Making restaurants work post Covid-19

Many challenges have hit the dining industry and it is not time to give up. Here are some of the ways to get it done.
Corona virus has swept the world and one of the hardest hit industries is hospitality.

No sphere of business has been spared from this deluge, but as a restaurateur and food writer it is only prudent to speak about my stock-in-trade. No guru of operational risk management could ever have predicted the gravity of this situation which in many ways has sent back many people to square one.

After all, starting any business during difficult economic times is not the best of ideas. So, how does one pick up the pieces to revive the business and hopefully return to status quo?

At the onset of the business, one would have commissioned a feasible study that would encompass the most important factor in the restaurant business; location. This would have included the demand generators that obtain in the neighbourhood such as tourist attractions, universities, shopping malls, and corporate offices. However, these may have changed. Some offices will have downsized their staff, universities will not have as many international and affluent students, tourist attractions will have declined and it will take some time for malls and arcades to regain the same patronage.

Enlarge customer base
The first order of business would be enlarging and diversifying your customer base. Needless to say during an economic downturn, clients become cautious and first, they curtail on non-essential expenditure. Memories are still fresh of the gradual wind down in consumer spending at the onset of the last recession and the same can be said of the lockdown.

However, with an important caveat; what takes place in a recession is predictable with the so called V curve factor. The economy suffers a sharp but brief period of economic decline followed by a defined trough which is part of a strong recovery.

Thus, a restaurant would require a larger market segment. With the lockdown, being in uncharted waters, thinking out of the box is the new order of business. Inter alia, one needs to look for a broader audience.

In the case of the upscale restaurants such as Cantine Divino Restaurant and Bar on Mabua Road, or Furaha specialising in exotic Swahili fare, now more than ever is the time to get the marketing team out there in full force and re-evaluate the target audience. This means attracting new demographics that can be lured above and beyond the erstwhile target pre-Covid-19 crisis.

Menu revamp
Menu engineering is the secret to revamping your menu with a view to gaining the most perceived value from the food on offer.

This method, hopefully allows you to set a price that is amenable to both your diners and your bottom line. How have people’s dining habits changed during the lockdown? I am certain that people will be eating much less of the food that was commonly available via home delivery during the lockdown plus the fact that home cooking has become more prevalent during this period giving consumers the understanding of two factors. 1) The work it takes to deliver restaurant food and understanding the skill required; 2) the actual cost to make particular dishes. Therefore, create dishes that were not readily available during the lockdown and items that were complex to cook at home and most probably would have been missed over this period.

Marketing strategy
In Uganda one cannot overemphasise how we shun and underestimate the value of marketing. Now, more than ever, the restaurateur needs to think critically about developing a wining marketing strategy. Do not make the mistake of cutting back on marketing and dismissing it.

Often during these lean time, several businesses make the mistake of slashing their marketing budget to the core if not eliminating it. On the contrary, your business needs marketing the most.

Now is the time for you to negotiate for those billboards that one sees around town and make sure that you secure longer agreements at lower rates from the media people who sell them. After all, they too are desperately looking for new business. Inform your customers that you are back in business and offer them great deals to welcome them back.

Consumer budgets will have changed during the past three months so they will need to be wooed back with attractive offers.
And the suppliers
You now have to revisit the suppliers and ensure that you extract from them the lowest prices before they begin to increase them back to ‘normal’.

Be mindful of the fact that suppliers are in the same position as the restaurateurs. They equally need to discount and offer increased value for money to ensure that their businesses recover. Make the most of this period to negotiate better deals and if possible get long term commitments.

It is important for you to establish strong relationships with several suppliers in order to avoid a situation of inconvenience should they go out of business during the coming turbulent months.

To be continued next week...