Community Spirit Compliance and Innovation – La Porchetta’s journey through COVID-19
Community Spirit, Compliance and Innovation – La Porchetta’s journey through COVID-19
“When the COVID-19 lockdown began, we had to make some of the toughest decisions we’ve ever made in business,” says La Porchetta franchisee, Francesca Surace. “We had to stand down most of our staff and we didn’t know what to expect moving forward.”
Ms Surace has owned her 300-seat restaurant in Niddrie, Victoria for over a decade. “We are very family-oriented and our staff are like family members,” she says. “We had to make the tough choice of keeping only those who could multitask in order to keep our expenses lower. That way, we could provide a better service to customers who we were hoping would continue supporting us through our takeaway and delivery model.”
Reducing her staff of 22 down to only nine, Ms Surace was concerned about their capacity to, “feed their families and pay their rents”, so she selected not only those with multi skills, but also those who didn’t qualify for the Government’s JobKeeper package.
Hygiene practices were escalated, with hand sanitisers throughout and social distancing managed with delivery drivers and customers separated into different sections of the restaurant for pick-up. Staff regularly hand wash and frequently wipe down all surfaces, including door handles. “We had very strict hygiene protocols previously,” says Ms Surace, “but of course now, it’s been ramped up to meet the new requirements.”
La Porchetta Niddrie wanted to thank their customers for their loyalty during difficult times and they reached out with small gifts and surprises. Over Easter, an Easter egg was included with every online order, Mother’s Day online orders included a free dessert and children were offered free ice-creams. “We wanted to express our appreciation that they are still supporting us,” said Ms Surace.
At the same time, La Porchetta Niddrie reached out to local people who had been hit very hard by the economic shutdown. “We could see some people in our area were really suffering and we offered them free meals,” said Ms Surace. “We did what we could to put a smile on their faces.”
Ms Surace says the assistance she received from La Porchetta Support Office was instrumental in helping her to deal with the unprecedented challenges she was facing. “They were onto it as soon as lockdown measures were announced,” she said. “They brought franchisees together in regular Zoom meetings and they understood that all our demographics are different and what works for one, may not work for another. They are very transparent and follow through with the support strategies we need to keep our businesses afloat in these very difficult times.”
“Our Franchise Operations Coach contacts us weekly to make sure we are doing as well as we can during the pandemic and he assists us with a whole range of matters, from vital communications with various business contacts to social media posts.”
La Porchetta Support Office began developing tools to assist franchisees as soon as it became apparent that hospitality businesses were likely to be locked down. “We started reviewing our policies and practices from the get-go,” says Franchise Recruitment and Operations Manager, Brendan Flanagan. “Almost overnight, we updated our manuals and developed tools for franchisees to manage stricter hygiene and social distancing requirements. We also introduced contactless delivery and pick-up and we supported our franchisees with very simple and clear guidelines they could follow every step of the way.
“Every franchisee in our system was facing greatly reduced turnover and we reviewed our fees accordingly.
The team at La Porchetta Support Office wanted to provide franchisees with as many tools as possible to retain customer loyalty. “Once all the systems and guidelines were in place to support our franchisees through this new normal, we turned our minds to innovation and the ways in which we could extend our offerings,” says Mr. Flanagan. “We developed a range of discount meal deals and a completely new take-home meal kit offer, so customers who are missing their favourite La Porchetta meals could prepare them at home.”
“La Porchetta has 35 years of experience building support systems for our franchisees. While this has been one of the biggest challenges in the history of our brand, we believe that our robust franchise model meant we could respond quickly with the tools our franchisees needed to get through.
“Our strong community culture also came to the fore and helped us to face this crisis. Many of our restaurants reached out to their customers by delivering food to those who are vulnerable and unable to leave home and by offering free meals to those at risk. Our franchisees are also supporting their local communities by keeping people employed.”
Francesca Surace says, “When I think about what might have happened, I realise we were able to push through because we saw ourselves as a family, we worked together as a team and we persevered.
Ms Surace looks forward to a time when she can interact with her customers in much the same way she did before. “We really miss those chats, smiles and hugs that were part of our everyday lives,” she says. “There is a real family feel in our restaurant. Our regular customers call us by our first names because they know us so well.
“I can’t thank them all enough for their support. I know better times are coming and I can’t wait to see them in our restaurant and share good times together again.”
Mr. Flanagan says, “As a brand, we’ve made sure that we’re prepared for unexpected challenges and we can respond quickly and comprehensively as we did with COVID-19. Now we’re excited about the future and we look forward to the continued growth of La Porchetta in Australia and New Zealand.
This interview was conducted in May during the heavy industry restrictions as a result of COVID-19, prior to Australian and New Zealand restaurants being able to re-open their dine in services.