March 19, 2020

Operators navigate a business decline during the coronavirus outbreak

Restaurants facing business disruption and uncertainty because of coronavirus are working to stay open and serve their communities. As many are mandated to close dining rooms to help curb the virus’ spread, restaurateurs are focusing on their takeout and delivery operations.

The National Restaurant Association’s Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of Public Affairs, has stressed that efforts promoting drive-thru, takeout, curb-side pickup and delivery options are important tools to help restaurants continue serving customers.

Get the Association’s latest coronavirus information and resources

Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox said his fast-casual sandwich chain – like so many others around the country – has suspended dine-in service, but is continuing to offer takeout, online ordering and delivery. It also is taking telephone orders. “We all must prioritize what is in the public's best interest.”

Nick Vojnovic
Little Greek's Nick Vojnovic said his sales are down by a third.

Plan to protect your business

Nick Vojnovic, president and co-owner of Little Greek Fresh Grill, said that as sales suffer – his are currently down by a third and the entire restaurant industry expects to lose at least $225 billion ‑‑ operators should try to protect themselves as much as possible and plan for the downturn. He offered a few topline suggestions:

  • Budget for the reduction in sales when making schedule changes for the week
  • Reduce prep items and hours
  • Reduce your store-level par inventories

7 ways to stay ahead of the curve

Vojnovic also shared seven ways his own company is planning to operate during the crisis.

  1. Take care of business. Contact your landlord and outside vendors, including security, pest control, and cable to see if they will provide concessions during this tough time. Also, look for additional ways to cut costs. Keep your phone and internet service, but if your dining room is closed, contact your cable provider to see if you can freeze your cable bill. And halt your window-cleaning expenses.
  1. Help your franchise community. Reach out and see if your franchisees need help. McDonald’s is looking at offering its franchisees some rent deferrals. Franchisees own about 90% of restaurants in the McDonald’s system. At Little Greek, Vojnovic is waving franchisee royalty fees throughout March. “It is critical that everyone in our system understands we are in this together,” he said.
  1. Communicate with your customer base. Send emails letting people know you’re open for takeout/online orders. Tell your customers that you can provide them with a great dining experience at home, that you are still preparing the same delicious foods they love. Also, let them know about your curbside pick-up program if you have one. Work with your local municipality to reserve parking spots for curbside pick-ups.
  1. Offer discounts on carryout/delivery orders. One way to encourage business is to offer a deal, like a month-long 15% discount on delivery and takeout orders. Customers looking to eat well and save money may choose your store over another restaurant or retail operation.
  1. Set up family-targeted offers. This is an opportunity to help families with children home from school. Offering a limited-time, kids-eat-free option from 11 am-2 p.m. could help moms and dads struggling to telework and take care of their children at the same time.
  1. Market your gift cards and merchandise. Whether it is through social- or traditional-media messaging, let your guests know you are offering gift cards and other items for sale. Those sales could create an immediate source of income. Guests can buy the gift cards now and use them for carryout orders or wait to redeem them when your dining room reopens.

7. Save promotional materials from cancelled events. Put away those special posters and table tents for now. Once you have a new date scheduled, you can use them again. Just put stickers over the original dates and carry on.