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COVID-19 and Restaurants: Tips to Power Off-Premise Services

Let’s start with some perspective. The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy that is unprecedented in modern times. When we think about this from a business and technology perspective, it is not to make light of the situation or to be opportunistic, but to do a small part in helping a population that is struggling to cope with its new reality.

As many of us have relocated work into our homes and are practicing social distancing, we find ourselves thinking more about the essential elements of day-to-day life, knowing that many of the social experiences we enjoy are unavailable to us. One of the elements of daily life that spans both the essential and the experiential is food. While some of the experiential elements of the dining experience have been closed off, restaurants still have the ability to connect with consumers and bring them both a necessary element of daily life and a bit of joy.

Technology’s Role in the Restaurant Industry

If any industry has been preparing for a major shift in how its business operates, it is the restaurant industry. While no one was truly prepared for COVID-19, many restaurants had already begun the process of shifting more of their business to online ordering and delivery services. In the past few years, technology has become a core part of the experience of most successful restaurant brands.

But not everyone is there. Many restaurants must quickly figure out how to stand up carryout, delivery, or curbside services. This is particularly true in fine dining restaurants that have never focused on the convenience side of the business – but if Chicago’s three-Michelin-starred Alinea can figure out how to package their experiential goods, we think most can.

If you are struggling to figure out how to make your restaurant work in this environment, here are three things to consider:

1. Delivery

Delivery comes in two primary flavors – owned and third-party. Owned delivery is what we’ve experienced with pizza companies for years – directly hired drivers, full control of the customer experience. Third-party includes the big companies like GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates, amongst others – as well as smaller regional or local delivery services.

For some, owned delivery is suddenly an option. Employees who otherwise would have been tasked with managing elements of dine-in or who simply aren’t needed based purely on demand, can be freed up to make deliveries. This creates all sorts of liability and insurance issues that many won’t want to jump into – though we’ve seen this happening on a small scale.

Third-party delivery is the option we expect most restaurants who haven’t yet jumped on to move toward. But it’s not simply choosing to do delivery that matters.

Customers view delivery partners as an extension of your company. They are your partners. They are owning part of the experience your customers have with your brand. To the customer, they aren’t your brand – but they are close. When selecting partners, it is important to ensure that their values align to those of your brand and that they are putting practices in place that ensure consumer safety. If you’ve recently communicated to your customers about your position on safety and health standards, make sure you can live up to your promise through your choice of delivery partners. Brands that are leading the charge here are also thinking about tamper-evident packaging and contactless delivery options. The key is to let your customers know that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe. You can’t go too far.

If you offer delivery through your own website and mobile app, make sure you’ve made the necessary updates around communication of how you are handling delivery – particularly if you’ve now made contactless delivery the default option.

2. Curbside and Carryout

Curbside, carryout, drive-thru, and other similar options can also be facilitated through many of the same means as delivery. The key difference here is that you are fully in control of the customer experience. Show your customers how much you care and how far you are going by demonstrating an abundance of care and caution in how you interact with guests that come to your store. If you can, offer curbside pickup. Don’t force people who are nervous about unknown environments to get out of their vehicles. Ideally, curbside and carryout transactions are coordinated through your app – with helpful tools for checking in and push notifications for order status updates.

3. Lunch-Focused Businesses

While breakfast has been a big area of growth for many QSRs and dinner and late-night remain core for many restaurants, lunch is often the core daypart for many in the fast casual and QSR segments. With offices around the globe shutting down for an unknown period of time, this is an area where restaurant businesses could get hit the hardest. If your business is grounded in the lunch segment, it’s important to start thinking about alternatives and to think about how you can use technology to continue to serve your regular lunch customers. Sometimes this can be as simple as a well-timed push notification to let your customers know that you offer delivery. If your lunch crowd is used to walking to your location to pick up orders, they may not know that you offer delivery or even if you have a location near their home – encourage them to continue to engage and let them know you are here for them.

Again, you can’t overcommunicate here. People may be annoyed with the onslaught of emails they’ve received letting them know that the maker of their blender has a COVID-19 plan, but restaurants serve an essential purpose and your customers will be happy to know that you are there for them.

Bonus: Doing Good for People in Need

When this is all said and done, the companies that embrace the human side of the crisis will be the ones that people want to continue to engage with. If you can, think about ways you can serve those in need – healthcare workers and first responders who can’t be home with their families and, of course, your own employees.

If you need help with any of the topics in this post or thoughts on your specific situation, please reach out. We’re here to help.

Do you need help or guidance addressing specific changes to your business? Our team is here to help.

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