Future-Proofing Your Restaurant or Café in a Post COVID-19 World
Australian hospitality has always been a flamboyant, energetic sector - the heartbeat of social interaction filled with outgoing service-oriented people, world-class baristas, sommeliers, and creative chefs.
To see this industry, employing over 800,000 people, forced to its knees by COVID-19 has been devastating. The closed doors, the empty outdoor areas were images that have resonated deep within Australian hearts, as a reflection of how life changed so quickly. While some cafes and restaurants were able to provide a takeaway service to generate a little cash flow, it was to a vastly reduced clientele and to a large extent fed the profits of delivery companies like UberEATS and Deliveroo.
Now that restrictions are being eased, how does this sector recover? How do they convince people that it is safe to visit them? How do they make their takeaway offering – which is going to continue to be in greater demand – more profitable?
Think local, think health, think differently
I am writing this at a time when restaurants are operating under very restricted conditions with the promise of further easing coming soon. Infection numbers are low, but there is always the spectre of a 'second wave' if there is too much change too quickly.
As a business owner in the hospitality world, you are going to need to think differently, moving forward. You are battling a mindset of people who now have a bunker mentality, who want to get back to normal, but until there is a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19, are going to live their lives hyper-aware of risk.
People are now shopping locally as never before – a benefit of so many people working from home. As a local business owner in the ‘Hospo’ world, it is not enough to re-open your doors and carry on as before with a nod to physical distancing. You need to change your business to meet the new challenges – not just to survive, but thrive. To meet the coffee and food needs of your local community, to make your business a hub of positivity, to make them feel safe and have a back-up plan to service them still if there’s a return to tougher restrictions.
You have a psychological battle as well as a practical germ-killing battle to win. Refresh your premises, add as much light and circulating air as you can. Deep clean all areas, descale them. Dial-up the cleaning schedule and show the cleaning being done. Use coloured rags, sponges etc. as they will catch the eye and reassure people you are diligent. Throw out cleaning cloths as soon as they even get a little grungy looking. Have a poster displayed that tells your clients what you are doing to make them safe.
You don’t want your premises smelling like a hospital, so you’ll need to find either cleaning products that are perfume-neutral or have a pleasant smell or find another way of introducing a nice fragrance to your premises.
Your staff have never been more critical to your business. Yes, you still need their smiles, their menu knowledge and their commitment to service. But they also need to be very aware of physical boundaries, the need for constant personal cleanliness as well as keeping your premises sanitised. Perception is essential – you may need to re-think what they wear. Now is not the time for untidy hair and holey jeans. If an apron gets food on it, change it immediately.
Bathrooms are now super important. They need to be cleaned very frequently. Consider having a checklist on the wall – what needs doing and what time it needs doing and get your staff tick and initial when done. This will be reassuring to your clients. Add flowers and greenery to your bathrooms – they provide the illusion of freshness. Of course, you’ll need to provide hot water, soap and hand sanitiser.
Replace common tables with smaller tables. Get rid of newspaper and magazine racks, pillows or blankets. No more water stations – your servers will now need to do this. Consider having a hand sanitiser dispenser either at the door, the counter or on each table. All food should now be behind the counter. Countertops should be free of food.
Menus and on-table condiments are the most frequently touched items in your business – and therefore, the most contaminated. Do you have a blackboard menu above the counter? Or a sign directing your clients to a phone app that lists what’s available? Condiments could now be single-serve sachets provided on request. Your coffee rewards program with stamps on a piece of cardboard will need a re-think.
Have a poster on your door that tells your patrons what you expect of them. Be specific about social distancing, how long they can stay, how you will accept payment etc. Ask them not to enter if they feel unwell.
Until we have a vaccine or cure, this virus is going to be in our lives. It may get out of hand, causing another lockdown. Make contingency plans. What did the previous lockdown teach you? Do you need to concentrate more on the takeaway side of your business? How can you make your offering better than your competitors? How can you provide a unique takeaway experience?
Think about providing takeaway meal packs – like Bento boxes – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Your online website and social media presence have never been more critical. If you don’t have a website, it's a great idea to set one up, but a well-maintained Facebook page can be effective too. Your latest menu needs to be available online. Take the time to add explanations about your food. Make them hungry with your words. Tell potential clients about all the ways they can enjoy your food – dine-in or takeaway. Let them know what will be expected of them if they are dining in. Reassure them about your commitment to providing a healthy, safe, clean environment.
Do you set up your own delivery service? The big players like UberEATS and Deliveroo are a substantial cost to your bottom line. Can you provide this service yourself without a cost to your profitability? There are benefits to having your brand on a motorbike or car that’s constantly on the streets. Can you employ locals to provide this contactless service to locals in their homes?
Simplify your menus. The less time it takes to prepare a meal, the sooner they are going to be eating and leaving. If you are limited to how many people in your restaurant or café at a time, it makes sense to do what you can to move people on quickly – while maximising their experience in other ways.
If you have an outdoor area which you haven’t developed in the past, now is the time to re-think that, get any permits and plans you need to make it a priority. Gas heaters will be needed for colder areas.
Consider installing a European coffee window, where people can wait outside while you serve them coffees and takeaway treats. This will keep the inside of your café clear for those people who want a sit-down experience and are going to spend more money.
Finally, make sure that everyone you interact with has a wonderful experience. This will not be easy to achieve. It is a different world, a new norm and that requires a lot of adjustment that is mentally taxing, but the business that takes the time to think through all possibilities and plans for them will be the winner.
Corina Vucic is the Director of FC Business Solutions. With over 20 years
in the franchise industry, and extensive operational and management experience, she works closely with leaders to take their business to the next level.
Whatever their goals, Corina coaches, mentors and supports business owners and executives to maximise success and minimise risk for long-term business prosperity and security.
To discuss how Corina’s expertise can help take your business to new heights, contact: