By Megan Prevost from MustHaveMenus
Since 2020, the restaurant industry has been on the rocks. With closures and strict policies, it’s been hard for restaurants to find success in the same ways they used to. After two years, the pandemic seems to be slowing down. Although there’s no way to be certain we’re out of the weeds, it’s a good idea to start looking forward. Unfortunately, things will never be the same as they were before the pandemic happened, so it’s time to address the “new normal” and think about how your restaurant can fit into people’s new and ever-changing lifestyles.
The pandemic rocked the restaurant industry, causing massive shutdowns amidst the global lockdown. Some restaurants were able to open back up after the lockdown, but many decided to close their doors for good, unable to keep themselves afloat without their daily income. The restaurants that were able to reopen in the summer of 2021 did so with strict guidelines. Some chose to only offer takeout and some offered smaller menus and socially distanced seating plans.
Even after restaurants were opened again at full capacity, dining wasn’t the same. Because of the labor shortage, staffing was increasingly more difficult, making it hard to provide quality service. On top of that, guests and employees were still required to follow specific guidelines, like complying with temperature checks or following mask and vaccine mandates.
It’s unlikely that dining will return to normal any time soon, so it’s time to start looking forward to a better, more satisfying dining experience across the board. How can we embrace these protocols while still moving forward?
As of right now, the “new normal” consists of skeptic diners, protocols for employees, labor shortages, and more. There are plenty of people returning to restaurants, but some still have some (justified) anxiety about the entire experience. Most restaurants still have COVID-19 protocol signs placed around and hand sanitizer docked wherever necessary. These things make people feel safe and secure in the dining experience, and they likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Contactless experiences, like QR codes, likely won’t be going anywhere in the near future either. Guests enjoy being able to access restaurant menus without having to touch a menu that may or may not be wiped down between guests. However, at this time, it’s important to have both options available to satisfy all types of customers, including those that are sick of seeing QR codes everywhere.
It’s safe to say that we can continue to invest in the idea of automation and the contactless experience alongside alternative options. People enjoy being able to choose whether or not they have to interact with people, and with the ongoing labor shortage, it helps to offer these self-service options.
Now that we’ve discussed what the “new normal” might look like, it’s time to think about how your restaurant can embrace these changes and build back better. Whether you closed during the pandemic and are beginning to open up again or you’re just looking to invest more in your business, here are a few tips you should keep in mind.
Without a happy, well-trained staff, your restaurant can quickly fall apart. Stressed, burnt-out employees just don’t provide the same high-quality customer service that happy employees do. But how do you ensure that your employees stay happy and upbeat during such a downer of a time period?
First things first, try and make their “not-so-fun” jobs as easy as possible. BOH tasks like taking inventory and placing orders are imperative for your restaurant, however, they often get put on the back burner when you’re short staffed. Even more so if you don’t have the proper inventory and ordering systems in place to make the things on their to-do list as efficient and painless as possible.
Also to be considered is increasing your employees’ wages whenever possible. Raises offer a great incentive for employees and will help to decrease a high turnover rate, meaning you’ll spend less time training overall.
You can also offer benefits to your employees, such as health insurance, PTO, paid holidays, and more. Adding these extra benefits will help make your restaurant an appealing place to work and in turn, keep your employees happy.
We’re leaving complexities in 2019, because we just don’t have the time for a Cheesecake Factory length menu these days. Not only do customers suffer from choice paralysis with these long, laundry list menus, but they put more stress on the cooking and serving staff. Cooks have to prepare more foods and servers have to spend more time memorizing and learning about the different options. By offering a simplified menu, you can solve both of these problems.
Not only that, but simplified menus often reflect a more upscale, curated experience. With a simplified menu, you can also invest more into a few select dishes, ensuring that they’re absolutely delicious. With a large menu, it might be easier for a few not-so-tasty things to slip through the cracks.
Not sure which dishes to keep and which ones to toss off the menu? You may need to do a pulse check on each of their profitability. Those with a high profitability and a high popularity are the ones to prioritize whereas those with a low profitability and low popularity are the ones to think about removing.
What about the ones that are popular but possess a low profitability? You may need to “PIP” those menu items.
We should prepare to open customers back into our restaurants with open arms. While many customers have already begun to return, we need to ensure that we’re ready to make even the most hesitant of customers feel at home. By providing excellent customer service and delicious food, they’ll be reminded of why the dining experience is so special and different from other things we experience in life.
We’re not saying you should revert to the “classic” dining experience and remove all QR codes and contactless options, but put more emphasis on ensuring that your guests have a great time during their visits. Encourage servers to make personalized recommendations, and have your management staff check on tables to see how they’re enjoying their visits.
Unfortunately, while many diners will return to your restaurant, there are many that will still choose to stay at home. And that’s okay! To ensure that you’re not keeping these customers out of the loop, make sure you continue to offer services that they enjoy, like high quality take out and curbside pick up.
If you’re able to sell alcohol in your state, keep doing it! People who enjoy eating from home love these options, and you shouldn’t take them away just because on-site dining is picking up.
The world is ever-changing, and it’s hard to predict exactly what might happen in 2022 and beyond. While you can work on embracing the “new normal” that we’re experiencing right this second, it’s important to remember that things could change at the drop of a hat anytime in the next few years.
Maybe we’ll switch completely to robot dining or maybe QR codes will disappear forever. There’s no way to know for certain, so keep an open mind and adapt to the changes as they come up.
If you’ve been concerned about your restaurant’s business, now’s your time to shine! Use the tips listed above to build your restaurant back better and embrace the ever-changing world we live in today. Guests are returning to restaurants and it’s time to wow them with what you have to offer.
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