Skip to content
How to save your restaurant from the coronavirus

How to save your restaurant from the coronavirus

A few ideas from a product designer to get your business through this tough time
The economy is a little akin to the food chain where smaller industries are supported by larger and more complex ones and restaurants are a bit like the plankton. They are small, abundant, and support much larger businesses. If they go out of business, so will the larger ones that support them like suppliers, distributors, and advertisers along with the other businesses their employees patronize with their paychecks. In other words, we need restaurants to succeed.
I'm not in the restaurant industry but I do creatively solve difficult user and business problems for a living as a product designer at
and I also like to eat food. So, I've put together a handful of ideas from a customer's perspective that I've seen working in my community:
Obvious signage
If there's one thing I've learned from watching usability tests, it's that doubt leads to inaction. Nobody wants to look stupid by doing the wrong thing so they freeze and do nothing. Make sure it is abundantly clear that your restaurant is open and in business. The original open sign and subtle hours on your door won't suffice because it existed before the coronavirus started and many shutdown restaurants still have them up. Don't leave any doubt in your customer's minds. Make a giant new sign that says you are still open for takeout.
The same thing goes for your website. You should have a new message at the top of your website that mentions that you are still open and how processes have changed. Again, a new timely message will remove any doubt if you are still open.
Join a delivery service
If your restaurant isn't on Grubhub, Caviar AND Uber eats you need to join now. These services take the orders, pickup, and deliver the food for you. Once you join one, you have the descriptions, photos, etc. to join the others in a few minutes. Don't overwhelm yourself with the entire menu at first, just the best sellers. I've noticed many restaurants increase their prices slightly on these platforms to offset the services fees so you don't have to worry about losing margins.
Embrace gift cards
Buying restaurant gift cards as a showing of support is picking up traction. I heard a story on NPR recently about how one patron bought a $1000 gift card from her favorite restaurant to show support. If you're a small mom and pop shop you don't need plastic cards or a costly system. My favorite Thai restaurant offers tickets printed out from a home printer in $10 increments with a signature from the owner to validate its authenticity.
Offer meal kits
A friend of mine was going to visit his father's teriyaki restaurant and asked around if anybody in the neighborhood wanted to order dinner. Instead of ordering from the menu I asked if I could have $60 worth of marinated chicken breasts (their sauce is amazing). I received 3 gallon Ziplock bags and I froze two of them and now have a simple meal I can whip up for my kids. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting something like this. Another Michelin rated restaurant nearby now offers meal kits where most of the ingredients are prepared but not always combined. Part of the allure is this restaurant is known for its chefs so you get to follow the detailed instructions in their words and feel like a world-class chef yourself.
Make it hot & ready
Customers don't want to sit in their car for 20 minutes waiting for their order to be ready and calling ahead requires too much planning for some people. Take some inspiration from the greatest invention to pizza in the last 10 years, Little Caesars' hot-n-ready. If you liked anchovies or mushrooms, you were out of luck but for the 98% of pizza eaters, the choice between cheese or pepperoni was just fine. Pick the one or two essential items and have them ready. If you are an Indian restaurant offer butter chicken and naan. If you are a Mediterranean restaurant offer lamb gyros and fries. You just need a couple of items that can be hot-n-ready to get customers on their way.
Simplify pricing
The second part of the hot-n-ready's success was the simplified pricing. It wasn't just the hot-n-ready, it was the $5 hot-n-ready. Simplify your pricing so it can fit on another sign and get people in the door. $10 butter chicken & rice. $8 lamb gyro & fries. You get the idea. It should be simple and enticing to people that have never been to your restaurant before.
Convert to a drive-in
You can also take inspiration from the original restaurant without seating, the drive-in diner. If customers are social distancing, meet them at their car window to take their order. Canlis, a Seattle restaurant more than served by converting to a drive-in. Just the visual alone of seeing people served outside your restaurant will draw attention and entice new customers to try it.
Re-assign staff to other tasks
Depending on the size and scale of your restaurant you might have people that don't have roles in this new system. That's great because there's plenty of new roles. Those signs we talked about will be more effective if someone is holding them. If business picks up, you may need someone waving cars in and showing them where to park to get their order taken. You'll want enough staff to take orders so that people aren't waiting long and getting anxious.
Make a plan
Like any change, it all starts with a plan. I've creates a simple
in Coda so you can track your progress and remove the things that aren't relevant. Remember your goal isn't necessary to thrive in this environment, it's to survive and any new adaptation helps. You need to keep the lights on and pay your staff while we get through this tough time. We need you. You're the plankton after all.
Want to print your doc?
This is not the way.
Try clicking the ⋯ next to your doc name or using a keyboard shortcut (
) instead.