5 Strategies to Survive the COVID-19 Business Environment

    Restaurants have to stay nimble.

    Starbucks mobile curbside.
    Starbucks
    In today’s environment, consumers expect restaurants to offer digital ordering and payment platforms for convenience and safety.

    The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly impact and disrupt businesses in all sectors, hitting the restaurant industry particularly hard. With no visibility into when this health crisis will end, restaurants are searching for ways to remain viable in very challenging conditions. Quick-service restaurants that are nimble and able to pivot to new operational strategies in response to today’s rapidly changing business environment will successfully navigate their way through the crisis.

    Some of the strategies quick-service restaurants can adopt to stay afloat in the difficult COVID-19 environment include:

    Leveraging technology 

    Having the right technology can make or break a restaurant during these turbulent times. Not only does it help restaurateurs sustainably resume operations, but it can also drive traffic to boost revenue.

    In today’s environment, consumers expect restaurants to offer digital ordering and payment platforms for convenience and safety. According to the NPD Group, digital restaurant orders increased by 63 percent in March 2020 alone. Implementing and optimizing a user-friendly online ordering system should be a top priority. Update websites and web listings with the current menu, hours of operation and phone number for orders to ensure customers have the information they need.

    Contactless payments that decrease person-to-person transactions, self-order kiosks that shorten lines and give customers a minimal-contact way to place their order, and guest engagement loyalty program apps that motivate customers to return are some other technologies spotlighted by The National Restaurant Association. Adopting these technologies can help restaurants resume business, operate seamlessly and provide a safe dining experience.

    According to consulting firm McKinsey, the digital customer experience is essential to earning repeat customers and gaining loyalty. The firm also notes that the going a step further with “deep personalization.” This includes engaging customers through personalized offers and using customer data to make decisions on what to promote, how to revamp the menu and more.

    Targeting loyal customers

    Engaging with loyal customers amid the pandemic is one of the best ways restaurateurs can drive business and remain viable. Collecting customer emails and phone numbers from takeout and delivery orders allows restaurant operators to reconnect with customers and keep them updated on restaurant specials and promotions to help drive more business. Most importantly, communicate regularly on the safety precautions the restaurant is taking to keep diners safe. This will ultimately increase customer confidence in dining-in or ordering takeout, helping to boost repeat customers and sales.

    Reducing costs

    With the number of orders down, the key to surviving amid the pandemic is reducing costs where possible. Look at the supplies that cost the most money. Then, negotiate with current vendors to reduce costs or switch to vendors that offer better pricing. Also, revisit menus and see what can be revamped to decrease the number of ingredients needing to be purchased to stay afloat.

    In addition, restaurateurs can turn to technology to help determine where and how to cut costs, which is crucial in this environment of uncertainty. Restaurant operators can use cloud-based accounting platforms for cost control and financial monitoring. These platforms connect into bank account and credit card transactions to help restaurant operators track expenses and cashflow. The clear picture of financial performance will help restaurateurs to better inform restaurant business strategy.

    Scheduling strategically

    Labor costs account for about 30 percent of gross revenue, being one of the highest costs for restaurateurs. These costs cut into restaurants’ already razor-thin margins.

    To reduce these costs, analyze customer demand and adjust scheduling appropriately for off-peak hours. Adjusting scheduling to save even one hour of staff time can save a restaurant thousands of dollars in wages each month.

    Getting creative

    There is no doubt that many consumers are getting tired of cooking at home. People are craving restaurant offerings and comfort food, and restaurants can take advantage of this by getting creative. For example, offer larger portion takeout for the whole family for delivery or pick up, or offer specials to apartment complexes, banks and other places of business where employees are in the office.

    Restaurant operators can also be creative in maximizing outdoor dining by repurposing some parking lot space to dining space. Not only does this adhere to social distancing guidelines but it also helps attract diners by making them feel safer and more comfortable. Be sure to check with local city/municipality guidelines on the ability to add outdoor seating.

    Thankfully, there is room for optimism on the outlook for the industry. Consumer spending in restaurants rose for the third consecutive month in July with restaurant sales up 5 percent from the previous month, according to The National Restaurant Association. This optimism will be higher for restaurants that remain agile and adapt operational strategies to more sustainably operate in the COVID-19 environment.

    Lil Roberts is CEO and founder of Xendoo, a cloud-based fintech company based in Fort Lauderdale that specializes in online bookkeeping and accounting focused on the small business owner. Lil is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for small business, and is known as an innovator with an enviable ability to foresee market trends.