Every Red Light Eventually Turns Green

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When faced with a lengthy business shutdown, it can be a roller coaster of emotions when you learn it’s time to re-open. While it is understandable that you want to open your doors as quickly as possible, you also want to ensure you’re doing it correctly and in a way that will not cause further damage to your brand, bottom line, staff, or guests.

The truth is, as a variety of government bodies have indicated; you’re likely going to have to open your venue in a series of phases. Are you financially & mindfully prepared for that?

You are also going to have to pivot (are you tired of that word yet?) if you haven’t already in addition to diversifying your menu and offerings.

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You are going to have to build a high level of trust with guests like never before.

You have to also use this time to be innovative by reviewing how technology can benefit your business and help you emerge ready for the modern era.

You are going to have to adapt to a new set of consumer behaviors and financial models.

Simply put, you are going to have to be open to and accepting of change.

Business Model

One thing this pandemic has done is it indicated a flawed business model throughout the industry (for the majority) – and we need to fix that moving forward if we want to create a new era of highly successful bars & restaurants. Now that everyone, for the most part, has seen that first hand – we can put the plans in place to make that happen. It cannot – and I repeat cannot - be the same repeated process we were once accustomed to.

We all need to be in that mindset of planning for a scalable & sustainable future by putting together a 30, 60,  and100-day strategy plan to move our brands forward.

You need to create a plan that involves a revised business model for your bar or restaurant. You need to create a plan that highlights a new or revised:

  • Customer Profiles & Journey Map
  • Menu Mix & Inventory System
  • Revenue Channels & Seating Alignments
  • Detailed Marketing & Guest Experience Plan
  • Health & Safety Standards & Procedures
  • Staff On-Boarding & Training Plan
  • Brand Guide w/ Core Values & Statements
  • Online-Ordering Strategy Implementing On-Going Pick-Up, Curb-Side, or Delivery
  • And a New Set of Financial Plans including Ongoing Labor Analysis

Here’s the thing, there is zero excuses for not having all of this in place moving forward. There must be a new business plan because the same old thinking will always generate the same old results.

Menu Mix

Start with a small tight, but diverse & exciting menu of your most popular and most profitable items. This is where having a good POS with historical data is important.

Keep the menu balanced, easy to execute, and a menu that allows you to re-purpose raw ingredients.

You should have a small, targeted menu anyways – but if you have more than 12 options – start with your top 10 food options and your signature drinks.

Keep in mind – when the nationwide or even state or province-wide restrictions get lifted – everyone – meaning hotels, resorts, casinos, bars, & restaurants - will be ordering food & drink at the same time from their suppliers. This means there will likely be shortages, there will be logistic issues, and there will be delays.

Have a communication and strategy plan in place with all of your vendors – including liquor, wine, and beer brands. Remember – we were all in this together. If they were a craft or artisanal vendor – they were possibly closed or operating at limited capacity or staffing as well and will need time to get back up to speed.

Start your menu out small and gradually increase your levels of production. This will of course also help with your immediate cash-flow and help you control your inventory.

You also want to remember that a lot of your guests are perhaps recovering financially as well – they may not be ready to splurge yet – therefore you want to keep a balance in price points while enhancing your overall perception of value when it comes to your new revised menu.

This comes full circle to know the details of your guests by completing your guest profiles and guest journey maps.

The last component of your menu is how it is presented to guests – especially if you offer dine-in service. It may be time to rid of those fancy menu covers – at least for now.

Your menus will want to be digital (on the guest's mobile phone integrated with mobile ordering) or disposable since guests won’t want something touched by another guest or staff. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t make logistical sense to disinfect menus between each & every guest.

Off-Premise

What is best for you, your guests, your food & beverage program, and your operations? Now I am guessing - most of you that just started take-out and delivery likely learned you will not be able to survive that way. Especially with the amount of real estate you likely have to pay for. What you did learn is perhaps you now have another revenue channel if you didn’t offer it before.

Take a long hard look at in-venue pick-up, versus curb-side, versus delivery. Moving forward post-pandemic - don’t stop that take-out, curbside, or delivery. Remember it’s going to take people a long time to adjust. They’re currently utilizing these methods and it has become somewhat of a norm or habit for consumers.

Some customer profiles will be hesitant to visit restaurants in particular, but they may still want to host a few friends or family members at their home without having to cook because well, they may all be tired of cooking by now.

Creating a catering program for both businesses and consumers will be a key to success moving forward and could be a high percent of your revenue mix.

Take the time now to ensure you have a dedicated pick-up area that keeps food warm & ready. Ensure you have the proper packaging and have tested your packaging.

If you can still do liquor to-go, could you do cocktail kits to go?

There are so many questions to answer and strategies to consider ensuring you’re maximizing each opportunity and every hour of the day.

Health & Safety

When reviewing your next steps and business model – you cannot forget about marketing. What’s the number one message people are going to want to learn from your brand over the next 1-12 months? The answer is how you’re going to keep them safe & healthy.

