How to Pivot Your Restaurant to Survive COVID-19

Many restaurants have a hard time surviving in the best of times, nevermind when we have a global pandemic. If you are thinking you want to stick this out and make sure your restaurant sticks around through these difficult times, here are some things you can try.

Remember a few things though, these are not tactics that will guarantee the survival of any restaurants. If you put these tactics in place, you will have to put continue work and efforts into making your restaurant sustainable. Also, you need to have an open-mind to make your restaurant survive big changes like COVID-19, what might have worked for you 20 years ago might not work now. Technology, people, marketing have all changed – keep up with it!

So let’s jump right into it:

Give People an Experience 

People are stuck at home with not a lot of entertainment. They might have kids at home that are in constant need of stimulation and people are looking to keep sane and have some fun while they are at home. Quite simply, they want an experience, more bang for their buck when they are ordering food from your establishment.

So how do you do this? Well, it is quite simple, you can build kits for your customers like “Build Your Own Ramen Bowl from restaurants like Crafty Ramen in Guelph. They bundle up ramen kits with noodles, soup, vegetables, meats, and instructions on how you can create a delicious bowl of ramen at home. They take orders online and ship it right to your door. Another great example is a Build Your Own Cocktail from the new restaurant Mai Pai in Hamilton. A lot of people love to have a nice cocktail and usually treat themselves to one when they go out to eat, but Mai Pai created a version where you can make it yourself at home and enjoy in your own backyard.

All these ideas from these creative restaurant owners continue to provide services and experiences that they cannot provide face to face but the best part is that they are still creating a lasting impression with their customers which is crucial now.

Show Your Face!

People came to your restaurant to not only get your delicious food, but they also came to connect with the owners and staff members. They haven’t seen you in months and miss the connection.  Here are a few simple ways to connect with your customers :

  • Offer a cooking demo on your business Instagram or Facebook page
  • Jump onto Instagram of Facebook and post a quick video of yourself talking about menu items, ordering take out, new COVID measures
  • Host an Instagram Live – show your loyal and potential customers your restaurant space! People love to see the space as an escape since they cannot be there personally

Offer Something Else Your Customers are Looking For

Many restaurants have started offering grocery items to their customers and even harder to find items in the beginning of the pandemic like yeast, flour and eggs. This is a great idea since most restaurants can order bulk items at a discounted rates with their restaurant suppliers and can offer these to their customers at a price that is fair and profitable. Businesses that have really thrived doing this in the last few months are Tea at the White House in Waterdown, and even Bon Temps in downtown Hamilton.

Other ways of doing this are to offer special items that they can usually buy in your location like specialty coffees, teas, your signature cookie, or bread mix.

Another great profit maker is alcohol delivery. Once the Government allowed for this a few months back, lots of restaurants have taken advantage of this. It is such a great add on especially if people want to avoid the line ups at their local LCBO or Beer Store.

A fun one that most restaurants can think about is creating meal kits. Since people are more likely to cook at home, many are not super comfortable in the kitchen. Meal kits have been around for years now, but think of how fun it would be to be able to make pizza just like your favourite restaurant and all the ingredients, instructions are provided to ensure success. Check out Caro restaurant in Hamilton’s East end, they had a super fun DIY Pizza for only $13-$14 and people were all over it!

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Pizza Kits! 🍕 Margherita $13 Pepperoni $14

A post shared by Caro Restaurant (@carorestaurant) on

Be Creative About Special Meals

Since the start of COVID, many people realized that all special celebrations will be very different. No big gatherings, parties, and even for awhile you were not allowed to see people from a different household. People love to celebrate with food, take advantage of this. Some upcoming ideas you can think about:

  • Graduation Meals 
  • Father’s Day’s Meals
  • Long weekend meal packs (maybe a BBQ special)
  • Limited social distancing gathering food packages (separate containers for each person is key!)

Bon Temps started their Lobster Szn menu and its been a big hit and a great way for families to celebrate with such a special meal!

Partnering with Other Businesses to Leverage Marketing 

Sometimes it is hard to get your name out there that you are open during COVID. Look for different food bloggers, local influencers, marketing groups, and even other local businesses to help cross-promote. Many people understand the struggles of staying afloat during these tough times. Recently Sensational Samosa and The Lounge at Casbah partnered together to sell Sensational Samosa’s food at their lounge. As consumers, we love seeing businesses helping each other out and it sheds great light on these businesses for being supportive too!

Give Back When You Can

Giving back to the community is always a great way to not only support a great cause but to show that your business is doing the right thing. You can do promotions where a customer buys a meal and the restaurant will donate a meal or a portion of the sales to a local charity. The guys from One Duke Restaurant and Mezcal have been working together for the last few months donating lots of food to front line workers. Those front line workers truly appreciate their efforts and I am sure they will become loyal customers for many years to come.

