How Restaurants Can Survive and Thrive—Webinar Recap
From top left to bottom right: Carl Turner, founder and CEO of Swipeby; Eric Jaffee, COO of ChowNow; Nancy Monroe, editor of Foodservice News; Randy Stanley, owner of 6Smith and Baldamar restaurants in Minnesota; and Nick Upton, restaurants editor at Franchise Times and Food on Demand.
Independent restaurants expect to be hit the hardest by the pandemic, but they are also in the unique position to quickly pivot to stay afloat amid shutdowns and successfully stay open after.
How restaurants can survive was the topic of the third installment of Restaurant Recovery Week, a series of five webinars aimed at helping restaurant operators survive COVID-19, from Food On Demand, the Restaurant Finance Monitor, Foodservice News and Franchise Times. Moderated by Nancy Monroe, editor of Foodservice News, the webinar included panelists Eric Jaffee, COO of ChowNow; Carl Turner, founder and CEO of Swipeby; Randy Stanley, owner of 6Smith and Baldamar restaurants in Minnesota; and Nick Upton, restaurants editor at Franchise Times and Food on Demand.
A prominent topic during the discussion was the role of curbside pickup and delivery being the only remaining channel for restaurants.
“We went to work redeveloping our menu for what our customers might want for takeout while maintaining our brand and keeping our supply chain going,” Stanley said. “We’ve also worked with small local businesses to source products.”
Stanley also looked at their pricing model from packaging to garnishes and has made adjustments that are cost-effective, yet still true to his branding. He estimates his restaurants' current menus are at about 35 percent of what their menu used to be.
“We tried to cherry-pick top sellers, but those food items are not always relevant to to-go markets,” Stanley said. “We’ve had to reevaluate and change constantly.”
Jaffee suggested if a restaurant can repurpose bartenders to delivery drivers, they can continue being the face of the restaurant and brand and offer that friendly, familiar face to customers.
“Keeping staff around is important,” Jaffee said. “This might be the new normal for now, but when things go back, you want to have your staff available to you. When you aren’t doing your own delivery, you’re giving away that brand experience.”
Turner, whose company Swipeby offers a platform app to turn restaurants into virtual drive-thrus, has come into the off-premises market and space at the right time. A fairly new company just around for about a year, Turner has seen the demand for the off-premises market growing over some time—COVID-19 has just tipped that demand over the edge.
“There’s an entire shift of people being trained that they can get things very conveniently,” Turner said. “We’re also seeing a trend in restaurants selling normal grocery, retail-like items. We’ve seen some, but not a lot.”
Regarding some states allowing restaurants to sell beer and wine to-go now, some panelists questioned whether that was a ruling here to stay or only during the pandemic.
“Rolling it back might be more controversial than brining it in,” Turner pondered, while Stanley said in Minnesota, the exception would end when the stay-at-home order lifts.
Customer data discussion
Jaffee’s company ChowNow is an online food ordering platform that connects customers with local restaurants, and shares that customer data with those restaurants. To Jaffee, this is an important differentiator between ChowNow and third-party delivery platforms.
“Your customer’s data—their name, email, phone number—that’s your customer’s identity. If you own and control this, that means no one else does,” Jaffee said. “If you concede control of that data to a company that’s going to sell it back to you at a premium, you concede your revenue.”
Turner stressed the importance of researching the interests of the third-party platform before going into business with them.
“If they share or don’t share data is a good indicator of if they have the restaurant in mind,” Turner said. “Restaurants cannot forget with COVID-19 that it’s the restaurant brand that makes the food.”
For Stanley, he expects curbside service to continue and be much more robust.
“We’re embracing it as an opportunity to increase sales. I’m hoping curbside will be 10 percent of my business,” Stanley said. “It could be a nice supplemental increase in sales a year from now.”
Stanley is also putting a list together on the changes that will be made in his restaurants, from how the customer walks into the space to if servers will be wearing masks and gloves.
“We’re looking for ways to contribute to a strong trust position,” Stanley said. “If we don’t rebuild trust with sanitation and caring that customers don’t get exposed to the disease, then it’s going to be a long haul.”
Turner thinks that once a vaccine is successful and medical professionals know how to treat it, people will go back to normal, but with changed behaviors.
“More sanitation is never a bag thing,” Turner said. “As things are starting to adjust in the industry and society, we’ll have a lot of value in the long run.”
Jaffee thinks that contactless delivery is here to stay, as well as sustained takeout volume.
“It’s unlikely society will snap back altogether to the same ratios,” Jaffee said. “These are enduring structural shifts that people should be thinking about.”
Restaurant Recovery Week runs each day through April 24 at 1 p.m. CST, which you can register for here. To watch a previously recorded webinar, register for the past session and a link to the recording will be emailed to you.