5 Tips for Restaurants Switching to “Ghost Kitchens” During the COVID-19 Crisis

For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers restaurants are an invaluable part of the social fabric of our towns and cities. We rely on them to nourish us, to host us as we celebrate, to provide us community, to provide us entertainment. And, as cooking becomes a lost art on younger generations, Americans are becoming more dependent on restaurants for food.  According to a recent survey “only cooking for themselves 4.3 nights a week, on average, it seems Millennials are dining out (or ordering in) for supper nearly three times a week” because they simply do not know how to cook.

While the COVID-19 scare is forcing so many to close their dining rooms, we can still rely on Millennials to depend on restaurants for takeout and delivery of their meals. Whether you will rely on running a ghost kitchen as we navigate through this difficult time or plan to make To Go and deliveries a part of your long-term business strategy, below are some tips to creating your ghost kitchen:

Determine your market. Before determining if running a ghost kitchen, make sure you have a strong enough customer base to stay afloat. Who were your primary customers during normal operations? If you had a successful lunch crowd from the busy office complex across the street or an active late night crowed from the local college, it could be weeks or months before that crowd returns. You may need to rethink your strategy. Is there an apartment complex nearby? A nearby senior living facility? Determine your potential target demographic before you begin creating your menu and marketing strategies.

Perhaps find a niche that is missing in the market. Consider now as a time to temporarily reinvent your brand and help out your community. Becoming a “lifestyle” delivery system can make you a lifeline to those with special dietary needs, such as vegetarian or gluten free.

Create a limited menu. For best results while just starting out, it’s necessary to limit your menu. You can reduce labor and waste by focusing on quality, low cost menu items, that also require less preparation. Study your menu to find entrees that have the similar ingredients and preparation methods when creating a limited to go or delivery menu. Ideally, these will also be your most popular and most profitable items.

However, the most important factor to consider in creating this specialized menu is how well will the dish hold up in delivery. If your most popular dish has potential to not be able to travel well, it may not make the cut. Any dish that arrives at your customer’s doorstep cold and mushy will put you at risk of losing repeat business.

Optimize Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Did you know that 81% of consumers have searched for a restaurant on a mobile device? And 75% say they often choose a restaurant to dine at based on those search results. That means if your restaurant is not coming up in consumers’ searches, you are losing out on new business. Do not leave it to chance that search engines will automatically list your website when a search is conducted. 92% of consumers will pick a business on the first page of local search results and 60% of users click on one of the top three search results; which means it is extremely important that your restaurant’s website comes up on top when consumers conduct a search.

Determine your deliver method. With limited sales, many of your employees now have limited hours and limited income. Using your current staff to deliver to-go meals gives your employees a chance at continued income and saves you and the guest on third-party charges. Offer the extra incentive of “contact free” delivery where the payment and tip are collected in advance and the delivery person leaves the meal on a clean, safe surface according to the customers instruction.

If you prefer to engage with a third-party delivery, don’t be intimidated by the unknown. Most are fairly easy to sign up with online. While it is true that some can charge upwards of 30%, many are bending their rules to help out during this turbulent time. For example, Grubhub is temporarily waiving fees in order to help restaurants to stay open and feed our communities. Check out these other popular options DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates, and Delivery.com.

Study your data. While running a delivery-only operation might be forced on you now, it is important to track your data and determine if delivery is profitable for you or not. There is no denying that delivery is here to stay, but is it right for your business once your city returns back to “normal”? The only way to determine if the virtual kitchen was a measure to save your business during a crisis or a potential game-changer for your future is to know your ROI for delivery sales vs in-person sales.

Times might seem uncertain right now, buckle up and hang on for the ride.  We will get through this together. We wish you long-term success and prosperity!

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