Strategies for Restaurateurs to Adapt, Cope, and Evolve During the COVID-19 Crisis

By ChowNowApr 15th, 2020

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.
  • Instagram Ordering: Instagram’s new feature lets customers order straight from Instagram Stories and your Instagram profile. It’s completely free with your ChowNow subscription. See how to set it up here.

If you’re not a ChowNow restaurant partner yet, schedule a demo with an online ordering expert to get started with these tools.

2. Offer a membership to your loyal customers.

ChowNow’s newest offering, Loyal Local, is a premium membership program that you can offer to your customers. It’s designed to get your restaurant upfront cash while ensuring loyalty down the road.

It costs nothing for your restaurant to participate in Loyal Local. Your customers will pre-pay a yearly membership fee straight to you in exchange for continual perks, including discounts. Learn more about how it all works here.

3. 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.
  • 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. Encourage your customers to demonstrate their support by purchasing an item.
  • 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.

4. 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. 

Grubhub (which also owns Seamless) announced that it is deferring commission fees for the independent restaurants on its platform. Unfortunately, there’s some fine print here.

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.

Get the full story about how third-party delivery apps are deceiving independent restaurants, stealing their customers, and eroding their profits by reading our ebook: 4 Myths About Third-Party Restaurant Delivery—Busted.

Read the eBook

5. 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. 

With the CARES (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.

Here are some other resources and notable updates:

  • The Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation has a very helpful index with links to relief funds, information about unemployment, advice for immigrants working in the industry, tax information, and much more.
  • The National Restaurant Association has compiled a guide with frequently asked questions about how the pandemic is affecting restaurants, and how you can get help from the CARES Act. Look at their state-by-state listings of resources available to you, too.
  • The National Restaurant Association has also established a relief fund for employees.
  • New York state is imposing a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions due to the crisis. The state of Iowa and cities including San Francisco and Santa Fe are issuing similar breaks, and more jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, are considering them.
  • If you or your staff have federal student loans, you will not have to pay them until September 30. During this time period, you won’t be charged interest, either.

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

There are a number of tools you can use to find contact information for your federal, state, and local representatives, including the, My Reps, and Common Cause.

6. 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.

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