Opening a new restaurant is a tricky business even in the best of times.
You’ve got to find the money. You’ve got to find the space. You’ve got to furnish your dining room and equip your kitchen. You’ve got to build a menu. And on, and on, and on… Now, take all of that and add a pandemic into the mix. Now you’ve got everything from the safety of your team members and guests, to emerging new technologies to worry about!
Do you have to be crazy to open a new restaurant during COVID-19?
Here are some tips to help you along if you’re ready to take that leap.
Many of the new restaurants that have opened or are opening during the COVID lockdown were already in the process of opening before the pandemic hit.
When those plans were completely upended, they had a choice: cut their losses and bail, or, if they could, find a way to make things work despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. Many chose to adapt.
When the pandemic hit Toronto, Stephen Schweighardt was preparing to open his new business, Larry’s Folly, as a café by day and a bar with live music by night. Wary about opening without being able to offer a full dine-in experience, he initially decided to put his plans on hold. When time marched on, and dining rooms were still closed, he decided to adapt.
It became clear, he said, that the café would have to open in some form to generate cash flow. He decided to open Larry’s Folly as a takeout café, with a plan to open other elements when physical-distancing protocols are relaxed.
“My business plan has taken a complete shift,” he said. “Budget-wise, I’ve been trying to strip it back to what’s going to be simplest and most cost-effective to get the doors open.”
As you change your plans to a takeout-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).
When it comes to food safety, all the old rules and precautions of the FDA’s “food code” still apply. The new guidelines reiterate things like discarding out-of-date food items, the implementation of sneeze guards, etc.
CDC guidelines also outline several procedures regarding facility cleaning and sanitizing, employee health and hygiene, and social distancing. Make sure you’re well versed in these guidelines as well as any local government guidelines/restrictions that may be in place.
Perhaps the most significant adjustment made by the vast majority of eateries in response to the virus is the institution of various degrees of contactless service measures. One advantage of opening a new restaurant is that, instead of having to transition to an all-new system, you can more easily institute these contactless solutions before opening.
Solutions like those offered by OneDine are ready-made for a world in which contactless dining is the new normal.
Guests can experience safe, contact-free payment with a variety of options. For curbside, drive-up, and take-out, these options include SMS messages with a link to an online payment portal, a QR code that can be scanned in order to pay, or ordering online via a custom mobile browsing/ordering website with payment at checkout (or upon arrival via SMS or QR code).
When conditions allow guests back into the dining room, diners can tap a table sensor in order to pay the check, or scan a unique QR code that is printed on the receipt.
While you’re rethinking your options, be creative, and think out of the box as to ways you can serve a homebound clientele.
Offer pre-packaged meal kits and then offer video cooking lessons on your website.
Were you planning on live entertainment? Local musicians are suffering too. Consider offering video performances that customers can live stream or watch on your website (while enjoying your takeout) with virtual tip jars and links to the artist’s website or their Spotify presence.
Be creative! The more unique experiences or offerings you provide, the more likely that people will choose you when it comes time to order out.
Look around your community. We’re all in the same boat, and each of us needs to consider what we can do to be part of the solution instead of retreating into our own world.
As a restaurant, you’re uniquely positioned to help those who may be unemployed and hungry. Consider offering simple, nutritious meals to those in the community who need it, or donate a percentage of each order’s proceeds to local food banks or other community resources.
As a new restaurant, you need to get your name out there, and that’s not so easy during the quarantine. Establishing yourself as a socially conscious, contributing member of the local community will go a long way toward encouraging people to give your food a try.