March 19, 2020 | Foodservice Industry
Most restaurants and bars need guests in their seats to keep going. With the effects of COVID-19 effectively shutting down life as we know it, many eateries are wondering how they'll be able to weather the storm. While it will take some creativity, there are a number of ways for New York restaurants to stay afloat.
Several area restaurants have shuttered their dining rooms for the time being, and are offering carry-out or delivery instead. This allows them to stay open while still providing some protection to their customers and employees, and help ensure that members of the community stay fed. At the moment, restaurants and bars are even allowed to provide take-out alcohol to their customers. Some restaurants are putting furloughed staff on delivery duty, giving them the opportunity to keep earning an income while their usual duties are on hold until the crisis is over.
For those eateries for which regular delivery isn't an option, third-party apps like Postmates, GrubHub, and UberEats offer another option. These apps often cover wider delivery areas than restaurants can on their own, so even eateries that usually offer delivery can have the chance to reach more patrons. They also allow users to choose "contactless delivery," a method that lets customers pick up their food with no physical contact with the driver. Some services, like Postmates, GrubHub, and UberEats, are also reducing or waiving fees for the time being, in order to help restaurateurs make the switch from dine-in to delivery service.
Even if restaurants can't reach potential guests the way they normally do, social media gives them the means to stay in contact. Many establishments have been hitting their social media pages to offer reassurance to their patrons, and encourage them to purchase gift cards for the amount they would typically be spending. This allows restaurants to continue to generate some income while they're unable to seat any guests and gives guests the chance to enjoy their favorite meals once the dine-in ban has been lifted.
Rethink Food NYC is a nonprofit organization that provides low- or no-cost meals to families in the city. Due to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, they have stepped up operations in order to recover more emergency food and supplies. Their Restaurant Response Program is offering up to 30 restaurants up to $40,000 in order to stay operational. All NYC-based restaurants are eligible for this program. In exchange, recipients are expected to temporarily shift their operating model to be a food distribution center, creating meals for carry-out and delivery as an extension of Rethink. Restaurants will be responsible for staffing and using their existing food supplies.
For restaurants and cafés that offer locally-made, artisanal, or otherwise unique coffee, bread, pastries, sauces, cheeses, or desserts, now is a good time to pivot to a more retail-based model. Local shops may be willing to stock these items, and social media is a great way to let patrons know that their favorite flavors are available for them to purchase and take home. Big box grocery stores are overwhelmed, and many shelves are empty — guests are willing to skip the risk and hassle of going to large chain stores in favor of picking up their favorites from smaller, local spots.
The restrictions on business have left a lot of people looking for employment. Restaurant owners can help their employees stay on their feet by offering assistance with finding work to get them through the crisis. Companies like Amazon are looking to hire extra workers to get them through the surge in shipping, third-party delivery apps are experiencing a hugely increased demand for drivers, and Rethink Food NYC is hiring extra help as they increase their operations during the emergency. They are currently looking to fill temporary positions for culinary team members, facilities team members, and food distribution workers. Interested parties can apply directly on their website.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the emphasis for many businesses has shifted from making money to simply staying open. Some utility companies are working with their customers to help avoid shutoffs due to nonpayment. Restaurant owners should contact their utility providers and ask about what kind of relief programs, if any, exist for small businesses. This can help them avoid having to choose which bills to prioritize, and keep essentials like gas, electricity, and water operational. Then, they may not be on the hook for covering expenses until their regular business has resumed.
COVID-19 isn't just scary for those most at risk of contracting the illness — it's also frightening for all of the workers and business owners whose livelihoods are threatened by it. While adapting to widespread quarantines and lockdowns isn't easy, these strategies can help restaurants remain operational and minimize losses until the danger has passed.