11 Top Restaurant Survival Ideas For 2020-2021

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Small and medium businesses are struggling today. The hardest hit among them is the restaurant industry. With low margins, high turnover, and a lot of competition (pre-COVID-19) having a restaurant was one of the most difficult industries to be successful. 

As a restaurant owner or manager, you are going to have to find new and innovative ways to not only survive but potentially thrive in the post-COVID-19 era.

We have put together this list of things to do to increase revenue, bring on new customers, engage existing customers, and utilize tools in your arsenal to diversify your income potential.

  1. Help yourself by helping the community
  2. Provide online ordering
  3. Offer delivery
  4. Diversify your restaurant
  5. Create a niche menu
  6. Offer weekly meal prep
  7. Sell frozen meals
  8. Offer gift card bonuses
  9. Partially convert to a butcher shop
  10. Offer unique giveaways
  11. Streamline the takeout process

Help Yourself By Helping The Community

All of these suggestions come from a place of helping the community overall, but it is important to illustrate this first. 

Approach this as a time to survive, not to profit. However, if you find ways to help the local community and are effective in that, there are good reasons to believe that it will benefit you financially. Besides concepts like the “Rule of Reciprocity” it could help with press and provide long-lasting goodwill from the community you serve. Here are a couple of ideas, and it is linked back to where the idea was found, if it was not our own:

Join a local “neighbor helping neighbor” FaceBook group

These have popped up everywhere, in every community. Here is the one local to me:

North Shore Neighbors: Covid-19 Edition

This is a support group where neighbors let other neighbors know about community issues, and where they also offer to help those that are quarantined or have health concerns, get the items they need while they are out. This is a great opportunity for restaurants to join, offer support, and even provide an ongoing resource if you are delivering food to those neighborhoods anyway.

Could offer delivery drivers to bring supplies to neighborhoods they are delivering to. Post often about what neighborhoods the drivers are off to next to let them know if someone will be available for a pick up or drop off.

Reach out to Community Living spaces

You could reach out to local nursing homes, sober houses, and other communities and offer to bring meals once a week. Or simply ask if there is anything that you can do to help those living spaces.

Provide Online Ordering

Trends were already going in the direction of online ordering. The restaurant industry had grown thanks to online ordering, which now accounts for up to 30 percent of the total restaurant business, according to industry reports. (medium.com) This is certain to continue during COVID-19 and afterward. As people learn how easy it is to order online and how convenient, and now with new fears fresh in everyone’s mind, even after the pandemic has subsided we will likely continue faster on the trend of online ordering.

When looking for an online ordering system for your restaurant, the first and most obvious place you should look is your own POS. Many POS providers offer some version of online ordering. If they do not, you can either try to find a 3rd party online ordering system to suit your needs. Or you can look into changing your POS to a more modern one. 

Just because your POS has an online ordering system though, doesn’t mean you should use it. There are a few out there that are terrible and have awful reviews. 

Do a search in Google for the name of your POS plus “online ordering review”. So if your POS is Toast, search: “Toast POS online ordering review” and scan through the results to see what other restaurants have to say. Ask your POS for references for their online ordering system and have them set up a test site for you to test out. If it looks outdated, it is outdated and people will not use it, or trust it.

Here is the POS online ordering system for my favorite sushi restaurant:

This online ordering platform looks like it was built in 1990. I tried placing an order on it for a large group once and when I finally gave up and called, they said that it rarely works and takes longer for them to get the order, so it is better to just order on the phone… AFTER I had already spent about 30 minutes entering in all of the order information into the app… Don’t be like Blu Karma (except with their food, truly exceptional).

There are good arguments to be had to use a third-party online ordering system. Finding a good one that will not break the bank or flat rob you blind (cough cough GrubHub). 

Third-party online ordering systems are often FAR more user friendly than the “add-on” you get with a POS. They are coming along but MOST POS systems I have seen are sorely outdated, do not work properly, discourage usage, and are ineffective at getting people through the ordering process successfully. 

The major 3rd party online-ordering systems out there can have major flaws, like cost, or not being able to connect to certain POS systems. It will be important to do your research. If you have the capital to build an online ordering system into your website, then that would be ideal. However, keep in mind that while you might be able to get eCommerce for your restaurant for a reasonable rate, integrating it to your POS will likely be very expensive, and potentially more expensive than the website and online ordering system combined.

There is not a one size fits all here either. For all of GrubHubs faults, it has a few benefits that are worth considering and I would even recommend services LIKE theirs (if not theirs directly).

How the 3rd party system typically works is the restaurant pays a percentage of each order placed on the platform. GrubHub is one of the highest, if not THE highest. A justification for this is that they send new business to the restaurant that wouldn’t have been a customer otherwise. This makes sense. If GrubHub sends you a customer that already has their app and is browsing for food on GrubHub and stumbles across your restaurant and places an order, they deserve a good commission for that sale that you otherwise would not have had. 

That is GrubHubs customer NOT your customer. Fair enough and this is exactly why you SHOULD be on sites like GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24 etc. They may send you customers you would not have gotten otherwise, or that are looking for you on their platforms. It is theirs, that is fair…

However, I see restaurants promoting that service on their own website and even on their Google listing. GrubHub actually got in trouble for putting their menu link on restaurants Google listings that did not have an account with them and sending them to a similar restaurant that was. Very shady… But the point here is you have a customer on your website. They are YOUR customer. The second you send them to a 3rd party online ordering system, that customer is now THEIR customer. GrubHub charges you MORE money to market to those customers. And most of the people who order from you, are coming from your Google listing or your website. 

