Restaurants have been hard hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the restaurants that have been able to shift and adapt to restrictions — and think outside the box — to continue to serve customers have gotten through the summer.
Outdoor seating — with cities allowing restaurants to expand onto the sidewalks — has helped to keep many businesses afloat. As the virus has not slowed down, restaurants are bracing for the winter and reworking their setup for colder weather.
Demand for outdoor heaters has risen, and to maintain business, restaurants have also been adding blankets, tented seating, and even plastic igloos for individual parties. Customers are increasingly requesting outdoor seating, and with indoor restrictions continuing through the cold months, making both options comfortable (as well as safe) for guests has become a top priority.
Some restaurants are also updating their menus — including more hot drinks such as cocoas, ciders, and hot toddies — creating a more cozy atmosphere. Hot soups in mugs, s’mores trays, and fondue are all new items restaurants are adding to enhance their guest experience in the colder weather and can make a huge difference without adding major expenses. This is especially important as the larger purchases — such as outdoor heaters and big dividers — are hitting budgets harder than ever.
As many governments have been slow to offer support, restaurants face the unique challenges of needing to take action to create inviting experiences for guests, but without the capital to make the large purchases. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been petitioned to help provide support on a more local level, with continued flexibility on outdoor space and increased tax incentives for the bigger purchases restaurants are having to make. In the UK, the government established a few policies to lend a hand to restaurants, including the very popular Eat Out to Help Out program, which covers 50% of the bill for customers and encourages dining out for many people who hadn’t done so since March. The temporary reduction of VAT and the delaying of rent payments also has given restaurants some wiggle room when it comes to payment deadlines.
For many restaurants, utilizing the inside space is the key focus. Capacity limits have made efficient table turns and reservations a must. Many businesses are turning to technology to support their front of house, even if they had managed just fine with pen and paper before. Hostme has upgraded its reservation system with new tools that allow restaurants to easily monitor and manage their capacity and gauge availability as customers join waitlists and set reservations. By utilizing SMS messaging, restaurants can cut down on crowding near the host stand, allowing guests to wait for their tables untethered by buzzers. Online menus, accessible with posted QR codes and links directly on the restaurant’s webpage, make it easier to keep things sanitary between customers and to reduce contact for staff, while also being more accessible to customers for takeout orders.
As we move towards the next potential wave of the virus, more tools and advances in systems are becoming available to bolster restaurants through the coming storm.
by Jen Cheney
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