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– ways to adapt your business to the coronavirus pandemic

With the coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak a rapidly changing situation, consumers are currently driving big changes in their spending and dining habits. While this has bought extremely tough times to the industry, some of our businesses have been quick to react. They are looking at their businesses from a different angle and changing their business models to meet the market.

We look at some of the ways you could instigate change and potentially tap into a new market of customers.

Takeaway Options / Sidewalk pick-ups

If you’ve not had a takeout menu available before, this is a good way to respond to the fear some customers have currently to dining out. Think about what items in your menu could translate into a takeout menu, or you may need to think about adding new items specifically targeting this market. Customers still want to eat out but, enable them to take it away with them.

Restaurant businesses responding to these fears and restrictions are also implementing ‘curb-side’ pick-up and/or drive-up options for takeaway orders. This encourages people to still head to their favourite local without the need to leave the perceived protection of their own surroundings, like their car, and limit their interactions with others.

Heat and Eat Meals

Heat and eat meals could be a great way to reach those that are self-isolating, or those who don’t want to cook every night in an attempt to avoid public spaces or ‘unhealthy’ takeaway meals. This could be the start of a new venture or at least diversifying your business to help you through this disruptive period. In Seattle, fine dining restaurant, Canlis, did this, diversifying and creating three new dining options including a family meal service. In New Zealand, we are also seeing restaurants adapting for this market, including Auckland restaurant, Paris Butter, which is creating Paris Butter To Go meals – French classics to enjoy at home.

Delivery Services

One of the first things that comes to mind when deciding how to respond for those that are avoiding being in public spaces, is delivery. If you are not already using a delivery service, consider whether you can redeploy existing staff temporarily to create your own delivery service. This will help to keep your staff busy even if your reservations are down. There are some steps to take to implement, but the Restaurant Association can provide guidance and has sample templates, for instance a vehicle policy template, that you can utilise.  

It’s also not overly expensive to print removable decals, or magnetic signs, for cars and can be a cheap and new way to market your establishment.

Consider marketing options to generate demand initially, eg. free delivery over $X.

Implement a clear table policy

Emphasize all that you are doing to ensure the health and safety of your customers and communicate this. Reduce the perception that items in your restaurant could have been exposed to viruses. Leave tables empty (no cutlery, serviettes, salt and pepper, etc.) till guests have sat down. Bring cutlery to the table with the meal. This shows customers the handling process of these items and removes some of the unknowns around whether they could have been contaminated by other guests.

If possible change the layout of the room to remove some tables, or increase the distance between them, to show you’re adapting to allow for social distancing.

Specials for those who dine in

Promote dining in specials to encourage people to come in, increase awareness of your off-peak dining times to encourage customer to break out and dine in. Work with your suppliers to create special offers and add-on’s for diners.

Increase your digital presence

Many of these initiatives rely on social channels to help spread the word. If you are not already an expert in this space, now it the time to increase your online marketing. Tempt all those staying at home scrolling on their social feeds with irresistible pics of your dishes and menus. Promote your delivery or takeaway service. If your cafe or restaurant is still busy, show people that the world is still turning and that the measures you’ve taken are working! Use your database of previous customers to remind them of your restaurant and their past enjoyment. Let them know you are open and the steps you have taken with cleaning and social spacing.


Offer customers the opportunity to purchase digital gift vouchers, this will get you cash in the bank and see customers returning in the future. Vouchers are a great gift idea, so there are still opportunities for voucher sales even when the number of people dining out is currently reduced.

Invite ideas

Involve your team members as they may have some great ideas as well. You could also talk to other businesses and see if there are any opportunities to collaborate with them on initiatives. At times like these all ideas are worth considering, and someone might have a little gem of an idea they just need a little bit of encouragement to voice. Consider upcoming dates like Easter and Mother’s Day – is there anything that your business can do differently this year, so that people can still celebrate occasions in this different world?

Finally, while customers are wary, and you are encouraging them outside of their current comfort zone, to dine with you (in whatever capacity), it’s important that you are able to offer some reassurance as to the priority you a putting on your customers’ wellbeing. Let your customers know what measures you’re taking to reduce their risk. Communicate this through all of your channels, send an email, post on your social pages, update your website and in displays in your business (window, menu etc.).

While this is undoubtedly a huge challenge the industry is facing, there are still some opportunities in the market for those thinking outside of the square.

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