Dealing With Disaster

Another Foodie Friday in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve all been affected and no business sector more than restaurants and bars. Many bars are still shut down and the places where bars have reopened have seen COVID cases rise dramatically, prompting some areas to shut them down again. Restaurants are gradually reopening but business is very different. I want to look at how and see if we can learn anything.

When you make a business plan, part of what you do is to project sales. In the restaurant business, you’d look at how many meals (covers) you’re serving each night, how often you’re turning tables, and how full that makes your restaurant. In most cases, any plan that indicated 50% capacity would be marginal and no plan would see 25% capacity as even a remotely feasible option.

If you’ve got a giant dining room (think Cheesecake Factory), 25% of capacity may still be a large enough number to make the business a small profit. Now throw in the need to keep your customers separated by six-feet, which may make the actual capacity below even the 25%. It’s impossible.

Restaurants area putting up plastic barriers to provide separation. My guess is that they’ll need to address their air filtering at some point as both customers and health officials find out more about how the virus spreads. Buffet? Bye-bye. Menus are being reduced, printed, and used once. More expenses, as are the costs of having staffers who do nothing but sanitize tables and everything else after parties have left. It’s a low-margin business to begin with and what we see happening now is just destroying the business completely.

A well-known celebrity chef moved here a year ago and opened a successful restaurant. He closed it the other day. Yes, he was doing takeout but as he said, that wasn’t what diners wanted from a restaurant known for its live experiences. Is the business experience the same in a closed-in booth? I’ve had very good takeout from several places during the last few months but even the best of it isn’t as good as the same food coming right out of the kitchen. Neither is the experience.

So what can we learn? I’m amazed at how the industry is adapting. Ghost kitchens, which I’ve written about, are going to be a part of the future. So is the takeout business, lesser experience or not. Even with restaurants reopening, the takeout business isn’t declining. Are there lessons for non-food businesses? I think so.

First, don’t be afraid to consider the most far-fetched things in your disaster planning (“oh come on – no one is going to shut down the entire economy…”). Second, that plan needs to focus on customers’ needs. The takeout business isn’t something the restaurateurs planned for but customer demand necessitated it. Third, don’t assume that the disaster plan will apply only to a temporary condition. I don’t think we’re ever getting back to anything but a new normal, do you? Think about change being permanent and plan accordingly. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

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