Reopening Your Restaurant? Here’s Your Digital To-Do List

By ChowNowJul 29th, 2020

Restaurant Reopening Digital Strategies

This post was last updated in August 2021.

It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for restaurants. Industry sales fell by 26.7% compared to their prior year period between February and March, and by a jaw-dropping 48.6% in April. While we’re in stabler territory for the time being, things are still grim for the restaurant industry. Now, as a patchwork of laws and guidelines has allowed for more and more restaurant reopenings, many questions remain.

Some restaurateurs are jumping on the opportunity to reopen for dine-in, while others are extremely hesitant and have no plans to reopen anytime soon. After all, there are many factors to account for when you’re deciding how and when to reopen your restaurant. Finances are the most critical concern for most restaurateurs, but they should be weighed alongside both public health guidelines, recommendations from the CDC, Department of Labor, and the FDA — along with the concerns of your employees and customers.

These guidelines and conversations with your staff may give you a good idea of what to prioritize when you reopen, and what your timeline will be. While every restaurant’s action plan will be different (and tough!), we’re here to lend a hand with powerful digital strategies that will help your restaurant as it reopens.

1. Reopen your restaurant with contactless dine-in technology.

In the world of COVID-19, restaurants need to minimize interpersonal contact and maximize efficiency. This is why industry leaders like the NRA recommend digital menus and contactless dining technology. With a contactless dine-in model, your customers can view your menu, place an order, and pay using their own devices.

A restaurant with a contactless dining menu item on their ChowNow menu.

If you use ChowNow for online ordering, it’s simple to create a dine-in option that’s convenient and safe. An added bonus: Your customers and staff won’t have to get used to another system as they acclimate to all of the other changes you’re making. Get our instructions and tips for creating a contactless dining solution with ChowNow here

2. Plan for a hybrid model that still emphasizes takeout.

By now, you have probably grown used to offering takeout and having it make up a hearty portion of your sales. While you may assume that it will fade into the background again once you reopen your dining room, it will actually still be a critical part of your business. With many governments creating new restrictions on seating capacity due to health concerns, your restaurant unfortunately won’t be able to serve the same amount of dine-in guests you once did. Additionally, there are many potential customers who don’t feel comfortable dining in. Make sure you can still serve them and give them a great experience with these suggestions:

Keep curbside and delivery on the table. Certain customers won’t feel safe entering your restaurant to pick up food, especially when there are other guests eating there. Continuing to offer delivery and curbside will make it much simpler for these diners to support your restaurant and enjoy your food.

Ditch the commissions. If you’re using a third-party delivery app that charges commissions on every order, know that you have other options. ChowNow offers commission-free delivery that’s a simple distance-based fee, which you can automatically split with your guests. Download our free checklist for making your delivery operations profitable here.

Use all of the online ordering channels you have. Depending on which online ordering provider you use, you may be able to integrate your online ordering with other sites and apps where customers discover restaurants online. This way, you’ll acquire new customers—without relying on commissions-based apps—and make all the revenue you can during this difficult time.

An example of OpenTable integrated ordering.

Upper West lists their online ordering, powered by ChowNow, on their OpenTable page.

ChowNow’s restaurant partners can take orders directly from some of the world’s most popular websites, including:

  • Google Search, Maps, and Assistant
  • Instagram
  • Yelp
  • OpenTable
  • TripAdvisor

An example of TripAdvisor integrated ordering.

Porto’s Bakery has integrated their ChowNow online ordering into their TripAdvisor listing.

3. Review and revise your menus.

Many restaurants have significantly changed their takeout menus throughout the pandemic. In fact, it seems common now for eateries to have pantry items, take-and-bake bread, and merchandise on their menus. Given that many consumers are still very cautious about heading back out to grocery stores and restaurants, it only makes sense to keep groceries on your takeout menu. Don’t count out merchandise either—it just sends more revenue to your restaurant.

When it comes to what you’re actually cooking, though, you’ll probably have to reconsider what’s possible with a smaller staff and a hybrid dine-in/takeout model. In fact, many restaurants are slimming down their menus in order to reduce waste, simplify training and prep, and save money. Make sure you use menu engineering tactics so you don’t leave money on the table as you reopen your dining room. If you’re a ChowNow restaurant partner, you should also schedule a menu optimization call with your Restaurant Success Manager. They’ll help you highlight your most profitable dishes on your ChowNow menu, suggestively upsell, and increase your order sizes.

4. Keep communicating with your customers about your restaurant’s reopening.

Chris Madrid’s uses Instagram to communicate updates about their operations.

Given all of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it’s absolutely essential to keep communicating with your customers. Over the past few months, we’ve advised restaurants to post their menus and hours to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Maintain that momentum, and include information like:

  • How and when your restaurant is reopening. Is capacity limited? Are you using a reservations system? How will guests order?
  • Which safety precautions you’re taking, ranging from retraining staff and providing them with personal protective equipment to deep-cleaning your space.
  • What you need your customers to do in order to keep themselves and your staff safe. There are reports across the country of restaurant guests refusing to wear face masks and becoming belligerent when asked to do so. These sorts of encounters pose a risk to your restaurant, employees, and other customers, so it’s wise to be overly communicative and vigilant when it comes to the rules. 
  • Whether you’re still offering pickup, curbside, and/or delivery. Reinforce these messages by linking to your online ordering and using tools like Instagram Ordering.

Don’t limit communication to social media, either. Update information on your website, like our restaurant partner Cafe Audrey has done in the example below. Send out emails to educate your customer base, and use on-premise collateral like posters and flyers to bolster messages about safety and your new protocols.

Cafe Audrey has put a pop-up on their website to keep customers informed.

Reopening your restaurant is no easy task. The COVID-19 pandemic has created very precarious circumstances for everyone, including restaurateurs. It’s smart to keep your options open and understand that we’re not out in the clear yet. In fact, cases are continuing to grow, and certain restaurants are already closing their dining rooms again. As tough as things are, know that everyone is rooting for restaurants to thrive, and you can always reach out to the ChowNow team for support.

Free your restaurant from online ordering fees.

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