How restaurateurs are adapting their business

We spoke to restaurateurs across North America to learn how they’re adapting to today’s challenges. What’s Andrew Zimmern’s 5-step plan for the future? “Save the cash, pivot, pivot, pivot, pivot.”

Get ideas below.

Your business model

Pivoting to takeout

“[My focus will be] to-go packaging and also to-go [meals] at a cheaper rate than you would get it in the restaurant, because we’re taking away that hospitality aspect.

“There are things that we can think of as restaurant owners that have the power to give people these experiences whether it’s in the comfort of their home or the discomfort of our dining room, which it will probably be like going forward until we get a vaccine. It’s inevitable that we’ll have to go to these lengths to give people access to experience what we’re creating.”

Kwame Onwuachi
Chef & Author

“We don’t like the takeout business, but it’s going to be part of the new normal. We’re going to have to live with that and get much better at it.”

Juan Correa
Restaurateur
Llama Inn, Llama San

Changing the service model

“We can’t just raise prices. I know that this is going to change the staffing model. I’m looking at a FOH labor model where every guest is holding a digital device and payment is contactless. Maybe the servers are more like sommeliers or ambassadors so they can handle a larger station with more tables. The ratio has to change. You can’t do the same customer-to-server ratio with less sales. It won’t work. Get rid of tips. The service model has to change.”

Dan Simons
Co-owner
Farmers Restaurant Group

Your marketing

Connecting on social media

“With social media, there’s a real opportunity to showcase people and celebrate people that people wouldn’t know about it. Go on a virtual farm tour with one of your farmers. Really getting to know the restaurant in a different way. What’s meaningful to you? It’s really an exciting time to be creative and go deeper with your relationships, and put that out for people to experience.”

Becca Parrish
Founder
Becca PR

Communicating with guests

“Safety and sanitation protocols were the first pieces of information I had to share with people. We put it on our website, we put it on our newsletter, and we put a whole host of outlines together of exactly what it was we were going to be providing … Right now, we have to stick with one message: that we’re a safe and welcoming place.”

Elizabeth Blau
Founder & CEO
Blau + Associates

Prioritizing marketing

“In the long run, we need to fill hundreds of seats a day. We have to figure out how to work within this. We’re treating it like a regular restaurant, not five tables on the sidewalk that can’t sustain a business.”

Ryan Cole
Partner
The Vault

Marketing your mission

“Give the diner a chance to order from a restaurant and do good with it. Cause-related marketing and telling your stories I would include as much of that in your marketing message as you can.”

Dan Simons
Co-owner
Farmers Restaurant Group

Your style and brand

Enhancing your indoor space

“I didn’t want the first experience of people coming back into Honey Salt to be an empty dining room. We called some friends and asked staff and got donations of giant teddy bears … and put them out. Really, it’s just about a smile. Our business is hospitality. People come to restaurants not just for the food and service – it’s an experience.

“We wanted to be able to provide a smile and lightheartedness, because it’s scary coming back to a restaurant for the first time.”

Elizabeth Blau
Founder & CEO
Blau + Associates

Enhancing your outdoor space

The team at B.B. Lemon invested in cabanas with private tables and lights. “It’s almost like a garden party every night, with spacing for tables. If they are all full, we can seat more than 80 people, and everybody is still 10 feet away from each other. You don’t feel like you’re in a restaurant in the middle of a city.”

Benjamin Berg
Founder
B.B. Lemon

Extending your brand

“The restaurants that will survive are the ones that will say, ‘We are not a physical place only, but a curated experience that draws people out because of what we offer.’

“How do you deliver hospitality to someone’s home? How do you translate being hospitable online? That includes all channels.”

Becca Parrish
Founder
Becca PR

“Our takeout bags have a personalized note from Kim [Canteenwalla, chef and managing director] and I, thanking you for your business and reminding people that they’re not just supporting us but our team and their families. At Mother’s Day, two of our corporate chefs’ daughters … decorated the Mother’s Day bags with flowers and hearts. It’s back to these simple acts of kindness and something unexpected.”

Elizabeth Blau
Founder & CEO
Blau + Associates

Your employees

Staying in touch

“I believe more than anything that right now for me and at least my staff, one of the key essential things is communication and connection.

“My staff has a weekly Zoom meeting. Forty-two, forty-four people get on and we shoot the breeze, and we talk about what’s going on and we try to laugh and have a good time … As long as we try to connect with others, try to be open about how we’re feeling, discuss it openly, that for me is what gives us a chance to maintain our sanity.”

Mickey Bakst
Restaurateur and co-founder
Ben’s Friends

“We send each other silly memes. We send each other videos. Or we make fun of each other by seeing what we’re doing on social media. So just keeping in touch that way is something that I do and that I think is really important, regardless of if there’s a pandemic or not.”

Kwame Onwuachi
Chef & Author

Supporting mental health

We make sure through our insurance that we offer covers mental health benefits, that’s very important to us … If we are going to operate, we’re going to operate in a way where we can provide these benefits to our employees. We’re going to keep doing the run club, we’re going to keep doing Ben’s Friends, we’re going to keep up the yoga. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our family meals being healthier, and just providing these little pieces every day. Just a little change helps.”

Philip Speer
Chef & Restaurateur
Comedor

Fundraising

“I independently raised about $26,000 for [my staff]. So I’m making sure they have some glimmer of hope to let them know that I’m thinking about them. I know that there’s a stimulus package and there’s unemployment not everyone can receive that.

“I just did GoFundMe and I put it out there … I didn’t know what was going to happen. I stepped out on a leap of faith and I was able to raise some funds. Just trying is the biggest thing you can do.”

Kwame Onwuachi
Chef & Author

Building culture

“Culture and taking good care of people wins the day. If you want to climb a mountain that looks unclimbable, you’ve got to have a team that is willing to try to do the impossible. Take the high road and do the right thing. The system we had didn’t work anyways.”

Dan Simons
Co-owner
Farmers Restaurant Group