Nine Business Strategies for Coping During the COVID-19 Crisis

There is a major world upheaval going on right now. And as it may be easy to practice social distancing at work, school, shops, and more, the practice is more difficult to follow in the restaurant industry.

In fact, many cities and states have even shut down all restaurants and bars in order to keep COVID-19 at bay. So, what are operators to do in order to stay afloat? As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Below are eight strategies that may help encourage your sales during this unprecedented and daunting time.

Offer limited menus. During tough times, it’s necessary to limit your food orders to reduce expenses and limit waste. Study your menu to find entrees that have items used in multiple dishes in order to create a limited to go or delivery menu. Ideally, these will also be your most popular and most profitable items.

Curbside pickup. For operators who are just not prepared for food delivery, perhaps consider offering a 5 or 10% discount for curbside pickup to keep customers interested. Meals can be delivered by gloved (perhaps even masked) employees so that customers do not even need to get out of their cars.

Use of third-party delivery. You are most likely already using third-party delivery, but if not, now is the time to start. In fact, some of these services, such as Grubhub, are 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. Many restaurants enforce a minimum purchase (such as $25) to keep from losing money on deliveries. Check out your local competitors to make sure you are in line with their standards and your customer’s expectations.

Delivery through in-house resources. 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.

Offer online gift cards.  There are many members of your community who want to support your business at this time but may not want to risk leaving home to do so. Offering gift cards from the safety of home will prompt more people to purchase them for future use for themselves or as gifts for friends and family.

Encourage cashless transactions. Cash is being eyed as a major germ carrier because it crosses so many hands quickly. To help protect your employees and customers, request cashless transactions whenever possible.

Support local charitable causes. Many restaurants are stepping up to help the community during this chaotic time. For example, Whataburger in Texas is helping out by donating hot lunches to the overworked and overstressed grocery workers at its local HEB grocers. A Chick-fil-a in Richmond, VA is offering free breakfast and lunch to children who are in the free or reduced meal programs to keep students fed.

Donate perishable food items. If you have items that are at risk of spoiling or simply will not be used due to lack of business, consider offering it to employees who may be facing hard times due to a decrease in hours. Many employees live from paycheck-to-paycheck and could use the food to feed their family or to avoid the pandemonium at the grocery store.

Look for assistance if necessary. As we begin to realize the economic impact of this situation, relief programs are being established. The USBG National Charity Foundation is made up of a diverse group of beverage, hospitality, and nonprofit professionals and have created programs for assistance as is the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. Also, be sure to check at your local and state levels for programs offering partial unemployment benefits to workers temporarily displaced due to COVID-19 (see examples of Washington states offering). California has already offered 60-day extensions on income and payroll taxes for individuals and businesses who are unable to file their tax returns or make timely payments as a result of COVID-19.


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