DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
As the restaurant industry faces a new wave of COVID-19, many restaurants are facing hard decisions about how to successfully navigate 2022. Interpreting ever-evolving CDC guidelines, deciding on how (or whether) to close indoor dining, and charting a course for the future is leaving many restaurant owners and operators understandably unsure of how to run their businesses.
Many states and municipal governments have implemented mandates so that restaurants can only operate through takeout or delivery. If you haven't optimized your online ordering channel, you can check out this guide to off-premise restaurant sales. But there are other ways you can manage your money during COVID-19, ultimately keeping revenue up and costs down as you face these new restrictions.
This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You’re responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. Contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
This article was written in January 2022.
Take a Look at Your Numbers
Through restaurant reporting, you can get an accurate sense of how your business was doing post-COVID and during. There are key metrics to look at in order to gather insights that will help you improve your tactics and inform strategic growth decisions in the coming months.
- Break-even point
- Cost of goods sold
- Overhead rate
- Prime cost
It's critical to know the extent of the problem, says Chicken & Rice Guys in a recent blog post they wrote about lessons they learned when dealing with an e. Coli outbreak years ago.
You can calculate these metrics or download data from your POS system and update your spreadsheets. Make sure you know how much money is coming in right now compared to a normal week, and find out exactly how much money you’ll need to stay afloat.
Check on Your Inventory and Make the Most of It
“Restaurants are in a time where every single dollar will make a difference,” says John Enny of inventory software xtraCHEF. Do a dive into your freezers and dry storage and see how much product you already have.
Enny recommends taking inventory right now, and calculating the value of what you already have on hand. Then, you can use these already-purchased ingredients as the center of your minimum viable menu — more on that in the next section.
This will also give you a little bit of temporary relief in terms of how much you pay for ingredients. When you do run out, you’ll be able to order adjusted levels of inventory to match the decreased flow of customers.
Create a Minimum Viable Menu
A minimum viable menu (MVM) is a smaller, condensed version of your menu that you can create with ingredients you already have. Think of it as operating at your lowest capacity that still provides attractive options and brings in revenue. By providing a smaller array of dishes to your guests, you can reduce your inventory ordering, and have a bit of an easier time.
Plus, a minimum viable menu limits your kitchen processes to save labor.
You can prioritize dishes that are centered around ingredients you already have, and ingredients that are relatively inexpensive, so that each dish is as profitable as possible. You should also be thinking about the potential popularity of the menu item - which may shift as customer lifestyles do. The great thing about an MVM is that it gives you room to test and grow so that you can create the most powerful off-premise menu possible.
Talk to Your Vendors
There’s a good chance they can see this coming right now but get on the phone with your vendors. In their blog post, the Chicken & Rice Guys recommend that you reach out to your vendors and speak honestly about your financial situation — with the numbers you pulled from your POS to back up your story.
“For example, something like, 'Hey I ran my numbers, and we are going to run out of money in 3 weeks if we don’t make fundamental changes, is there anything you can do to help reduce our payments or delay some payments?'"
This way, your vendors can prepare for financial asks or give credit for larger orders. Who knows, they might have cheaper options for you to use in your menu instead.
Talk to Your Financial Partners
If you have financial partners or investors, hopefully they're aware by now that every industry is economically impacted by Coronavirus. You should still let them know exactly what you're doing to keep your doors open, including policy changes or creative business ideas you have to bring money in.
If possible, keep them updated a few times a week, because this situation is changing every single day. Finally, don’t make promises you can’t keep and be transparent and realistic with every check-in. Let them know you may be communicating with them a few times a day. In times of crisis, it helps to be overly communicative and honest about your situation and potential hardships.
Talk to Your Bank
If you have loans or company credit cards, get on the phone with your bank and see if there’s any way they can help you weather this storm.
Offer Gift Cards and Promote Them Widely
This goes for all restaurants right now, even ones that have already had to close temporarily: In your customer communications, tell your community that they can support your business by purchasing gift cards to use once things get better. You can add your restaurant to this Rally for Restaurants searchable database so your guests can easily buy gift cards to use when you’re back on your feet.
With Toast Now™, restaurants can set up digital channels, like online ordering, a mobile ordering app, contactless delivery, and e-gift cards for three months free. No hardware or POS purchase required. No onsite installation. And best of all, no commission fees.
Ask for Donations to Support Your Staff
Many restaurants have started collecting donations from their customers who have reached out to help. On social media, provide a Venmo account name to your customers so they know where they can easily send money. You can also provide two different Venmo accounts — one for a collection pool to divide among your staff, and one to support business expenses and getting back on your feet.
If you had t-shirts, hats, mugs, tote bags, or any other kind of merchandise, now’s a great time to push this product on social media. If you don’t want to pay for shipping right now, you can tell your customers that the item they purchase will be available to them at the restaurant when you’re able to open again.
Change Your Concept Completely
Seattle has been hit hard by the rapid spread of Coronavirus, and two of the city’s fine dining restaurants realized that no one needs elegant, expensive food right now.
Art of the Table pivoted to delivery and takeout, and they’re offering family-style comfort food.
Canlis has turned their restaurant into three different takeout or drive-through restaurants in one space, serving bagels for breakfast, burgers for lunch, and family meal-style dinners.
Ani Ramen changed their entire concept to provide a more delivery-focused menu. They procured packaging materials, developed new SOPs, trained the team, and made sure the quality of the food was still at its peak when it reached the consumer at home.
You can also sell bulk items on your menu to help get your guests through this tough time, like offering plates of cold food for guests to refrigerate and reheat later. Before deciding to close, MeiMei in Boston created bulk take-home options of sandwiches and snacks to utilize their inventory while providing guests what they needed.
Cut Your Hours of Operation
Many restaurants have had to resort to cutting their hours of operation, especially if they’ve pivoted to only offering off-premise orders. Consider limiting your service to only lunch or dinner, rather than both.
Unfortunately, this option will impact the income of your staff significantly. While cutting staff hours should be a last resort, you may be faced with the challenge of making that decision in the coming days or weeks. If your restaurant has to make that painful decision, be as open, empathic, and transparent with your team as you can. Ask your staff if anyone is in the financial position to forfeit some of their hours. Let them know that you are doing your best to keep your doors open so you can welcome them back later.
With any changes to the customer-facing side of your business, keep your guests informed on social media or email. This guide, with examples, will show you how to reach out to your loyal guests during this difficult time.