COVID-19: The Return of the Restaurant Industry

Guest post by Yolanda Lockhart-Davis

Originally appeared here.

Our news is dominated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the impact on the foodservice and restaurant industry has been catastrophic, moments of light are emerging in the midst of this struggle.

As a restauranteur or food business owner, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is, “What can I possibly do NOW to ensure that my business makes it to the other side of this crisis?”

With so much more free time, I have spent more hours than usual reviewing and discussing food safety, strategic planning & restaurant technology with industry professionals, and I’ve been able to break down practical guidance into three categories:

1. Infrastructure

When the dust settles, the businesses who will survive this crisis will be the ones who already had, or were able to quickly pivot to put infrastructure in place. Regardless of your size or menu concept, you will need to prepare to implement many of the concepts successfully executed by our favorite QSR leaders.

The list of “22 Online Ordering Statistics Every Restauranteur Should Know in 2020” presents a compelling look at the fact that online ordering is no longer optional for restaurants who want to survive, and that was BEFORE the pandemic.

If you didn’t already have relationships with 3rd party delivery services (i.e. Caviar, DoorDash, or Mercato), or have a digital ordering, delivery, kiosk and POS solution in place that also accepts contactless payments (i.e. Toast integrated with industry leader Olo), now is the time to determine which options are best for you.

2. Food Safety

Food Safety is presumed to be one of the cornerstones of food service, yet (based on publicly available information from local Health Departments) it has been more of an afterthought in too many operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought food safety and public health into the spotlight like never before. To inspire confidence in the minds of your customers, BOH, FOH, and Back-Office staff, be sure your updated Food Safety Management Systemincorporates Best Practices from the FDA (as of 4/13/20), as well as EPA-registered disinfectants, with exceptional transparency in your employee policies and consumer marketing.

Now is also the time to look critically at your pest control provider, as integrated pest management is an essential part of your HACCP Plan. With their team of Board-Certified entomologists, Western is particularly well-positioned as one of the most knowledgeable foodservice partners in the industry.

Tracking each element of your daily food safety practices is something that will need to occur every day, during every shift. To make the process easier, you will likely want to incorporate an operations execution solution such as JOLTZenput, or Rizepoint to standardize team accountability and food safety compliance throughout your operation.

3. Strategic Planning

For all the times you may have said “I don’t have TIME for that…” in the past, now is the time to focus on strategic planning. With leading scientifictechnical and economic sources projecting the pandemic to last for at least 18 months, businesses need to prepare for multiple phases of operational interruptions. The best thing we can do now is to make sure we are more prepared tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Maintain Social Distancing Protocols – Think about how you could either reconfigure your dining space or otherwise ensure that guests are seated at tables that are at least 6 feet apart. Although it may have seemed laughably futuristic just a year ago, examine whether a “collaborative robotics solution” might be right for your business in this age of heightened food safety and social distancing. If you (like I did as a child) ever wished for “The Jetsons” to come to life, this concept is guaranteed to delight and intrigue you.

Simplify Your Menu – With online & delivery firmly incorporated as part of your business model, you may want to re-think plate presentation in terms of which menu items will “travel well”, and which will translate into “family meals”.

Inventory Planning – A simpler menu will undoubtedly make food costing and inventory planning easier. The next step will require critical thinking about your non-food inventory; Not only takeout containers, carry-out bags, but tamper-proof packaging and pre-wrapped cutlery kits (which may also be used in your dining room).

Menu Costing – Implementing any or all of these changes will require re-calculating your recipe & menu costs. This is one of the many advantages of having an industry-leading restaurant management platform such as XtraChef as part of your infrastructure.

Minimize Food Waste –  Most of us are generally familiar with the statistics on household and restaurant food waste, but perhaps less familiar with the level of food waste occurring in every category of the supply chain. When you consider that this has a significant and direct impact on sliver-thin margins, it becomes imperative that you spend time planning how you can create a zero-waste kitchen as a way to keep more money in your bank account instead of your dumpster.

When your customers return (and they will), you’ll be very glad you took this time to plan for more thoughtful, safe, and efficient operations. Your staff will be more engaged, your customers will thank you with repeat business, and you’ll have higher confidence in your plans to satisfy their collective needs for comfort, career ambitions, culinary adventures, and celebrations for years to come.

Finally, reach out to me if you would like help with strategic planning, if you need to update your FSMS, or if you need further analysis to determine the best technology solutions for your business.

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