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Hey Hamilton! This week @mezcaltnt and @onedukerestaurant are inviting Postal Workers to come visit @mannyferreira3 @natal_leyo @ty_misiak on Wednesday, May 27th, for a special meal on us between 3-8pm. Receiving mail (CERB cheque’s), Amazon packages, parcels from Fedex or UPS is such a big part of our everyday routine. These workers have been around through rain, shine & Covid-19 to ensure we get what we need from around the world. So apparently, with them on our side, you can always get what you want. Rolling Stones must not have thought about them. But we did. Keep up the good work! You certainly receive our ‘stamp’ of approval. @canadapostagram @ups @fedex @dhlcanadaexpress @urbanicityhamilton @hamiltonspectator

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Encouraging Customers to Order Directly from You (Instead of Using Food Delivery Apps)

Lots of people are waking up to the fact that restaurant owners have to pay delivery services like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes about 30% of their earnings to operate on their platform. As a restaurant owner, it is a double-edged sword. The pros of using delivery apps are the advertisement the restaurants get when someone opens up the apps and see a restaurant there that they may not have known about otherwise. They have lots of drivers ready to deliver meals without having the restaurant owners worrying about hiring drivers, car insurance, and many more logistic issues.

So what can be done? Inform your customers that if they are able to order for curbside pick up, it is preferred. Find ways to build in incentives for people using curbside pick up (maybe for 5 curbside pick ups they do, they will receive a free dessert or appetizer).

Bottom line, it is unlikely that you can ditch delivery apps that quickly without having a lot of other headaches to deal with. So be creative!

Also, look for new apps that are popping up like Curbside Pivot who helps restaurant owners set up curbside pick up for only 5% instead of 30%.

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Hello World… We’re Curbside Pivot, a new initiative built to bring your favourite restaurant experiences into the safety of your own home. We’ve teamed up with the immersive design agency @tusqinc to bring you epic take-home experience packs designed to bring the style and atmosphere of your favourite restaurant into the safety of your own home. They’ll range from wild virtual dance parties right the way through to living room picnics and connected trivia nights. . This is a wild moment in time.. after 15+ years in the industry we’ve never seen anything remotely like this. Its important that we all stay home, stay safe and look after each other. However… some of you have birthdays comin’ up, others Anniversaries, and in times of crisis these moments of connection and escape are more than a luxury…. They’re a necessity in keeping us together. Plus… right now… we could all use a good laugh every now and then. . Curbside Pivot is an attempt to do what we do best in the safety of your own home while maintaining proper social distancing standards and keeping everyone healthy. It’ll connect us, keep us together and create great memories in a tough moment. This weekend is our launch and we’re partnering with @maipaitikibar to roll out an epic Take Home Party experience you can have in your own home. If your not lucky enough to be in their hometown of Hamilton… not to worry… this weekend you can still join us online and have a heck of a good time at home no matter where ya are. The best way to stay up to day is to follow us on insta at @curbsidepivot or stay tuned to socials from your favourite local restaurants and bars. Truthfully, we’re hoping Curbside Pivot is an initiative that only lasts a few weeks and can’t wait for the day that we have ya all back and having good time with us in person… Till them… stay safe… stay at home… and lets have a good time.. Peace. #stayhome #hamont #tiki #inthistogether #partytime

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If you use delivery apps as a way of advertisement, maybe it is time to consider other ways of marketing your restaurants that have more long term returns and benefits.

Offer a Gift Card Deal

Use the buy now, use later model. This helps obviously with some immediate cash flow but you will have to sweeten the deal to entice people to buy the gift cards now. So maybe when customers buy a $50 gift card, they actually get a $60 gift card to use when you re-open. Or when you buy a gift card during a specific time frame, the customers are entered into a draw to win something.

Take Advantage of The Situation and Extra Time

I know it is hard to get past surviving day to day but if you want to stick around for the long haul, try to take advantage of this extra time you may never get again. Here are some ideas (and feel free to contact me and see how I can help!):

  • get some food photography done so you have some new photos for social media, website etc 
  • Brush up on how to maximize your social media presence 
  • Plan ahead, what am I going to do for Christmas, New Years etc since everything will be different moving forward
  • Connect with your community through social media to develop meaningful connections so they come to visit you 

The reality of COVID-19 is that many beloved restaurants, bars, and cafes will likely close but if you want to have a chance at succeeding, you have to think outside the box and be open-minded about how you can survive these crazy times. Anything is possible, lean on your community for help and try to make the best out of the situation.

If you need any marketing help, please reach out, I will be happy to offer FREE 30-minute consultation, just mention you read this post!