• Eng. Mohammad Fouad Al Jamal

Done is better than perfect.

It is possible for a restaurant business to survive these tough times, if it formulates a unique marketing plan and adopts swift but efficient strategies to tackle the current environment. It must know its market niche, target customers and competitors very well and it’s visual communication with the people must be impressive and purposeful.

Restaurant business is competitive as you have to drive customers buy your product and to dine and enjoy at your place more than they do in others restaurants. If you are unable to catch their attention, chances are that your restaurant will end up closing. Most of the businesses close abruptly and do not survive as they fail to engage people.

People go to restaurants to spend some memorable moments with friends and family while enjoying food. Still, many entrepreneurs either abruptly close their restaurant business or they are not satisfied with its performance. Most of them fail because they do not adhere to some basics of operating a restaurant business and end up losing their customers to the competitors.

A majority of restaurant owners wrongly believe that if a restaurant serves good quality food, then that is enough to run a lucrative business. Good quality of products or services is something basic. Beside the quality offerings, you need to turn your restaurant business into a brand that people can trust. Many restaurants fail to explore their full business potential.

Several surveys have found that the failure rate in the restaurant industry is actually very high. Accodring to several statistics, about half of all new ventures don't survive their first year. But studies also point out that if the restaurant survives the first year, then only around 15% and 8% such restaurants close in the second and third year respectively.

The secret (or one of them) is to get things done quick and efficiently. If it doesn't work, change it, evolve, analyse. But do it now. Taking too long analysing, preparing and deciding whether to launch that promo, or to change the menu will have your competitors ahead of you in a blink of an eye. The industry evolves at a fast pace, evolving with it is key.

Some of the strategies quick-service restaurants can adopt to stay afloat in the difficult COVID-19 environment are:

Leveraging technology

Having the right technology can make or break a restaurant during these turbulent times. Not only does it help restaurateurs sustainably resume operations, but it can also drive traffic to boost revenue.

In today’s environment, consumers expect restaurants to offer digital ordering and payment platforms for convenience and safety. According to the NPD Group, in the US digital restaurant orders increased by 63 percent in March 2020 alone. Implementing and optimizing a user-friendly online ordering system should be a top priority. Update websites and web listings with the current menu, hours of operation and phone number for orders to ensure customers have the information they need.

Contactless payments that decrease person-to-person transactions, self-order kiosks that shorten lines and give customers a minimal-contact way to place their order, and guest engagement loyalty program apps that motivate customers to return are some other technologies that will help increase your popularity. This includes engaging customers through personalized offers and using customer data to make decisions on what to promote, how to revamp the menu and more, focus on "deep personalization"

Targeting loyal customers

Engaging with loyal customers amid the pandemic is one of the best ways restaurateurs can drive business and remain viable. Collecting customer emails and phone numbers from takeout and delivery orders allows restaurant operators to reconnect with customers and keep them updated on restaurant specials and promotions to help drive more business.

Reducing costs

With the number of orders down, the key to surviving amid the pandemic is reducing costs where possible. Look at the supplies that cost the most money. Then, negotiate with current supliers to reduce costs or switch to those that offer better pricing. Also, revisit menus and see what can be revamped to decrease the number of ingredients needing to be purchased to stay afloat.

In addition, restaurateurs can turn to technology to help determine where and how to cut costs, which is crucial in this environment of uncertainty. Restaurant operators can use cloud-based accounting platforms for cost control and financial monitoring. These platforms connect into bank account and credit card transactions to help restaurant operators track expenses and cashflow. The clear picture of financial performance will help restaurateurs to better inform restaurant business strategy and establish clear ROI goals.

Scheduling strategically

Staff costs account for about 25-30 percent of gross revenue, being one of the highest costs for restaurateurs. These costs cut into restaurants’ already razor-thin margins. To reduce these costs, analyze customer demand and adjust scheduling appropriately for off-peak hours.

Getting creative

Consumers are getting tired of cooking at home. People are craving restaurant offerings and ambience, comfort food, and restaurants can take advantage of this by getting creative. Why not offer larger portion takeout for the whole family for delivery or pick up, or offer specials to apartment complexes, banks and other places of business where employees are in the office.

Thankfully, there is room for optimism on the outlook for the industry. This optimism will be higher for restaurants that remain agile and adapt operational strategies to more sustainably operate in the COVID-19 environment and get ready for the post pandemic expected boom.

This too shall pass.