It is often less expensive to have your own online ordering system in place on your own website. You keep your own customers, and any business that the 3rd party apps send you is great. They are often free to sign up on, and they SHOULD increase your business. Mark up your prices on those platforms accordingly, and sell on your website as well.

Online Ordering Summary: Things to keep in mind

  1. What are the fees? Consider adding a convenience charge to online orders if possible.
  2. Does it integrate with my POS?
  3. Is it modern and functional? Test, test and test again. If it looks outdated, it is.
  4. Am I getting good value for the cost? Am I sending business to GrubHub or are they sending business to me?
  5. If at all possible, build your own online ordering system AND utilize the major 3rd party online ordering utilities and try not to send them YOUR business.

Offer Delivery Service

There isn’t much to say here. There are 2 main ways to offer delivery. Go through a service like Doordash or Uber Eats, which can be expensive, or you can hire your own delivery driver. 

If you are not already delivering, you might want to use a 3rd party delivery service at first, and then hire your own if it becomes financially prudent for you to do so. 

Some restaurants I have worked with had their restaurant staff doing deliveries for meal prep services once a week after their shift (more on that later).

Diversify Your Restaurant To Increase Revenue

The idea behind diversifying your restaurant is similar to diversifying a financial portfolio. Depending on the type of restaurant you have, you might have the ability to sell merchandise, like T-Shirts, mugs, hats, oven mitts, and other touristy items, or you can sell your own unique dressings, oils, meal kits, ingredients, etc. 

If you have online ordering (eCommerce) already added to your website, then you can easily add items like this to it as well. This is a great opportunity if you are in an area where there is frequent tourism, or you have a really well established and supportive client base.

Create A Niche Menu

This suggestion is likely a little selfish. As someone who has been on the keto diet for over a year, it is very hard to eat out and have a good list of options that have very low carbs with high healthy fats. I would love to see more restaurants picking up specialty diets, like Keto, Atkins, etc. and having a list of menu items dedicated to them. 

Add the next service and that would be a winner for me. As someone who is used to eating the same things over and over (I have my favorites and I am also lazy), I would love to have one or two meals I could order every week and just know I do not have to worry about what I am going to eat for that day.

If you do this, you can draw attention to it by simply creating a page on your website that discusses the benefits of the diet, some general information about your restaurant and the menu items and some details to help draw people in who are searching for that type of food in your area.

If you are looking for someone to redesign your website or add online ordering, we highly recommend WaaSio for low cost, highly functional websites that are designed to be modern and maintained and kept that way over time. 

Offer Weekly Meal Prep

Getting pre-made meals sent directly to your door was a booming industry CoronaVirus and since it has gotten even bigger. There is likely no better way to increase a stable revenue stream than letting your customers order on a recurring weekly basis their favorite meals. With everyone home, around the clock, currently, making breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single night, night after night, gets very exhausting. As someone with a wife and 4 kids, and another on the way, take it from us. We NEED more restaurants offering this service. We only have one around us and they are very expensive. 

How it typically works is the customer places an order for what they would like to have prepared for them the following week by a specific day (most restaurants are choosing Wed as a cutoff) and then having their meals for the week ready for pickup or to be delivered on Sunday (so they have it for the week).

In many cases, this is just left as a recurring order. Especially with specialty restaurants where there is not a specific item being ordered but a meal type. 

How that works is a customer chooses a meal-type like “Beef Meal” or “Chicken Meal” and the chef sends them something new every week. 

This has an additional benefit to the customer AND the restaurant. The customer gets something different every week, and the restaurant can send everyone the same thing each week saving on overall costs. 

If you know you have 20 “Chicken Meals” for the week, you can plan accordingly, buy in bulk and prepare all of the same meal for the week, saving on time and effort. 

We provide this service for free to restaurants. To learn more about it check out our in-depth article on how it works

Sell Frozen Meals To Be Reheated Later

Similar to Meal Prepping, selling frozen meals can be a great source of recurring revenue. It is a little trickier than regular meal prepping as you will need to come up with how long to put in the microwave and make sure that you are sealing and freezing it properly. But once you do, you are now expanding your reach to anyone you can ship to. 

This option vastly increases your restaurant’s reach and potential. This is especially powerful if you are in a touristy area where a lot of people return to your restaurant when they visit. Having the ability to be reminded of their vacation while away can be a good way to increase revenue and brand loyalty. 

Offer Gift Card Bonuses

Gift cards now, for future meals can really help supplement your income to help get you through this. But how do you get people to buy your gift cards now to utilize later?

A high school student created a program that provides a gift card of equal value to others in need. So for restaurants that sign up for the service, for every gift card that is purchased, one of equal value is given to someone in need.

Here is an article with more information and how to sign up for this service.

There are lots of other things you can do with a gift card purchase now, including having a percentage of gift card purchases going toward local COVID-19 efforts, or impacted communities.

Partially Convert To A Butcher Shop

Another great suggestion that we found was to offer perishables to the community to cook themselves. This is currently a really popular way for people to get their meats because Grocery stores can be difficult to get into and are often running out of popular choices.

There is a great article here on that.

Unique Giveaways

Some restaurants have found Coronavirus to be an opportunity to have a little fun and generate some PR as well as provide a service to the community.

One restaurant gave a roll of toilet paper with every order.

Others are offering gift cards, or a slab of meat to cook later, or combine this with other ideas, and offer to stop at the store on the way with the delivery.

Streamline The Takeout Process

The idea here is to limit contact with the public to protect them as well as your staff. Ex:

  • Use isles and tape floors 6ft apart for safe distancing during pickup (for high volume pickup times)
  • Have orders bagged
  • Have them labeled clearly
  • Put orders on the counter for customers to pick up themselves

More info and ideas on this article by Dave Troy.