Most states across the US are approaching the 2 month mark of shutdown. For restaurants, that means grappling with weeks of lost revenue due to dine-in bans across the nation, and adapting to a takeout and delivery only service model. While some states are starting to re-open dining rooms in the coming weeks, there is no clear end in sight for most restaurateurs waiting to welcome their guests back into their doors. Many consumers are – begrudgingly – adapting to their “new normal”, with takeout and delivery from their favorite restaurants becoming a staple of their new routines. But with regulations changing on an almost daily basis, what is the best way for restaurants to keep their guests and their staff healthy and safe?
We’ve outlined 7 steps all restaurants can take to adapt, as well as some ways that restaurateurs can use this down time to stay ahead of the curve.
1. Follow CDC COVID-19 Food Safety Guidance
Finally, some good news for restaurants – the CDC (Center for Disease Control) states that there is no evidence as of yet that COVID-19 spreads through food or food packaging, making takeout and delivery safe bets for restaurants and their guests alike.
In addition to continuing to follow standard food safety guidelines, make sure to familiarize yourself and train your staff on the CDC’s updated recommendations for food preparation in light of the pandemic:
- All staff should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching food
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, and then immediately wash hands with soap and water before returning to food prep
- Whenever possible, restaurant staff should remain 6 ft apart and wear face coverings, such as face masks or a bandanna, whenever social distancing is not possible
- Any staff member who exhibits even one potential symptom of the Coronavirus (including contracting a fever, respiratory symptoms including a cough, loss of taste or smell, and difficulty breathing) should stay home and update their employer about their symptoms
2. Refresh Your Staff on Standard Food Handling Safety Procedures
This is also a great time to refresh yourself and your staff on the FDA’s guide to safe food handling to minimize any unnecessary risk of food-borne illness. We’ve summarized below, but be sure to read the full FDA guidelines to ensure compliance:
- Clean: Everyone around the world is now so familiar with the 20 second rule for handwashing that there are handwashing playlists on Spotify, but there’s no harm in doubling down on this one with your staff. In addition to washing hands, cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops should be washed in hot, soapy water before being used for food prep, and produce and canned goods should be cleaned before handling.
- Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs should be kept separate from other foods in your fridge, grocery bags, and during food prep. Task your chef with setting up a standard for labelling food with expiration dates, and make an expiration chart to help your kitchen staff design menus based on inventory on hand.
- Cook: Cook all raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs to the appropriate temperatures specified by the FDA, using a meat thermometer to validate that food is fully cooked. Make sure to include the standard disclaimer about the health risks of serving raw or undercooked food on your menu or online ordering site where appropriate.
- Chill: Promptly refrigerate all perishable food items, using an appliance thermometer to ensure that refrigerator temperature remains below 40 degrees fahrenheit, and freezer temperature remains below zero degrees fahrenheit.
3. Redesign Your Menu
For most restaurants, the switch to a takeout and delivery only model will come with a lot of changes. One of the biggest changes you will need to make is completely updating your menu.
- Less is More: To make it easier for your guests to order from your site over the phone, online, or via an app, you will want to pare down the number of menu items available. Chefs recommend picking 10-15 total menu items to offer online during this time.
- Simplify, Simplify: It may be difficult to predict how much demand your restaurant is going to see from consumers as the virus runs its course. Eliminate food waste as much as possible by choosing menu items that share a lot of the same ingredients, and keep items on the menu that are less expensive to make (think: swap your steak salad for chicken).
- Optimize for Delivery: You will want to prioritize items that travel well on your menu to maintain a high level of service. Skip any items that get soggy (for example, fries) or will be overly messy to transport (like soups).
- Put Your Guests First: Just like the rest of us, your guests are locked at home and responsible with coming up with three meals a day. For families, that can translate to a lot of time in the kitchen while balancing supporting their kids through online education, and keeping up with their own responsibilities. Many restaurants are offering family style meals that can feed 4-6 people at a discount to make it easier for families to put food on the table. Other restaurants are making cooking fun by letting guests tune-in live for an at-home cooking class hosted by their chefs. Seattle fine dining staple, Canlis, is delivering gourmet family meals for delivery, and teaming up with some of their local suppliers to offer CSA deliveries as well.
