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How restaurants are pivoting during COVID-19

Learn how restaurants are pivoting towards delivery and takeout, how they’re giving back, and how they’re surviving during these challenging times 

During COVID-19, restaurants are taking a devastating hit. With dine-in restrictions in place in nearly every state, many restaurants are pivoting their businesses to take out and delivery, some for the very first time. Some are getting creative and shifting their business model all together. Still, some are even making it a priority to contribute to their communities despite COVID-19. 

After talking to the people who are tapped in to the restaurant industry, I wanted to break down ways you can pivot, get creative and shift your business model during this time.  Check out my conversations with Tierney Plumb, Senior Associate Editor at Eater DC, a food and dining news site, Leah Debes, Director of Business Development at ChowNow, an online ordering company for restaurants, and John Anderson, co-owner of Cinder BBQ, a local restaurant in Washington, D.C.

As you can see in the video above, there’s a number of different ways restaurants are pivoting towards delivery, recovery and community during this time. Here are some ideas for how you can get creative and shift your business model:

Getting online to do curbside pickup and delivery

Certainly the most widespread shift for restaurants has been from dine-in to curbside pickup and delivery. Many restaurants are offering contactless curbside pickup and delivery to keep their kitchens busy and keep people on staff, which brings in new challenges for any restaurant owner. For those trying this approach for the first time, many have seen a few pitfalls in this revenue stream as it also has some costs. Be sure to look into the details of how a third-party service will charge you for their services. Some delivery services charge as much as 30 percent in commission while others are a simple fixed monthly fee, said Leah Debes from ChowNow. Deciding which is right for you will take some review of how many orders you’re taking, the average costs of those orders, and more.

Another challenge John Anderson, co-owner of Cinder BBQ, pointed out when it comes to offering take out and delivery is controlling customer expectations. The curbside experience is different from offering delivery, which are all going to differ drastically from dining in. Using a third-party provider like Caviar, DoorDash or GrubHub, makes you depend on your drivers, hoping the food will get to your customers on time, hot, and presented the way you want it. A good tip is to let your customers know that these are not your normal wait times, and this is not your typical delivery experience, but you want to thank them for their support regardless in these difficult times.

Transforming into pop-up grocery stores and bodegas

Since restaurants are already working with farmers and don’t want to sever those relationships, many are turning to turning their businesses into grocery stores and bodegas. As a means of income, they’re selling raw ingredients to customers as a way to cover inventory expenses and keep commitments to the farmers they source from, even shifting to offering these ingredients in their online menus. 

Some are even starting to offer batches of cocktails and are selling spirits to keep their businesses afloat. Matt Krimm, co-owner of Cinder BBQ says that D.C. allowed them to sell to-go spirits and cocktails from the beginning, which helped them because they’re known as a whiskey bar that carries a lot of unique spirits. “We’ve seen a lot of people come to see what our selections are each week,” he said. “So, I think that’s helped tremendously.”

Offering gift cards 

Business owners are turning to services like Gift Up! and others to sell gift cards to their restaurants to keep them in business while they’re closed. Many small businesses are marketing this opportunity through their website and social media. 

This is a smart strategy, because as Tierney Plumb from Eater DC points out, buying gift cards keeps the money coming in now for restaurants, and it ensures foot-traffic once things start to reopen and customers come in to redeem those gift cards.  

Leaning on community support

Many people understand that local restaurants are the heartbeat of our communities and are stepping up to help. 

Some restaurant owners are communicating their dire situations with transparency and are leaning on the support of loyal customers and the proximate community to help with cash flow situations. Azalina Eusope, restaurant owner and caterer in Oakland, CA, started a GoFundMe to reach out to her community and ask for help to pay their employees and outstanding rents. 

Nonprofits like the National Restaurant Association are also supporting local small business owners across the country with their employee relief fund online that sets up grants for restaurateurs who need it most. Other local relief efforts exist depending on the city and state a restaurant is in.

And, restaurants are giving back to the community too, jumping in to the COVID-19 relief effort to help those who have been impacted most. 

Cinder BBQ says they are fortunate that they haven’t laid off any staff as a result of COVID-19, and have gone further to support restaurant workers across the Washington, D.C. area. They are currently taking donations for meals for laid-off hospitality workers on their online ordering platform. “It was important to us to support our fellow brothers and sisters in the hospitality industry that didn’t have jobs any longer,” says co-owner Matt Krimm. It’s the first button you see when you go to make an order—$7 for a meal. They say over 50 percent of their customers ordering online choose to donate a meal. “It is remarkable how the community has stepped up and embraced this notion of giving back,” says Cinder’s other co-owner, John Anderson.

Staying in touch

Many restaurants are using this opportunity to communicate with their customers more than ever before. “It’s really important to be in touch with your most loyal customers at this time,” says Leah Debes from ChowNow. She suggests finding the people on your team who can help you get the word out on social media that customers should stay connected and order from you. 

John from Cinder BBQ has similar advice. Being engaged with their customers on social media has been extremely helpful for them to get the word out about their delivery services and daily specials. He also encourages fellow restaurant owners to get involved. “See what you can do to get involved in the community,” he says. “Find a way to give back in your own neighborhood or city.” 

Special thanks to Caroline Barker for her contributions to this piece and her ongoing support.

Check back for more conversations with GoDaddy’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Scott Shigeoka. He’ll be chatting with industry experts and sparking conversations about the issues that are impacting us most during these challenging times.

The information contained in this post is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as an endorsement or advice from GoDaddy on any subject matter.