Normally, winter means holiday parties and festive group bookings for the restaurant industry. But this year, winter looks a bit harsher thanks to coronavirus. So, in lieu of these major winter events, how can managers improve their booking rate? The answer is by being proactive.
For instance, spend a little money now to make some improvements to your space. Outfit your outdoor dining space, and you could see it pay you back threefold with increased winter business. Open, heated patios are great for attracting winter business, and they’re also COVID-safe.
If you are a manager and you want to help your business survive the winter, these tips can help.
Tip #1 - Know the Facts
Your capacity is reduced—and that’s a fact. Another fact is that people won’t eat outdoors if the eating space is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. So now that you’ve got the facts, it’s time to take some action. Your best option as a manager is to increase your capacity this winter is by creating welcoming outdoor seating that is COVID-safe.
If your restaurant is in a location where temperatures get low in the winter, then you’ll need to think about heating this outdoor space. No one will sit at an outdoor patio in 30-degree weather, even if they’re desperate for some jalapeno poppers and a cold brew. Get your team through the winter by committing to some building improvements that create a COVID-safe outdoor eating space with plenty of heaters.
Tip #2 - Know the (Building) Codes
Many cities are trying to make it easier for small businesses to stay afloat. There are grant programs or loans to help local eateries stay open. Some municipalities are committing extra resources to help restaurants create outdoor eating spaces, even going so far as to carve out space from the road’s shoulder.
You might find increased willingness from city officials to work with your team on creating outdoor spaces. It doesn’t mean they’ll go against code, of course. But it does mean that you should definitely reach out to your city officials for assistance. Once you know the building codes and have built a relationship with someone, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that heated outdoor patio that can keep your business alive this winter.
Tip #3 - Know Your Customers
People are still hungry for table-service dining. After all, you can only order takeout fries so many times before you get totally depressed by the soft, cold little rectangles in a plastic box. It’s important to understand your particular target market. This means the type of customer you serve, but it also means the specific customers who already buy from you.
Start conversations with them now. Use social media to connect with them or strike up a conversation with a survey link on their email receipt. Find out what’s important to them. Show them that your restaurant is listening. If your customers want distanced outdoor dining with plastic dividers and heating lamps, give it to them. Offer a discount to seal the deal. Remember, any business is better than no business.
You might be surprised how concerned your customers are for the well-being of your team. You can reassure them that you know how to fairly distribute tips and that their restaurant tip is automatic and equitable across all waitstaff. A tip distribution software is good for your team, of course, but it also shows customers that you value your workers. Whether you practice tip pooling or tip sharing, work doubly hard to prove to customers that you’re taking care of your staff with fair tip allocation.
Tip #4 - Know Your Team
If you’re heading into winter with doubts about your team, now is the time to start those conversations. Everyone knows that it’s a tough time to work in the service industry. Even if you as a manager cannot offer them increased pay, it’s still important to maintain a strong relationship with your team.
See if you can find a way to express your appreciation for your staff. Write a letter if your pockets are empty. Ask them what they need to stay committed to your restaurant when it reopens. It’s much smarter to have this conversation now than in February when they give you notice out of nowhere.
One way to reassure your team is by implementing a tip distribution system. A tip sharing software can take the burden off when it comes to accurate accounting and dispersal of tips. Automatic tip sharing is pretty affordable, and a tip pooling software is a great way to prove to your employees that you’re committed to their financial stake in the restaurant. You know how to calculate tips, but now you can let software do it for you. This gives you and your team more time to focus on the important stuff.
Tip #5 - Know Your Limits
It’s better to achieve something small but useful before January than attempt a huge project that derails your business for months. Don’t try to completely rebuild your back patio in two weeks. Instead, look for a renovation that’s within your budget and within your capacity to execute. That’s how you can guarantee a return on investment.
Managers, we feel for you! It might be a tough winter, but by implementing the ideas above, like Tiphaus, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done everything you can to help the business survive until this is all over.