever.

Create a meal kit or offer family-sized portions. Create a “meal kit” for your signature dishes, similar to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Package all the raw ingredients and a recipe or take a self-made video of you or your chef preparing that meal. Include a link to that video recipe instruction. Again, list this Meal Kit on all your digital menus, especially on your delivery apps. If you don’t have the resources to develop a meal-kit, consider creating and selling family-sized portions or bundles of your signature menu items. Have one price per bundle, for example, enough food to feed a family of four, and communicate this offering via your website and social channels.

While it seems there isn’t much we can do while the world waits in operational limbo, there are ways we, as a community-at-large, can get involved. Feel free to contact us with any additional ideas as we have these and many more on our website. As always, stay safe. Stay healthy.