It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the restaurant and foodservice business. While some businesses made the rapid switch to takeout and delivery models and succumbed to high service fees from third-party delivery services, others were forced to shut down completely, with a slim chance of opening up again for business post-pandemic.
Those that have survived, however, have adapted and combined flexibility, imagination and marketing to find new revenue streams. And while the future of dining out remains uncertain as a new year begins, there are a few steps that food businesses can take to keep their customer base during lockdowns and beyond.
Be Clear About Safety
When it comes to dining out or even ordering for takeout and delivery, many Americans remain understandably concerned for their safety. They might be wondering who touched the food, from the chef in the kitchen to the delivery person and whether they were wearing masks and washing their hands throughout the process.
Rather than assuming customers know the answers to those questions, it is best to reassure them of all safety and sanitation protocols, especially since Google searches for “is food delivery safe” have shot up 650 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Even though most safety policies are required by law, customers still appreciate the reassuring reminder that proper cleaning procedures were followed and restaurant staff were healthy.
Keep in Touch
In many states, dining restrictions are constantly changing, leaving many customers wondering whether their favorite restaurants are still open for business. In some areas of California, for example, restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining are wavering. In cases like this, communication is key. And since customers don’t want to be bombarded with emails, social media is a good place to post information such as hours, policies and contact information.
Communication via social media not only keeps customers up to date on the latest happenings, but it can also be used to offer incentives and giveaways. When it comes to dining out, the choices are endless, so offering coupons or specials give people another reason to order from your restaurant. Discounts can also be offered through third party-delivery apps such as Uber Eats and Grubhub.
New Normal? New Business Model
If the shift to takeout and delivery hasn’t been as lucrative as expected, there are some other business models to consider to remain open amid the “new normal.” For example, switching to a cloud kitchen or virtual kitchen model, where the sole purpose of the business is food delivery, could help cut down on some of the costs that traditional restaurant owners must pay. And since several cloud kitchens can share a space, rent is much more affordable than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
If running a restaurant is no longer sustainable, consider opening a food truck. During a time when indoor dining is limited or prohibited, a food truck can supplement a food business while operating safely and adhering to protocols.
While it hasn’t been easy for restauranteurs and food services, the good news is that people will always need to eat. Maintaining a customer base in 2021 will take some adjustments and patience, but if the cards are played right, a food business doesn’t need to suffer.