What Restaurateurs Need to Know Right Now About the COVID-19 Pandemic
The past few weeks have been disastrous for the restaurant industry. With COVID-19 prompting a mass shutdown of public life, independent restaurants across the US have seen a rapid decrease in sales. Many have had to close their dining rooms all together.
What can you do in a time like this? Here at ChowNow, we’re not going to claim to have all the answers. We do have some suggestions, though, for trying to get by during this crisis.
Take a look at our running list of recommendations below. Given that we’re all in a rapidly changing situation, we’ll be updating this post regularly over the coming days and weeks. Bookmark this page and revisit it for our latest suggestions.
1. Use all the online ordering tools available to you.
It’s critical to keep revenue coming in right now. If you’re a ChowNow restaurant partner, use all the tools at your disposal to make it easier for customers to find and order from your restaurant. Talk to the Restaurant Success Team to set up the following options, if you haven’t already:
- Food Ordering with Google: This lets customers discover and order from your restaurant, straight from Google Maps, Search, and Assistant. It’ll help you get in front of all the Google users searching both specifically for your restaurant and for related terms like “pizza open now” or “ribs to-go Portland.”
- Yelp Ordering: Even if you don’t love Yelp, it may be worth putting that aside for now and letting them send you orders. You can always turn it off when we’re on the other side of this crisis.
- Delivery: ChowNow’s delivery add-on lets you use on-demand delivery without paying commission. The rate is based on distance, and you can automatically share all or some of the fee with your customers.
2. Add to your pick-up and delivery offerings.
Whether you’re working with a third-party marketplace, using branded online ordering built by a provider like ChowNow, or taking orders over the phone, now is the time to adjust your menu to drive more sales.
Here are some ideas:
- Add a curbside pickup option to your online ordering, or specify that it’s an option for phone orders. ChowNow has built a curbside pickup feature that you can easily turn on within your menu.
- Add gift cards to your menu. Some restaurants are even offering discounts on their gift cards to further stimulate cash flow.
- Offer large format takeout or a family-style to move more inventory. Position it as an option for feeding the whole family or freezing for later.
- Even though things are dark, many of your customers will want to celebrate upcoming holidays. Package together festive offerings for Passover and Easter that are higher-value and easy for families to enjoy at home.
- Create do-it-yourself kits that will last for longer and provide a fun activity for families to do together. Some restaurants are offering DIY pizza packages, pasta and sauce pairings, or even cookie decorating kits. Market these bundles to parents, since they’re great for keeping kids entertained while they’re home from school.
- Put grocery and pantry goods on the menu, too. Take inspiration from other restaurants, who are selling everything from house-made spice blends to uncooked rice to produce baskets.
- Don’t forget the drinks! Delivery and pick-up restrictions regarding alcohol vary based on local laws and licenses, but if you can add beer and wine to your menu, now’s a good time. Many restaurants are even going a step further and offering pre-mixed cocktails. Up the ante and sell them in larger sizes designed for sharing.
- If your restaurant has any branded merchandise, such as t-shirts, mugs, or hats, don’t forget to include it on your menu. It’s a simple way to ask your customer base to demonstrate their support.
- Keep your staff employed by turning them into your new delivery team. If you use ChowNow, it’s simple to set up your fees, hours, and delivery zone.
Use social media and email to get the word out about your updated takeout offerings, and make it clear to your customers that your restaurant wants to serve them and depends on their help.
3. Watch out for commission-based delivery apps.
Given that many restaurants have had to pivot to exclusively pick-up and delivery, there’s an increasing urgency to adopt online ordering. Not all online ordering providers are created equal, though. Even in times of emergency, many commission-based marketplace apps are profiting off of independent restaurateurs.
As Forbes puts it: “What Grubhub is actually offering, according to its terms and conditions, is a short-term deferral of marketing commission fees [not delivery or processing fees]. In addition, the terms of the relief program require restaurants signing up to continue partnering with Grubhub for at least one year.”
On top of that, Grubhub recently announced a promotion asking customers to order takeout or delivery as a means to “support the restaurants they love.” Unfortunately, that support actually means asking restaurants to give out $10 discounts to their customers—and then levying commissions on the full, non-discounted value of the order.
Eater cites the terms of the promotion: “I also understand and agree that (a) Restaurant will fund the full cost of redeemed Promotions, and (b) Grubhub commissions may be charged on the non-discounted product total rather than the amount paid by the customer.”
Uber Eats, meanwhile, has temporarily waived delivery fees for diners who order from independent restaurants, but has made no mention of relief efforts for restaurants themselves.
Food and Wine provides a breakdown of how Grubhub, Uber Eats, and other commission-based delivery apps are reacting to the crisis, often without offering much help to the restaurants that depend on them.
4. Stay connected to your community.
This is a time for everyone to band together, do what they can to help, and exercise their collective voice.
Consider setting up a Venmo or GoFundMe for your restaurant to help keep paying your employees and ensure their basic needs are covered. Look at the Small Business Administration‘s disaster loan program, and review Eater’s growing list of resources for restaurants and their staff to get assistance.
New York state is imposing a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions due to the crisis.
With the CARE (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act being signed into law on March 27, there are more resources you can use. Look at this short guide from US Foods about what’s available to you.
If you believe that the restaurant industry needs more government assistance, contact your local representatives and spread the word. The National Restaurant Association is advocating for $455 billion in federal aid, petitions are being circulated online, and industry observers are echoing calls for help.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Everyone is stressed right now, and it’s easy to forget to pause, breathe, and rest. Here are some resources that may help.
- Headspace: This app is offering a free collection of guided meditations and exercises.
- Crisis Text Line: Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the US, and you’ll be connected to a trained crisis counselor. Crisis counselors are trained to bring texters from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening and collaborative problem solving.
- CDC: The Centers for Disease Control has a list of tips for managing stress and anxiety.
- Balance: This month, Balance is offering a free one-year subscription. Using an audio library with thousands of files, Balance assembles meditations personalized for you.
- Sneak Peek: ChowNow’s Free Loyalty Program for Restaurants - March 25, 2020
- What Restaurateurs Need to Know Right Now About the COVID-19 Pandemic - March 19, 2020
- Why Prices on Grubhub Just Skyrocketed - February 11, 2020