By Tom Haney on September 15, 2020
Although many industries have mounted a comeback since the lockdowns were slowly lifted—and subsequently reinstated, in some cases—the restaurant sector is not one of them. And even as bars restaurants reopen, they are still operating at limited capacity and having trouble filling seats, a task that will prove even more challenging as winter approaches and patios close. Add to that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, and you’ve got a perfect storm for restaurants.
Extending Patio Season
Patios have been one of the bright spots for restaurants over the last few months (no pun intended), with restaurant-goers steering clear of interior seating for a spot in the sun. Recognizing this trend, many jurisdictions have already extended patio season until the end of 2020 to give restaurants a fighting chance as the ongoing COVID 19 crisis ravages bottom lines.
Winter lies in wait, however, and tempting people to spend time on a cold patio will be a herculean challenge.
Below are a few ideas for establishments to attract patrons well into the fall (and even the winter).
Add partitions. Strategically placing a touch of greenery will not only spruce up an outdoor space—it will also act as a windbreak and a barrier to keep customers physically distanced and feeling safe.
Add heat. It’s worth exploring the possibility of installing a propane heater or even a chiminea. Landlords may even be willing to assume some of the costs, given that increasing sales is also in their best interest.
Add a signature cocktail. Alcohol is typically a high-margin offering for restaurants, so developing a signature cold-weather cocktail is a great way to keep it fresh and keep people warm on the patio.
Diversifying revenue streams
Even with full patios, restaurants still need to accept that dining revenues may not return to pre-pandemic levels for years, not months. Consequently, adjusting to this reality will require not only reworking business models to account for lower sales but also embracing innovation.
To this end, we’ve already started seeing restaurants selling alcohol along with takeout, which has undoubtedly boosted sales. Likewise, curated take-home meal kits are also gaining in popularity.
Other potential revenue-boosting approaches include increasing delivery, takeout, and curbside options, rejigging menus to add high-margin items, driving customer loyalty, and rethinking entire restaurant layouts. Likewise, cost-cutting is equally important. On that note, Sekure Merchant Solutions just rolled out the innovative Edge program, which can help participants save up to 100% on credit card processing costs.
Ensuring Physical Distancing
According to a recent McKinsey study, 80% of restaurant customers had medium to high anxiety when it came to eating inside. The main anxiety triggers included the following:
- Close interactions with other customers, such as sitting near other customers, using washrooms and touching surfaces
- Close interactions with employees, i.e., servers taking orders and bringing food to the table
- Distant or passive interactions, for example entering and leaving restaurants and waiting to be seated
Physical distancing and hygiene are therefore the most effective ways to alleviate guests’ concerns and thus ensure an enjoyable, anxiety-free dining experience. Restaurant should consider (1) disinfecting all areas between customer use, (2) limiting the number of guests in the restaurant, and (3) increasing space between tables and restricting seating.
Shifting the Culture
People are going to have to change their habits and understand that the livelihoods of restaurant workers and owners depend on open wallets as well as open minds. Yes, people don’t typically rush outside to freeze on a patio—but maybe they should in order to save jobs and eateries.
As a recent New York Times article so aptly stated, “The onus for change should not fall solely on restaurants. The success of a worker-centered approach, especially in the middle of a recession, requires cooperation from customers and help from government.”
In the UK, for example, the government rolled out the Eat Out to Help Out incentive, which provided a 50% discount to people dining out at registered restaurants. Lobbying local and even state authorities is a worthwhile endeavor and could yield a similar program.
There is no silver bullet to cure what ails the struggling restaurant industry. The path back to prosperity will involve a host of different strategies, a whole lot of adaptation, and a pinch of compassion from the public and policymakers. You can do your part: bundle up, throw on a scarf, and head out to your local joint for a bite.