- Celebrate With Your Guests: Your guests are used to sharing their most important milestones with you – from birthdays, to holidays, to engagements. Let your guests continue to celebrate with you by designing specials for upcoming holidays. Eberly in Austin, Texas, is offering a take home brunch for guests looking to spoil their moms, complete with assorted pastries, wine, and flowers.
- Support Your Staff: Give your guests an outlet to support your staff who may be furloughed or seeing a lower take home pay due to a drop in tips from dine-in guests. Add an “employee relief” fund as a menu option on your restaurant’s online ordering site or on any delivery apps your restaurant partners with.
4. Update Inventory & Food Cost
Once you’ve redesigned your menu, you will want to update your vendors on what your new inventory orders will look like, and then update your food cost to match.
You may not think of disposable gloves and masks as restaurant inventory items, but you may want to add them to the list to keep consumers comfortable getting takeout and delivery from your restaurant. If you choose to provide these items, ensure that they are placed in an area that is easy for your staff to find, and give them specific instructions on how to dispose of contaminated items at the end of their shift.
While you may not have the order volume necessary to move your full inventory before it expires, there are many creative ways you can bring in extra cash and avoid food waste:
- Design Specials: Design your menu to use up as much of the perishable inventory you have on hand in daily specials. Prioritize designing menu items using ingredients that are nearing their expiration dates. After months of days that all seem the same, your guests will be excited about a little variety.
- Gift Extra Inventory to Furloughed Staff: Many restaurants are giving excess perishable inventory that they do not have the demand to sell to their furloughed staff. While this may not pad your bottom line, it is a show of good faith and support to the staff that you hope to bring back in once this crisis happens.
- Connect Guests with Groceries: Many health experts are urging consumers to avoid in-person grocery shopping as much as possible. Many consumers have turned to grocery delivery platforms like Instacart and Postmates to try to avoid a trip to the store, but these companies simply do not have the operational capacity to keep up with the pace of orders, leaving most shoppers without a delivery window. Recoup costs on perishable inventory by offering groceries like meat and produce to your guests on your online ordering site, or for pickup.
5. Update Your Training Manual
Your staff is going to have their hands full adopting new safety procedures, re-learning the menu, and juggling new ordering channels like online ordering, phone orders, and orders pouring in from third party apps.
To help them stay up to speed with all of the changes coming at them, make sure to update your training manual to reflect the new processes and protocols you expect the team to follow, and make the training manual accessible to your staff online so they can review without unnecessary physical contact.
6. Communicate Changes with Your Guests
With regulations changing almost daily, many restaurant owners have had to make game-time decisions on whether to keep their doors open or shut down temporarily, leaving many guests confused about whether they can continue to support their favorite restaurants via takeout and delivery.
Here are a few ways to communicate with your customers about changes to your menu, updated hours, and policies to ensure safety of your guests and staff:
- Post on Your Social Media: Make sure to post that you are open for business on your restaurant’s social channels, including Facebook and Instagram. Use social media to share your updated menu, any adjusted hours, and let guests know how to order from your restaurant. Add your restaurant’s online ordering site or link to your restaurant’s page on delivery aggregators in your instagram bio, and include your restaurant’s phone number.
- Post Physical Signage Outside Your Restaurant: In light of nationwide lockdowns, most Americans are blowing off steam by taking in some fresh air. Make it easy for guests walking or driving by your restaurant to see how they can continue supporting your business by posting signs outside your restaurant detailing your updated hours, whether you’re offering takeout or delivery, and special accommodations like curbside pickup or contactless food dropoff. You can also advertise any promotions you are offering, like weekly specials or free delivery over a certain dollar amount.
- Google My Business: Make it easy for your guests to find your restaurant when searching for food in their local area by creating a free profile on Google My Business. Google reports that there are over 5 million searches every months for restaurants. If you already have a Google My Business profile, make sure to update your profile with any changes to your hours as a result of COVID, link to your online ordering channels in your profile, and indicate whether you are providing takeout or delivery.
7. Tackle Your To-Do List
Every restaurateur has a to-do list pinned somewhere in the back office that you never quite have time to get around to. As the world takes a break to hunker down, it might be time to pick up a new project or learn something new.
If you’ve been thinking about renovating or remodeling your restaurant and have the cash on hand to take that on, there’s never been a better time to prioritize that project. Your dining room is empty, so you won’t need to worry about closing down or disrupting the flow of service, and normally pricey kitchen equipment, furniture, and fixtures are deeply discounted.
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