The BBQ Pit, open since 1978, is considering a future "blueprint change" to all off-premises service.

While Association research reveals that 16% of restaurant closures in the past year were legacy operations open for more than 30 years, The BBQ Pit in Highland Park, Ill., is open for business. It’s due to the ability of the staff and the restaurant’s customers to adjust well to the new normal during the pandemic, says Owner Gus Karigan.

How has COVID-19 impacted The BBQ Pit?
Like any restaurant, the last 40 years have had their challenges, but nothing like the pandemic. We were fortunate to have model that was heavily supported by carryout and delivery business before the pandemic. As COVID-19 hit, we had to quickly adjust our on-site business and change our day-to-day operation’s “blueprint” to meet new guidelines and our customers’ needs.

We closed our dining room and rolled the dine-in business into our carryout and delivery model, using social media and direct mail to spread the word.

We adjusted back-of-house operations and increased staff to handle the increase in phone orders and credit-card payments. We had to learn how to expedite orders faster to meet customers’ delivery-time expectations and adjusted our food-prep system and timing to ensure we continue to maintain food temperatures now that all of our orders are traveling vs. being served on-premises.

The one thing that did not change was our menu. Luckily, we only had short-term supply chain challenges that resolved themselves quickly. Our BBQ-centric menu is perfect for carry-out and delivery and made up of foods people really like to eat at home. Customers are really looking for comfort-food favorites from us during the pandemic, our pulled pork, ribs, and brisket. And our menu had already been designed to accommodate an order for one to a large family.

How has The BBQ Pit connected with its community and customers during the pandemic?
The BBQ Pit is a family restaurant, and we treat our customers like family. We recognize phone numbers as orders come in and answer the phone by name. We increased our in-house delivery system to extend a personal touch to delivery while others turned to third party delivery. We implemented additional safety procedures, like contactless payment and all staff wearing masks, to show that our customers safety was our top priority. We also connect with our customers through Facebook and its community social media pages, and we have success with “old school” direct mail with coupons and menus. We were able to maintain our business because of our customer loyalty and we are very grateful to them.

How will you continue to innovate?
We have always adapted by listening to our customers. Thinking ahead, our customers might not be ready to dine in our indoor dining rooms anytime soon, so we’re considering a long term “blueprint” change to 100% carry-out and delivery. We’ll need to assess and reassess as time goes on, but for now off-premises is our focus.