Now, when drinks start to flow, some of your guests will start to loosen up and forget about certain health & safety measures so it will be up to you and your staff to ensure the new health & safety procedures continue into the evening.

You’re going to want to market how you’re cleaning and keeping a sterile venue. You need to build a level of trust with guests. This virus may still be floating around when restrictions get lifted. I am not a doctor but from what we see & hear, it will be part of our lives for some time. So whether you’re a QSR, casual restaurant, bar, or fine dining, you need to continuously work hard to build a level of trust.

Trust, communication, authenticity needs to be at the forefront of your plans. From training staff on new health & safety measures to new and revised cleaning standards, this needs to be a focus and cannot be overlooked. Look at how consumers physically view your kitchen and your bar space. What can they physically see when they look around?

How is product including plates and glassware handled by staff? How is it being delivered to guests? What does that service sequence look like within your venue? This needs to be reviewed & tested to determine the number of touches or contacts.

How are your washrooms setup? Do you have motion-activated systems? Are there sanitizer machines at your venues exits and entrances? These are all touch-points and view-points you need to audit and implement a plan for.

People have created new habits and expectations surrounding cleanliness. Communicate these changes to your community on social media to show them how you’re protecting them.

This will be the new normal and will need to be a part of your new on-boarding, training, standard operating procedures, and your adapted marketing plans.

This will be more important to guests than perhaps the food & beverage menu you’re offering.

Staffing

You need to understand that a high percentage of venues are closing permanently or reducing their work-force. What does that mean? It means that the talent pool is going to be very different when we come out of this. There are going to be more people looking for work than positions available. Perhaps you had to lay-off or furlough your staff. Perhaps some found new work between that time and when it’s time to re-open. Many venues are going to be in a position to only hire or re-hire an a-team. 

Prior to the pandemic, the staff had control and the upper hand when it came to interviews and hiring due to an industry-wide shortage thanks to the over-saturation of bars & restaurants. Here’s the prediction post-pandemic- expect bars, restaurants, & hospitality businesses to regain the upper-hand. That’s a good thing for you as owners/operators.

For venues now, you need to review and enhance your onboarding program:

  • Prepare or review your core values
  • Develop your core statements
  • Write professional but fun job advertisements
  • Compile each positions details and their standard operating procedures & daily tasks
  • Review your pay-scales & staff-review periods
  • Review your entire interview process
  • And develop your training programs.

In summary – build the essence of culture. Create a winning environment anyone would love to work in. Provide them with the tools, resources, and experiences to maximize their potential and yours. Hire based on values and rely on your created training programs to create a new level of consistency.

Next, if your venue is closed or operating at limited capacity, you also need to understand that when the restrictions are lifted, you may not be able to have a full roster or work-force scheduled.

This is where again, understanding your customer profiles is crucial. The younger demographics are likely ready to get out and party – but consumers are not going to run back out the first day especially with the openings issued in phases.

For staff, gradually bring them back. Monitor your sales levels and demand. Give yourself time before re-opening to ensure your systems and training are ready. Provide a training program before re-opening, especially around these new health & safety measures.

Finally, consider a weekly schedule and payment payroll plan instead of bi-weekly or bi-monthly. It benefits the staff and it also helps with your forecasting as you’re seeing and adapting to changes. It helps keep it near real-time.

In summary – create a staff engagement plan that will position you to attain and retain the best staff possible. Service is going to be crucial moving forward – arguably more than it was previously.

Financials

Your revenue mix is likely going to be different then it was before as well. If you were a restaurant that did let’s say 60% dine-in, 20% take-out, 10% catering, and 10% delivery – expect that to fluctuate to a potential mix of 20% delivery, 40% take-out or curb-side, 20% catering, and 20% dine-in.  Everyone will be different, but this was just to illustrate the possible change you’re going to have to adapt to financially.

It is going to take months to get back to perhaps the same level of foot traffic you once had especially if you’re in a region that will be opened in a series of phases and let’s not forget this virus may return for a second wave post-summer break.

Whether you are a bar, or a casual restaurant, or quick-serve; these are all going to present different scenarios.

No matter the fluctuation in revenue mix or the table & seating alignment, it is obviously going to change how you operate from a financial point-of-view. The math is not going to be immediately in your favor therefore you’re going to have to really pay attention on a daily basis to how your revenue mix is split.

You cannot be reviewing your financials on a weekly or monthly basis like before; you must review this data now on a daily basis and know your numbers like never before.

As you can see, there are plenty of considerations that need to be reviewed to ensure you’re ready for the new era. It may sound like more planning than when you first opened and perhaps that’s true.

The good news is we have the time, resources, and the know-how to come out of this stronger when that red light eventually turns green. When faced with financial adversity, the ones that get creative and adapt to change always seem to come out stronger. Will you be ready?

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As a coach for world-class clients across the globe, Sean has a unique perspective for any operator.

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