At today’s jam-packed yet socially distanced COVID-19 summit, we’ve been exploring the different strategies food businesses can take to survive the sudden changes brought about by coronavirus, a stopped economy, and massive disruptions to daily life. And no other sector in food has been hit harder than the restaurant industry, thanks to mandatory state closures of dining rooms that are forcing businesses to reach for off-premises ordering formats as a lifeline or die trying.
So how exactly to you grasp that lifeline to keep your business from going under? Today, The Spoon’s Managing Editor Chris Albrecht talked with Sterling Douglass, co-founder and CEO of POS integrator Chowly to find out. Chowly’s platform simplifies (and automates) the process of a restaurant taking orders from multiple sales channels, so Douglass knows a thing or two about restaurants and off-premises orders. Here, I’ve broken his advice down into three different steps restaurants can take in order to get up and running faster and more efficiently with their own off-premises strategies.
1. Prepare your staff.
Douglass mentioned that Chowly is currently working with a lot of restaurants that are implementing delivery and takeout strategies for the very first time. And the very first thing he tells them has nothing to do with software or delivery services. Rather, he recommends restaurants examine and prepare their staff for the changes necessary to operate right now.
Consider what roles your workers will play now that there is no more dining room? That doesn’t change much for those in back of house, but what about servers? Can you afford to keep them and, if so, how can they be used to help the off-premises business along?
One thing that changes for everyone is scheduling. Right now, for example, many workers have children at home because of school closures. A workers’ normal schedule might need to be adjusted. Restaurants need to work with their staff to try and accommodate the different situations brought on by social distancing and shelter in place orders.
2. Get set up with delivery companies. All of them.
Setting up a delivery program isn’t simply a matter of plugging DoorDash into your POS and getting some takeout boxes. Accounts with third-party delivery platforms can, especially now, take weeks to set up — a hardly ideal scenario right now. Chowly, along with other integration companies like Ordermark and Olo, compress a lot of this timeframe so that restaurants don’t have to go through the set of moves for each different delivery partner.
Those decisions include which platforms to work with (all of them, for now), how they want to be integrated (tablets versus the pricier but more efficient direct POS integration), and, once up and running, what food they’ll serve.
There’s also menu pricing to consider. Right now, independent restaurants and smaller chains without the deep pockets of, say, Starbucks, don’t get much negotiating power when it comes to commission fees they must pay delivery aggregators. Douglass suggested in the session that higher priced items on third-party marketplaces. That puts the burden on consumers, which could be risky in a recession-bound economy but does shift some of the financial stress off the shoulders of restaurants themselves.
Unless you also run your own driver fleet, the process for setting up delivery and takeout is fairly similar. Douglass said Chowly encourages potential customers to do both.
3. Get virtual.
Virtual restaurants have gotten more popular and more numerous over the last year. Imagine al of the above steps — delivery integration, a smiple menu, etc.—applied to a restaurant concept that doesn’t have a dining room and relies on delivery and takeout to reach customers.
In today’s session, Douglass pointed out a few such concepts, most notably those Grubhub has been doing with restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You and non-restaurant food brands like Bon Apétit and Whole30. The rise of ghost kitchens has also led to many more virtual restaurants, and even virtual restaurant networks like Keatz.
This is not a step most restaurants are even in a position to consider right now. But it doesn’t but it doesn’t hurt to think about long term strategies, particularly since we don’t yet know what the restaurant industry is going to look like when we all finally emerge from our houses again. Right now, getting your operations ready for delivery and takeout and getting on delivery platforms should be the number one priorities for restaurants for the foreseeable future.