For restaurant owners, 2020 has felt like quite the rollercoaster ride.

For many, the COVID-19 crisis led to shuttered doors in the winter, takeout and delivery only in the spring, and reduced dine-in capacity for the summer. It can feel like restauranteurs are getting whiplash from the regulations, changes, and need to adapt quickly to stay afloat.

Recognizing that food is an essential part of life, paired with the desire for guests to have a relaxing — but most of all, safe — dining experience has led many business owners to consider how they can shift to new business models, announce new offerings, and most of all, succeed in a challenging year.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or at a loss on creative new ways to power on this year, you’ve come to the right place.

Hear from Restaurant Businesses — just like yours

Our focus is on helping small businesses be successful online. That’s why we recently held a Power Hour for Restaurants, bringing together industry professionals with our marketing experts to chat about how they have been able to power on this year.

While we have the marketing expertise to help you create a restaurant website and get your restaurant found in search results, we recognize that in times like this, sometimes there’s nothing more helpful than hearing directly from peers in your industry.

Below, we’ll share tips from our panel discussion, focused on how four Constant Contact customers in the foodservice space have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our panel of real-world restaurant industry professionals discussed:

  • How COVID-19 has impacted their business
  • The changes they have made to adapt to regulations
  • How they are keeping guests safe and offering new experiences
  • The power of teaming up with others in your community

4 key takeaways from our Restaurant Power Hour

1. Micro-events are in — and probably here to stay

For Chez Josef, a banquet hall in Agawam, MA, big events are their bread and butter. “Celebrations are a way of life and they’re not going to go away,” Regina, the Sales Coordinator & Executive Assistant, shared during our Power Hour event. However, celebrations in 2020 look just a little bit different. Micro-events, also known as micro-parties, are small gatherings of up to 25 people to promote social distancing. Often held in open areas such as parks or backyards, micro-parties are a safe way to get together with friends and family during a year where doing so can be a challenge.

Chez Josef has adapted to offer dedicated spaces within their banquet hall for intimate gatherings, as well as catering options for outdoor events within 20 miles of their location.

And they aren’t the only ones jumping on the micro-events trend. Vicki of Vicki Lee’s Bakeshop also mentioned how they’ve been providing goodies for micro-weddings, pointing out that it is likely we’ll see the trend of smaller gatherings stick around for the next year or so. Plus, Anny from Davio’s said that the Italian Steakhouse has also been offering micro-events at their locations.

All-in-all, people are looking for a safe way to gather with loved ones this year. If your restaurant has the ability to offer that, it can be a great way to supplement the income you otherwise would have lost.

2. Safety is paramount

More than anything, guests want to feel safe. And a COVID–19 case being recorded in your restaurant? Well, it could be detrimental beyond repair.

“We don’t want to see one day in the media that someone has caught the virus in our location… we’d be doomed. [Our reputation] is more important than short-term profitability.”

Frank Zhang, Owner & Partnering Founder of Feng Shui Restaurants

While restaurants are historically one of the more sanitary businesses to visit, due to strict food service codes and regulations implemented by the FDA, many guests are still hesitant to dine-in at restaurants due to the pandemic.

One way to combat this hesitation is by being up-front about the safety precautions your business has implemented. Include signage in-house to explain new expectations for guests, as well as information on your website to provide both new and repeat visitors with safety information.

It’s also important to remember that even with newly implemented safety precautions, some guests are still going to feel more comfortable eating at home or outdoors for the time being. So, find new ways to provide a memorable experience for them!

The website for Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse boasts their mantra, “It’s all about the guest.” That’s why when they realized many of their customers didn’t feel comfortable eating at their Chestnut Hill location which, unlike their other locations, doesn’t have an outdoor patio area, they decided to offer a picnic basket option for guests to grab and go. Each order comes with an actual picnic basket and tote bag, offering a unique experience for guests — one that will likely leave a lasting impression.

Overall, it’s important to provide a safe experience for your guests and meet them where they are most comfortable.

3. Team up with others in your community

Hosting community events or partnering with other small business owners in your area is generally good practice, but it can make a big difference in 2020.

Chez Josef partnered with a group of vendors in their community to deliver an event experience that may otherwise be hard to come by this year. This idea was spurred from virtual meetings Chez Josef GM, Marc Sparks, has been having with other restauranteurs and vendors in the area. In fact, Chez Josef even took part in a local photoshoot with a group of vendors, and their biggest competitor, to get their name out there as a catering option this year.

“[We’re] trying to stay positive and keep showing up every day regardless.”

Regina Spafford, Sales Coordinator & Executive Assistant with Chez Josef

Are there unique ways you can team up with other businesses in your community during this time? Consider featuring flowers on your dining tables from a florist down the street, or partner with a local travel agent who will let you raffle off a dream vacation for your guests to enjoy once it is safe to do so.

4. Just. Keep. Going!

This year certainly hasn’t been easy.

But you’re a small business owner. You’re made of grit and perseverance. You’ve gotten to where you are today because of your resilience, determination, and passion for your craft.

In other words — you’ve got this.

Vicki shared that this was going to be the year she retired. Recognizing that those plans have changed, she has some wise words about powering through 2020:

“I’m not letting COVID take me down. I’m going to fight until I have no more fight left in me. I’m going to fight and hang tough and make it through the next year.”

Vicki Lee Boyajian, Owner of Vicki Lee’s Bakeshop

Remember that you aren’t in this alone; your community of loyal guests, your vendors, your family, and even our team here at Constant Contact are all here to offer support. As Anny said, “we’re going to do this together.”

Source: Constant Contact