Restaurants across the United States are rising to face the challenges posed by COVID-19
It’s amazing how quickly life can change. In less than six months, the food service industry has gone from sturdy to struggling. The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread business closures and has consequently led to massive job losses in the U.S., with food service jobs accounting for sixty percent of the 700,000 losses reported in March. For the restaurants that have managed to survive, there may not be a return to normal anytime soon. With a COVID-19 vaccine unlikely to be available until next year, customers will be paying more attention to restaurant health standards and frequenting the businesses they know and trust.
Fortunately, some independent businesses, including a few of our own customers, have found continued success despite tough economic conditions. Beca House, a coffee shop located in Ohio, is one of the first clients we noticed who maintained normal sales volume as stay-at-home orders were being issued. The difference, however, has come in how customers are doing business, and that change has been a unique but necessary challenge for their brand to undertake.
“Online ordering has almost tripled, so we have shifted our focus to making that more efficient for our customers,” said Steve Jackson of Beca House. “All things considered, we are doing well. We are looking forward to the day things open back up, but we’re grateful for the ways we have been able to adjust and keep moving ahead.”
Other restaurants and shops are especially focused on their ability to offer safe service alternatives. Social distancing efforts are still top of mind for many people, meaning dining rooms and bar seating will be slow to fill up even as states begin to reopen. Some businesses like Flour and Whisk Bakery, also located in Ohio, have made a total transition to accommodate customers with their drive-thru services.
“We closed our bakery storefront and are solely operating out of our drive-thru window, which we are very fortunate to have at this point,” said owner Jami Williamson. “We have been very blessed during this troubling time to see an actual increase in our business. If not for our drive-thru, I’m not sure we would be able to be operational.”
While these new methods of doing business have become more commonplace, the question on the mind of entrepreneurs and restaurateurs remains: where do we go from here? Furthermore, what lessons will those in the food service industry take with them into a new era of business? For many independent businesses, working alongside others in the community is the most important approach during this global pandemic.
“We have a few businesses in our community who have approached us at Beca House to start a special program to provide for frontline workers and medical staff,” said Steve Jackson. “We loved the idea and it’s something we are promoting countywide as well.”
From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, our society has placed added emphasis on supporting the people who work the frontlines of the crisis every day. Reducing their costs and daily struggles in any way play a part in keeping our healthcare system up and running. However, people outside our hospitals are also struggling to navigate such unprecedented times. In an attempt to rekindle our compassion for one another, some restaurants have taken the initiative to personalize their social media presence more than ever. A new inclusive and heartfelt approach to social media, particularly in a time of isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty, can be the difference between simply showing up on someone’s Instagram feed and building a genuine connection with customers.
“Along with supporting the frontline workers, our two big things have been embracing flexibility and communication,” said Kyle Matthews of White Duck Espresso in Tampa, Florida. “We’re using social media to talk to our customers daily and not just about our products, but empathizing with the situation, having fun when it makes sense, and giving back where we can.”
Perhaps the idea of returning to “normalcy” is idealistic, but there will come a time when life resembles what it was mere months ago. The coming weeks and months may feel like years in the age of instant gratification and immediate results, but eventually, this too shall pass. In the meantime, those restaurateurs and shop owners who are both skillful and fortunate enough to survive – as well as those who will start new businesses in the aftermath – would be wise to think of how they want their business to relate to loyal and new customers alike.
“Everyone is on Facebook and Instagram way more than normal right now, so take advantage of that,” suggested Matthews. “Acknowledge the situation and what you’re doing differently – people are both bored and nervous, and they’re looking for something fun and inspiring that helps shine a positive light on our collective future.”