Previously, we focused on how to persuade customers to trust that our restaurants are safe to visit. Now, we turn our focus to you. How do you successfully reenter the world of service, sales, and most importantly, profitability as we bounce back from COVID-19?
Start with Your Menu
Assuming your operation was open at all during COVID-19, you probably removed a number of items from your menu. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that our menus featured too many items, including some we didn’t need.
Across the board, my clients—whether open with limited occupancy or offering only delivery and pick-up—reduced the size of their menus substantially. As they reopen, I’m recommending that they—and that you—keep those smaller COVID-19 menus. There are many benefits to a tighter menu, including:
- Less inventory to maintain
- It’s easier for the front-of-the-house to present
- It improves service levels
- It focuses customers’ choices on those items that you do best, and
- It allows you to better highlight your highest-profit items
COVID-19 has made us nimbler. When you cut down on your menu, you made a smart decision. Don’t rush to go back.
Analyze Costs and Make Adjustments Accordingly
Prior to COVID-19, many restaurant owners were challenged by food, beverage and labor costs. If you were one of them, chances are, you didn’t invest much time analyzing these costs because you were simply too busy.
Before you get too busy again, it’s imperative that you not only analyze your costs but take time to make adjustments to bring those costs in line. Assuming you reduced the size of your menu, it should be easier to cost everything out correctly.
Focus on profits! Remember, post COVID-19 is all about you.
Before your guests start increasing in number every week, it’s critical to ensure three things: that they’ll have a great time, that they’ll thoroughly enjoy your food and beverages and, most importantly, that you’ll make money on every single item you sell.
That may mean that you need to adjust portion sizes or raise prices. If that’s the case, it’s better to make these changes now than before you get too busy again.
Make the Hard Service Choices
Another lesson we learned during COVID-19 is that we can get by with less staff. Now, you need to determine which way you want to go regarding front-of-the-house staff. As I see it, you have two options.
1. Keep It Traditional — with a Twist
You can keep your servers and provide traditional table service. However, if you previously assigned servers five-to-six table sections, I recommend assigning them smaller, three-table sections upon reopening.
Why? Because right now, you absolutely must give your guests the most exceptional service ever. You need to show them that not only did you make your operations COVID-19 safe, you’ve trained your staff to be their best—and thus service has improved substantially.
Worried about tips? If your staff gives great service to three tables, they should make as much or more in tips as they did before. You’ll need to work with your servers to make sure this happens, but remember this is about you and your profits. You need to make up for last year’s losses.
2. Go High Tech
I’ve fought this other option for years. Its advice I don’t want to give it, and I’m unhappy with myself for even bringing it up. Unfortunately, reality is forcing service changes on our industry.
In the past six months, I’ve visited clients in more than a dozen states and found, universally, that it’s nearly impossible to find staff. One of my customers has been short 15 servers since reopening seven months ago.
If that’s your challenge, consider implementing an ordering app that allows guests to place orders directly to the kitchen. Once the app is in place, it’s a simple as implementing table tents displaying a QR code—no server required. Here’s how we are implementing this technology:
- Guests use their phone to bring up your menu.
- Guests choose their items, input their table number, and pay—all via the app.
- Once they hit send, the order is sent to appropriate printers in the kitchen.
- A cocktail server comes to the table to take and deliver beverage orders.
- Once the food is ready, a runner brings it out.
I believe this greatly takes away from the customer experience aspect of our industry. However, if you can’t overcome your staffing shortage, it’s a workable solution. Now my client can run his operation, despite having 15 fewer employees.
Remember, this is your time. Let’s make the most of what we have and use what we’ve learned over the past year. Yes, it’s important to take great care of your guest, but you must also take care of your business and yourself.