#SaveOurRestaurants: What Restaurant Operators Can Do to Keep the Lights On As Coronavirus Continues

Unorthodox times call for unorthodox methods.

And seldom have we as a people encountered more unorthodox times than what we’re living through today. As we all struggle to find new shows to binge while holed up in our homes, businesses of every stripe are looking for ways to reinvent themselves in a world in which customers aren’t allowed to come to them. From movie theaters to hair stylists to tattoo parlors – any establishment in which people gather together for whatever reason – proprietors are faced with difficult decisions: do they close their doors and cut their losses? Or do they do that uniquely American thing and find a way to keep those dreams and businesses alive until we all come out stronger on the other side?

One industry that’s been particularly hard hit so far has been the restaurant industry, but strangely, it’s also the restaurant industry that might just be uniquely positioned to creatively reinvent itself in response to this Coronavirus pandemic.

So, with Congress continuing to debate increasing levels of economic relief, what kinds of things can restaurant owners do in the meantime, to keep those kitchen lights burning as they wait for the COVID tide to turn?

Takeout and delivery

Let’s start with the obvious. We’re all cooped up at home. We’re not looking forward to tonight’s fifth variation on spaghetti. Your public may not be able to come to you, but you can go to your public with some much-needed relief in their hour of culinary need.

As you make the switch to a takeout/delivery-based service model, be sure to think through your procedures to ensure a sanitary process that’s as touchless as possible. If people will be coming into your establishment, make sure all surfaces are clean and sanitized, bathrooms are well stocked with soap, and hand sanitizer is available (and conspicuously used by all employees).

You’ll also want to do everything you can to limit or remove the need for exchanging money or credit cards, and there are a variety of electronic solutions that can help make that happen.

OneDine, in particular, is providing their touchless solution to all restaurants for free to help them weather reduced revenues during the restrictions resulting from the pandemic.

OneDine’s technology eliminates the need for hand-held menus and the passing of credit cards, receipt holders, pens, etc. by turning your parking lot into a touch free takeout zone. All setup and transaction fees will be waived and free sensors will be provided at no cost for Scan & Order and Scan & Pay activity to support restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis. All tech is free of charge, and restaurants can be onboarded, at no cost, in as little as 72 hours.  Credit card processing fees do still apply.

Pre-measured goodness

Meal kits that come shipped to your home complete with instructions on how to create restaurant-quality meals in your own kitchen. They’re convenient, the food is fresh, you get some of the experience of making your own meals (at a greatly reduced difficulty level), and the results can be both cheaper and healthier than food you might pay someone else to prepare for you at a restaurant.

As restaurants around the world have been forced to close their dining rooms, some have come to the realization that they’re in a position to not only jump onto, but to lead that bandwagon by assembling and providing pre-measured kits for their own popular menu items. Presented properly, these services create a win-win situation in which the restaurant still gets the sale, while the customer gets both a meal they know they’ll enjoy, and an activity to help keep them occupied during this strange time.

Virtual meeting place

Of course, restaurants aren’t only about sitting around and enjoying a meal. They’re also places where people come together over a common experience. They’re social hubs. Gathering spots. And this may be the aspect of the industry that people most find themselves missing as the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop.

To fill this gap, creative restaurant owners are turning to their websites, social media, and video conferencing services like Zoom to create virtual meeting spaces and alternative ways for people to get together without leaving the safety of their homes. Some offer chef-taught online cooking lessons (perhaps in conjunction with those pre-measured meal kits). Some offer virtual trivia nights, bartending lessons, and more.

Smaller coffee shops might even keep a video conferencing room open so that patrons can have their coffee delivered and still enjoy it in the (virtual) company of the other “regulars,” maybe over an online game of cards.

Pay it forward

But the thing that’s probably best for us to remember is that all of us are in this together. Some of the best stories out there are the stories of the restaurants that are finding ways to stay open while also helping out their communities.

Case in point:

The Communion Neighborhood Cooperative in Dallas, where founders Tim and Amy Kahle have created a subscription service that they hope will allow them to make dinner for you and also donate to others. You subscribe to a membership that provides six family-style, scratch-made meals for four over a six-week period, and if they get 400 subscribers, they’ll donate an additional 100 benevolent meals to those most affected by COVID-19.

Others are providing 20% off meals for all first responders and medical personnel as a thank you for their efforts. Granite City Food and Breweries have offered free lunches to children who may have to go without due to schools being closed for the pandemic.

The point of it all is that there are things you can do. There are things that can help you. There are things that will help others. But the only way we’re going to get through all this uncertainty is to get through it together.

The more we realize that, the better off we’ll all be.