Help, where the concerns lie, and more
Datassential asked restaurants if receiving help from suppliers and manufacturers would be beneficial.
- Yes, would appreciate help: 41 percent
- Could use help, but not from suppliers or manufacturers: 42 percent
- No, confident in next steps: 17 percent
“While America has rallied around foodservice workers impacted by the COVID crisis, with grassroots campaigns and a little extra carryout, operators on the front line know it’s not enough,” Datassential said.
This was echoed by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which released a statement Friday about the upcoming Paycheck Protection Program. “The short-term relief made available through the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act will be insufficient to ensure independent restaurants can stay open and continue to employ over 11 million workers. The unprecedented rise in unemployment is shocking, but those of us who work in restaurants are not surprised. Unemployment claims will continue to increase the longer restaurants are unable to open. There are over two million waiters and waitresses, 261,000 dishwashers, and 296,000 hosts and hostesses in America, and every restaurant that shuts its doors leaves them out of a job. Not to mention, we employ tens of millions more Americans through a vast supply chain of other local businesses, including farmers, fishermen, beverage distributors, linen services, and so many others.” Here’s a deeper look at all of that.
Datassential asked operators, “which types of financial support from business partners would be most helpful to navigate the coronavirus crisis?” We’ll just focus on the restaurant results.
- Federal/state relief to help my employees: 73 percent
- No minimal order requirements: 47 percent
- Rent/mortgage relief: 64 percent
- Flexible/extended payment terms for orders: 43 percent
- Relief from payment processors: 48 percent
- Relief from fees to franchisor: 18 percent
- Cap/waiver commissions with 3rd party delivery providers: 25 percent
- Ability to order out-of-stock delivery items for later: 12 percent
- None of these: 7 percent
Datassential then presented the question, “which types of product support from business partners would be most helpful to navigate the coronavirus crisis.”
- Unlimited access to cleaning supplies/food safety necessities: 44 percent
- Unlimited access to “to-go” packaging/supplies: 38 percent
- Unlimited access to my essential ingredients: 31 percent
- Help donating perishable food somewhere needed: 25 percent
- Advice to help pivot to off-premises sales: 17 percent
- Marketing materials/content I can share: 12 percent
- None: 24 percent
It will be interesting to see how this develops as we progress deeper into the crisis. Will off-premises materials and supplies become scarcer? How many operators will tap into marketing services and tech platforms (many of which have waived fees) to start reaching new customers and ease prior cost burdens. “Anything business partners can do to help make it easier to secure product, will not only add value, but help operators keep what business they still have,” Datassential said.
One of the big challenges throughout this process has centered on messaging. This is pretty uniform but especially true of any restaurant trying to tell customers it’s doing something totally different.
Brands need to get the word out, whether it’s informing guests they’re still open, sharing new menu options, like family bundles, or even collaborating with other local eateries on things like The Great American Takeout.
“Which types of service support from business partners would be most helpful to navigate the coronavirus crisis?
- None: 35 percent
- Help getting the word out to customers: 33 percent
- Online resources to track updates/industry response: 26 percent
- Local operator collaboration to promote traffic: 25 percent
- Advice/training for deep cleaning: 22 percent
- Help setting up online ordering/payment: 17 percent
- Extra delivery drops: 10 percent
- More frequent linen service: 4 percent
By restaurant category for “help getting the word out to customers”:
- Fast food: 64 percent
- Fast casual: 53 percent
- Midscale: 56 percent
- Casual dining: 40 percent
- Fine dining: 60 percent
What the operators are saying
Here are some responses from decision makers in regards to what suppliers, manufacturers, or distribution partners could do to make the biggest difference.
From an Illinois chef manager:
“Share information on how to handle our new ‘takeout’ business. For instance, more information on takeout containers would be helpful. Because this is new to us, we don't quite know what is available. This week I was looking for a microwavable one compartment, entree-sized to-go container and asked my distributor rep for help.”
Starting from scratch often starts with the basics.
Casual-dining manager in Georgia:
“As it relates to traffic, it would help tremendously [helpful] to advertise online and Uber Eats and DoorDash business.”
Another element of getting the word out.
From a foodservice director of a school in Texas.
“Sysco has given us a list of prepackaged items that we can use in school. Also, I have received an abundance of emails from vendors who represent pre-packaged items.”
From a midscale restaurant GM in North Carolina:
“We are all currently struggling and those that are open for delivery or takeout have very little funds coming in, in general. The delivery minimum should be dropped during this time, as people only need less essential items.”
This is a great point. Also speaks to what you’re seeing in many corners of the industry—restaurants selling essential items to guests. Basically, doubling as grocery stores in some ways.
