It’s hard to argue that opening and maintaining a successful restaurant was difficult before the pandemic virus hit — now it seems impossible. However, don’t give up on opening a successful restaurant during COVID-19.
With so many stories of long-time successful restaurants closing due to the current pandemic, you might think that opening a new one is only a recipe for disaster. While it is certainly a risky move to make, the restaurant business is one of the toughest industries to succeed. With the right planning, safety precautions, and commitment, finally opening a successful restaurant, you’ve always wanted doesn’t have to wait.
Follow Solid Examples of a Successful Restaurant
One prime example of a restaurant doing it right and finding success can be found in Hong Kong. Black Sheep, a popular restaurant enterprise co-founded by Syed Asim Hussain, is currently doing very well thanks to their committed efforts to keep their customers and staff as safe as possible. To name a few safety protocols Hussain and his team have created and enforced during this pandemic, every Black Sheep restaurant is required to:
- Make masks available and mandatory.
- Provide hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant.
- Increase sanitization efforts with an external agency deep clean every 10 days.
- Create a Health Declaration form for customers to fill out and mandate temperature checks.
- Set every other table to maintain distance between customers.
While many restaurants are closing, Black Sheep manages, and it’s partially thanks to their efforts to maintain a safe restaurant environment. Black Sheep’s COVID-19 guidelines aren’t just useful for them either. The business and its successful safety practices have been so effective that their guidelines have been picked up by Hong Kong government officials. Many of the internal guidelines from Black Sheep’s COVID-19 playbook are musts for all Hong Kong restaurants. The point co-founder Hussain especially notes, is to put safety before hospitality — at least for now.
While your restaurant is certain to face different challenges than those in Hong Kong, Black Sheep’s response is a great source to build an effective and successful foundation. While it can be tempting to hope things will return to normal by the time your restaurant is up and running, we still have no clue when that “normal” will return. Instead, work to address and adapt to the current problems you’re facing, even if you aren’t close to opening your doors quite yet. You’ll save yourself a lot of scrambling and stress later down the road.
Be Flexible with Your Ideas
When opening a successful restaurant mid-pandemic, it’s helpful to be flexible in your plans. While you might love the idea of starting your own brick-and-mortar place, it might not be the best choice right now. You have to consider the cost of renting a space and that overhead and the extra funds necessary to keep a large space as clean and COVID-19 free as possible.
A large space certainly leads to more opportunities to make money — more space means more seating. More seating means more customers; more customers mean more money, but it also presents more failure opportunities. Running at full capacity is also not a great idea right now and can even get you in trouble in some states.
With all of that in mind, it’s worth considering starting up a food truck. Of course, even a food truck still has overhead costs, and high-quality equipment isn’t exactly cheap. However, with a truck, you’ll have a lot more flexibility in how and where you serve customers. Food trucks are often held to much higher sanitation standards than restaurants, pandemic or not. You still have to keep in mind the high-risk customers. A food truck can be a viable option for those missing out on typical restaurant outings due to health concerns. This means, unlike in pre-COVID-19, a food truck could be better at reaching more customers than a dine-in one and potentially make you more money. All the COVID-19 precautions aside, you’ll still need a food handler certificate that is beneficial to any food truck business in ensuring all food safety and hygiene practices are observed during day-to-day operations.
If a food truck is not an option, though, then try taking a look at your to-go services. With limited seating for dine-in, you could make up for lost revenue by creating or enhancing to-go services. Besides your regular menu, offering to-go drinks like gourmet coffee and alcohol may attract more customers and increase foot traffic. You also don’t have to be an expert barista or mixologist either.
Learning to roast coffee beans or create signature cocktails is easier than you might think, and it’s a great way to bring in additional cash. It would also be a fun idea to add some simple, exclusive to-go menu items to really pique interest. You may not end up keeping the same services once the dust of COVID-19 settles, but for now, it could help make a positive difference in your revenue.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Social
With so many people leaving their houses less often, you might struggle to get the word out about your new restaurant. Unlike in the past, when new customers would often wander into a new restaurant while shopping or doing errands, people tend to only go out with a particular purpose and place in mind now. To solidify your new place in the community, increasing your social media efforts is a must.
Currently, most businesses have a good reach online, considering people are scrolling through social media and using their phones a lot more now. From creating social-media-exclusive coupons and offers to implement a direct messaging system to sharing mouth-watering photos of your dishes, investing in your digital marketing can help catch the eye of more would-be customers. It’s also worth noting that major big-name companies like Disney and Coca-Cola withheld advertisements in a July boycott against Facebook. This could present an opportunity to buy ads on Facebook for a lot cheaper than you normally would.
Of course, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a walk in the park to run a business’s social media accounts. It takes a lot of planning, creativity, and commitment to be really successful in your social media efforts. Bringing on an experienced social media manager can help with this and take some of the pressure off your shoulders. While in the past, it was fair to question if you and your business even really needed a social media presence, living in these COVID-19 times, it now could mean the difference between success and failure.
Opening a successful restaurant during COVID-19 presents a whole new world of unique challenges. And while this pandemic situation isn’t forever, the things you learn during this time with likely be invaluable in the future. When in doubt, try looking at other restaurant success stories to keep you feeling motivated and ready to conquer whatever curveball the future throws next.