This past year, The Independent Restaurant Coalition was fighting hard to get a bailout for restaurants, bars, inns, taverns, and food and beverage establishments. Despite their efforts and hard work, it appears this may not be happening just yet.
The White House announced a hold on negotiating the latest stimulus package, called the HEROES Act, until after the election, then quickly turned an about-face just days later. When exactly will small business owners and restaurants get the relief help they need? At this point, who knows.
To me, it was already too little, too late. Mid-November is just too far away to make any sort of impact for restaurant owners, sad to say. The pain and suffering has been too much and too long.
Folks, hoping and relying on the government to help you in this time of crisis will kill your business. You need to be doing everything you can to keep your restaurant operating without federal assistance.
Here are a few unconventional survival strategies that restaurants should be considering right now.
Cater to your regular customers
Communication is vital for any business’s survival, but communicating with your repeat customers is crucial to surviving this strange, new world we live in today.
Repeat customers, or “regulars,” are keener on spending money in your establishment than new customers. Reach out to them and thank them for their patronage. Offer them a small discount as another small thank you.
Your communication lines with your customers shouldn’t stop at “come on in, we’re open again,” it should include updates on your situation, information about the safety protocols you’ve put in place, hours of operations, take-out options, and changes to the menu. Make your communications as personal as possible.
Work with your vendors.
Reduce the size of your menu to cut inventory costs. It’s a no-brainer, and it’s something nearly every restaurant is doing already.
Set new standards, terms, and rules with your vendors; no good comes from you going out of business, meaning you hold leverage here. Want better pricing and generous terms? Don’t hesitate to switch vendors.
With a limited menu, shop around for the best deals to cut costs. Give your current vendors the right of first refusal on your demands, so you don’t sabotage your long-term relationship and still have negotiation room. If current vendors will not work with you on pricing and terms, again, drop them! New vendors will typically be more aggressive in pricing and terms to land an account.
Train staff & focus on the customer experience
Train your staff on the safety protocols necessary to make your customers feel safe. Take temperatures at the door, properly distance customers six feet apart, wear and discard PPE.
Do things that will cost you little to nothing.
Sell gift cards at a discount.
Market them online and in person. Offer a $50 gift card or certificate for $45. At the very least, six-percent of gift cards go unused, so you’ve made a profit. More importantly, you will be bringing cash in the door.
Create and maintain an online newsletter.
Collect emails from your clients and establish consistent communication with them. Inform them of specials, times of services, and–most importantly–masks are required to enter your restaurant, and temperatures will be taken at the door; temps over 99º will not be allowed to stay.
Create a virtual business to supplement your in-person experience.
Host virtual wine tastings, cheese pairings, cooking classes and more to keep customers engaged.
Negotiate relentlessly with landlords, vendors, bankers, and more.
You already have an idea on how to negotiate with your vendors, but what about your landlords? Give me a call at (800) 743-0410, and I can prepare you how.
With a reduced staff, this is the perfect time to let go of the underperformers and the “dead weights.”
Do something to entertain your customers. Hold a weekly special event, such as a wine pairings night, and host them on your “slow” evenings.
Restaurant owners have really taken it on the chin these past few months, and as a person who is passionate about your industry, I want to help.
Feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected] to get assistance.