From a casual-dining restaurant in Wisconsin:
“Just let us know that they are taking proper precautions on their end so we can reassure our customers that from start to finish the products we are preparing them are completely safe.”
This can’t be understated.
From a fine-dining chef in Vermont:
“Reaching out and offering us payment flexibility without penalty if needed. Credit card companies should not charge us fees for the duration of COVID-19.”
Some telling numbers
Below is how far sales decline has tracked overall since the outbreak of COVID-19 for the operators in the survey.
- Fast food: –42 percent
- Fast casual: –51 percent
- Midscale: –70 percent
- Casual dining: –73 percent
- Fine dining: –82 percent
The latter figure is pretty eye-opening.
“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, which have you experienced?”
- 86 percent: Some increase in takeout, but not enough to offset dine-in losses
- 14 percent: Enough increase in takeout to offset dine-in losses
Sometimes, no matter what efforts a restaurant puts in, there’s simply no way to cover that gap. That’s a harsh pain point attached to COVID-19.
“Have you laid off staff in response?”
We let go of more than 75 percent of our staff
- Fast food: 5 percent
- Fast casual: 17 percent
- Midscale: 45 percent
- Casual dining: 45 percent
- Fine dining: 72 percent
No staff cuts due to coronavirus so far
- Fast food; 49 percent
- Fast casual: 37 percent
- Midscale: 9 percent
- Casual dining: 16 percent
- Fine dining: 4 percent
Yet another example of how fine dining is taking the brunt of this crisis—only 4 percent avoiding layoffs to date.
Changes being made
Nearly half of the operators in Datassential’s study said they pared down food and beverage offerings. It saves costs, simplifies operations, and is also generally better suited for off-premises.
- Narrowed / limited your menu offerings (fewer menu choices): 43 percent
- Added price discounts / coupons / meal deals: 17 percent
- Added large / family-size / bulk size options (full trays of dishes, etc.): 12 percent
- Added more "comfort food" type menu items: 11 percent
- Added refrigerated or frozen "take and bake/heat" items: 10 percent
- Added full meal bundles (comes with appetizer, entrée, sides, dessert): 9 percent
- Added more "healthy / better-for-you" type menu items: 6 percent
- Added more "indulgence / treat yourself" type menu items: 6 percent
- Added multi-day meal options (12 individual-sized servings of a dish, etc.): 4 percent
- None—we have not made any menu changes because of coronavirus: 34 percent
“Have you implemented any other operational changes specifically in response to COVID-19?” (focusing just on restaurants)
- Closed off seating / stopped dine-in service: 74 percent
- Reduced hours of operation: 66 percent
- Updated food safety procedures (wearing / changing gloves, scheduled cleaning / deep cleans, etc.): 56 percent
- Added curbside pickup (staff delivers order to customer's cars): 59 percent
- Contacted customers directly (via website, email, social media, etc.) about policies / updates: 34 percent
- Began offering contactless (no touch) delivery: 30 percent
- Shuffled / re-purposed staff to help in other areas (servers / bartenders handling delivery, etc.): 27 percent
- Added new online ordering and/or pre-pay functionality: 20 percent
- Signed on to new third-party delivery services (Grub Hub, UberEats, etc.): 22 percent
- Begun offering paid sick leave to staff: 7 percent
- None—we have not made any operational changes because of coronavirus: 5 percent
When you really think about it, 22 percent jumping onto third-party delivery is a massive number in a three-week span.
Nearly half of foodservice locations said they’ve ordered less fresh produce, with nearly as many reducing their intake of dairy, fresh meats, and bakery items.
“Have you stopped or reduced purchases of any categories as result of COVID-19?”
- Fresh produce: 41 percent
- Dairy: 33 percent
- Fresh center-of-plate proteins: 18 percent
- Basic pantry ingredients: 28 percent
- Fresh bakery items: 30 percent
- Non-alcoholic beverages: 30 percent
- Alcoholic beverages: 15 percent
- Frozen center-of-plate proteins: 18 percent
- Frozen bakery items: 18
- Frozen produce: 13 percent
- None: Have not stopped or reduced purchases: 31 percent
- Fresh produce: 59 percent
- Dairy: 57 percent
- Fresh center-of-plate proteins: 52 percent
- Basic pantry ingredients: 45 percent
- Fresh bakery items: 44 percent
- Non-alcoholic beverages: 54 percent
- Alcoholic beverages: 60 percent
- Frozen center-of-plate proteins: 35 percent
- Frozen bakery items: 31 percent
- Frozen produce: 32 percent
- None: Have not stopped or reduced purchases: 9 percent