Published 8 April 2021
by Asif Muhammad
Ahead of the return of outdoor dining, Asif Muhammad from industry specialists Main Course Associates shares his top tips for reopening.
As the government begins talks on reopening businesses across the country, restaurants are at the top of that list. The challenges of the past 12 months have taken significant toll on the industry. Now – three lockdowns deep -there is a glimmer of hope as key dates are announced for the reopening of hospitality businesses.
Uncertainty still remains as to what ‘reopening’ really means, however. Now, more than ever, it is important to have a reopening strategy and the key tools in place to thrive post Covid.
It’s important to note that even if reopening your restaurant is possible, things will not be able to go back to ‘normal’ from day one – there is a lot to do, staff to bring back or hire, vendors to contact, menus to update and preventative measures still need to be taken to protect the health of customers and staff. By thinking ahead you can be one of the first businesses available to customers once lockdown begins to lift.
With this in mind, we’ve put together 10 tips to help you prepare for the reopening of your business.
While business is slow take the time to learn how to better manage food costs, revamp your menu and widen your margins. The market trend for 2021 is to enhance gross margin – use previous data to determine your historic menu trends, best-selling items and dishes that are more cost and effort than they are worth. Trim down your menu and take off the items that aren’t selling or are slow moving. As the saying goes ‘if the kid’s not contributing, they have to get out of the house’.
Contactless takeout and delivery options have become the new normal. It would be worth not abandoning the new takeout and/or delivery systems you may have put in place – customers may very well still be looking for it.
Look deeper into your P&L statements to better understand where your money is going in order to make better decisions now and in the future. This crisis is clearly changing the way restaurants operate, and smart businesses will need to look at ways to operate in an even smarter fashion.
Successful businesses are made up of people, products, and processes, all properly arranged to profitably win, serve and maintain its customer base. By properly systematising your entire enterprise, you will establish a clear view of how every aspect of your business works, helping you to guide and manage your teams more effectively. By implementing systems, the business that you’ve invested so much into is guaranteed to continue to evolve and grow.
Now is also the time to update your onboarding process and training procedures so you are prepared for the return of your staff and/or hiring of new staff, especially having to add controls & systems for Covid-19 safety. Many people are unemployed right now, and when restaurants are able to reopen there will be a lot of people looking for work. The power is in your hands – hire the right people and set them up for success, and you’ll lower your staff turnover rates, saving you money in the long run.
Simply resuming operations will not be enough for most businesses to survive. It is highly likely that your guests’ requirements, attitudes and mindsets have changed significantly and these will be reflected in their spending habits. Restaurants should remain adaptable to changing market and consumer habits. It’s about being innovative, watching trends and finding ways to fulfil a need and follow through.
Reopening doesn’t mean you’ll immediately go back to pre-COVID numbers for dine-in, so decide if you want to return to full open hours or continue to operate on a modified schedule. In some cases, it may not make sense for you to reopen on the same schedule as the country is allowing. While some restaurants will try reopening to test out the market and adjust, others might choose to stay strictly takeout and delivery until they see fit to change.
For restaurant businesses, the most obvious benefit of promoting and ensuring social distancing is to keep guests and staff safe. Before customers return, restaurants should introduce a company-wide culture of hyper-cleanliness that goes beyond their normal sanitation guidelines and cleaning procedures. Adapting to table spacing, dividers, food preparation, and more will help gain the trust of returning customers and hopefully new ones. Al fresco dining will be a trend this year – consider some new innovative moves.
Keeping your restaurant on customers’ minds is crucial to winning back their business. If you are not communicating, they might think you have shut down for good. Social media is a great tool for communicating – keep content light and entertaining – share stories, recipes, developments, menus, and more! Keep your customers in the know about your reopening timeline and communicate any changes accordingly.
Make sure you are accessing all government and local authority assistance to reopen. Keep an eye on your local authority website and apply for the new restart grants when they become available.
Remember, businesses fail when they do not have sufficient cash reserves. Set reasonable expectations with your supply chain, landlords, lenders and other suppliers to ensure you are not spreading yourself too thin and building a contingency you will require in the initial phase to rebuild your cash position.
Finally, be on the lookout for new opportunities as they pop up, and be willing to change your mindset and accept that there’s going to be a new normal. And whatever that normal is, if you have a plan and you’re flexible and adaptable you will not only survive but you will also thrive.
Asif Muhammad is the CEO of Friend of CODE Main Course Associates. MCA is a leading hospitality industry specialist providing financial, accounting & management support services. To find out more, visit their Friend of CODE profile here.