Erik Wolf WFTA (1)

Bars, pubs and restaurants have been among the hardest hit businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. For the last 19 months, the hospitality industry has had to weather successive lockdowns, social distancing, supply chain issues and staff shortages. Having worked with hundreds of hospitality companies across the world, Erik Wolf, Executive Director of the World Food Travel Association, shares his thoughts on the five most important areas for food service managers and owners to focus on moving forward.

Of the many types of businesses in the hospitality sector, it has probably been the hardest for restaurants to adapt to pandemic restrictions.

That’s why I’ve put together these five tips to helps restaurants adapt to and recover from COVID-19.

However, the advice below will be helpful to any hospitality business that is looking to step forward into this new normal.

Tip 1 – Share updates frequently

Perhaps the most common oversight from food service outlets is not sharing updates frequently enough. At its most basic, you need to broadcast in all available channels when you are open.

Nothing is more frustrating for guests trying to figure out the new normal, which may include partial closures, reduced meal service, seating capacity controls, reduced number of locations and so on.

And when I say broadcast in all available channels, I do not just mean your social media accounts. Storefront or street signage is essential. So many people walk or drive by your place of business and have no idea about your social media sites.

Don’t forget about email either if you have a customer list. You can send out a quick email as often as you need with your current schedule. Your business will stay top of mind, and your customers will appreciate it.

Depending on how many mobile phone numbers you have from your customers, you could also do an SMS broadcast, or even easier, create a WhatsApp group where you post regular updates. “We’re open this week Wednesday-Sunday 1700-2100, reservations required.” That type of thing.

Tip 2 – Adjust your policies

Having a flexible, stress-free and easy-to-find booking policy will facilitate more direct bookings and encourage customers to rebook their reservation instead of outright cancelling. This also reinforces brand loyalty.

Just make sure your policies are easy to find and clear. And if you expect an inordinate number of cancellations, keep a waiting list. Too much to do by yourself? Use a tool like Wisely or SimplySeated to help you stay organized to provide better customer service.

If your business is walk-in only and you do not use any software tools to help manage your waitlist, consider referring your overflow customers to other nearby businesses.

Feeling creative? Some food service businesses have begun operating in yurts and igloos, where groups can enjoy the outdoors but still have some privacy and distance.

For indoor service, make sure you still provide enough space between tables. It is tempting to squeeze in a few more tables to bring in additional revenue, but this will be off-putting to potential customers.

Tip 3 – Tweak your business operations

When it comes to your suppliers, proactively engage them in conversation. Explain to them that you want to see less packaging, especially from plastic, or that you want to source more locally.

Be open and willing to adjust expectations on both sides, as this will heighten confidence and mitigate risk to your business. A collaborative and equal relationship is the only way to make progress, particularly around the facilitation of sustainable practices and goals.

And remember, improvements you make to your supply chain may have marketing value to your customers.

Besides asking for reduced plastic in your delivered goods, consider diversifying your suppliers. If you can tap into local resources, even better, because buying local has a much greater economic impact (some say 7x as much) than purchasing from bigger chains.

If current events have taught us anything, it is never to take anything for granted, not even your ability to operate. Count your resources and brainstorm backup business models in case of the unexpected. Can you launch different sales channels, like selling sauces or mixes? Can you partner with other local businesses? Consider leasing out underutilised space in your venue. Nothing should be dismissed.

Develop a worst case, realistic, and best-case scenario financial projection (a potentially overlooked exercise that can really help give you an idea of where you are and could be). Then reduce spending where needed.

Tip 4 – Implement greener practices

Work with your suppliers to reduce packaging and where possible, return it for reuse. Serve drinks from a beverage gun that uses refillable tanks or a soda machine instead of canned and bottled drinks poured into a glass. When feasible, buy your ingredients in bulk and use refillable containers.

Monitor where waste is being generated. Maybe it is leftover batch preparations, or items on dishes that guests don’t eat and end up as waste. If possible, reduce how much you prepare in batches and prepare only what will be used. And if you happen to run out of something, so be it. Improvise. Offer different portion sizes to adapt to your customers’ needs. In the case of buffets, serve food in individual glass jars or dishes, both for portion control and for safety.

Stop the use of all plastic, including cutlery, straws, sauce ramekins and takeaway packaging. Remember, porcelain, steel and glass can all be washed and sterilised.

Encourage your customers to invest in their own reusable, portable cutlery for takeaway use when needed. If reducing packaging is not possible, switch to alternative materials that are easier on the planet, like bamboo, palm leaves, and even mushroom root and cornstarch.

Motivate your guests to bring their own containers from home for takeaway orders and leftovers, providing a small incentive like discounting the cost of packaging from their total.

Tip 5 – Lead by example

Set up your business to be a leader through good examples. If possible, form a group or association and provide resources and guidance to industry members. Share stories across your social media channels. Invite your community to embrace these practices and share ideas of their own. And even share your learnings and new ways of doing business with other local businesses.

Make sure that your new or returning workers feel genuinely appreciated. Ensure that you pay living wages and be cautious not to overload your staff with extra responsibilities without rewarding them. If you are unable to offer more monetary compensation, provide different types of incentives with utter transparency.

Remind your team why it is important to work together and also of helping each other out during these times. Everyone copes differently with a crisis, and also in a crisis, families stick together. Work on succeeding together, which will benefit all parties.

Key takeaways:

Richard Dawson
Article by Richard Dawson
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