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It’s been six months since the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Australia – meaning it’s been 180 days since our industry changed forever. And as doors begin to open and restrictions slowly start to ease, we uncover the top ways you can welcome customers in without the fear of being shut down (again).
Since Covid-19 hit Australian shores earlier in the year, our lives in the kitchen haven’t been the same. The list of what we can and can’t do is forever changing, and the different requirements and restrictions in each state can be difficult to understand.
But as Australia focuses on flattening the curve and restrictions are beginning to ease in states, now is the time to put your venue back on the “to visit” list for customers. Meaning, it’s time to get back out there and do what you do best – offer tasty meals and beverages.
Chefs aren’t the only ones tapping their toes in excitement to be back behind the pass, experimenting with new flavours and ingredients. Your customers are also craving your meals and the experience of leaving the home and enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – dining out.
But they can’t do that unless they feel safe and guarded from this virus. In a recent survey we conducted, 56.6% of respondents revealed they are more cautious about making the decision to dine out.
The survey also highlighted that 39.5% of respondents are worried they can’t keep up social distancing practices when leaving the home to dine at a restaurant or cafe. So, to help your customers feel safe when visiting your venue, we have collated tips on how you can open your doors to the public while ensuring social distancing practices and current restrictions are met.
Customers are afraid – they are afraid to go out, they are afraid to disobey the restrictions and they are afraid of being the “cause” of a business being shut down. And as we have seen in recent weeks, their fear is understandable.
Since restrictions have been eased in some states, there have been a number of venues who have been linked to coronavirus clusters. While in most instances, situations like this are largely outside the control of business owners, you can take steps to ensure your customers are safe and comfortable in your venue.
So, how do you do that? By showcasing that your venue is a Covid-19 safe venue and having a safety plan in place and clearly on display.
To help businesses like yours during Covid-19, the below is a short, but effective list to ensure your venue is safe.
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While the above considerations are general practice, it is important to remember that every state is different. So while the above will help your customers and staff feel safe upon entrance, it is critical that you also follow your state’s regulations.
To find out more information about the Covid-19 restrictions in your state, follow the below links:
Yes, the time has come – the need to invest in digital technologies is now. Due to Covid-19, digital menus and reservation operations have become a must-have for venues as a way to reduce contact between staff and customers. In fact, the term “Digital Menu” peaked on Google in between May and June in Australia – reflecting the current need.
Since coronavirus took the industry hostage, many technology companies have come to the rescue with their solutions. So, when it comes to trying to find the right fit for your venue, it can be a difficult task.
But to help you save costs even further, tech companies OrderUp! and Mr Yum have announced they are offering their digital solution to Australian venues for free. OrderUp! is a leading online ordering platform that offers an easy and efficient system for contactless pick-up, delivery and table orders.
OrderUp! also allows your customers to scan a QR code with their own device to prompt your menu. Once the menu is displayed, customers then have the ability to order and pay for their order through their mobile.
Whereas, Mr Yum is an online ordering platform that offers venues free access to their QR code digital menu with a guest register. “We want to support venues to reopen in a cost-effective and sustainable way,” Mr Yum CEO Kim Teo told Hospitality Magazine. “The coronavirus pandemic has already fundamentally changed hospitality in Australia, and we are here to help restaurants, cafes and pubs to find new ways to evolve their businesses.”
Social media giant, Instagram (which is operated by Facebook) has also jumped on the bandwagon and launched their own QR Code capabilities in mid August. The new in-app functionality allows users to generate QR codes that are scannable from any third-party camera apps. This then allows businesses to print their QR codes and display around the premises for customers to scan. Once scanned, customers will then gain access to the menu, specials or even discount codes, which can be hosted on your Instagram page. And while many venues already have an Instagram account, this investment removes all third-party costs and only involves a time commitment.
When it comes to transitioning your menu to digital, it also provides you with an opportunity to review and reduce your offering to help save costs. To do this, evaluate what sells and what doesn’t, and take into consideration what may require extensive preparation.
If you’re considering menu rationalisation, limit slow moving, high labor items, consider what ingredients can be used in multiple dishes and rework the menu to showcase dishes that have a higher margin. By doing this, it reduces the types of produce required, cuts back unnecessary costs and can help boost productivity in the kitchen.
And when it comes to limiting the number of people entering a venue or waiting outside, venues have now made bookings a requirement for entry; meaning the need for an online reservation solution has become a necessity. These types of programs have been around for some time, although they have generally been perceived as an additional, irrelevant cost for venues.
To help businesses navigate through the uncertainty, world leading reservations provider OpenTable have announced they are providing venues with their services at a discounted rate. These discounts can be received as part of thier Open Door program, which provides restaurants with the ability to take online reservations with no subscription cost through to the end of 2020 and up to 50% discount on cover fees between October and December 2020.
By implementing a digital booking solution, it also provides you with the ability to record each customer’s details to adhere to restriction requirements. This is due to many states now requiring venues to record name and mobile number or email address for all dine-in customers for at least 28 days.
It is important to remember that these records can only be used for Covid-19 contact tracing and must be stored confidentially and securely. Using your booking system to record customer details allows health authorities to track and trace someone who is infected or might be involved in an infection.
With restrictions currently in place, ensuring you cater to as many customers as possible in one sitting has never been so important. If you don’t, you could find yourself coming off short.
This means the days of long wining and dining experiences are no longer possible. So, to ensure you make a profit and come out ahead during these unsettling times, it is important to implement a time restriction per table.
Limiting the amount of time customers spend in your venue is essential to increasing turnover and getting as many people through the doors as possible. For example, many cafes and restaurants have begun putting two hour limits on seating arrangements to ensure they push more customers through their doors.
But it is important to think of your venue before implementing this strategy. For instance, a customer who only orders a coffee should have a shorter time restriction, as opposed to a guest who orders a meal and beverage.
And while it may seem harsh to limit the time someone spends in your venue, many diners are understanding. Don’t be afraid to inform them of the newly imposed rule and explain the circumstances to them politely before they take their seats, so they are aware and not blindsided.
Better yet, make it known on your social accounts and website, even have a sign up on entry into your venue. The earlier in the experience you make your customers aware of the time restrictions, the more understanding they’ll be.
We have said it before, but we will say it again; never underestimate the power of social media. Social media is a tool that can market your venue and set you apart from competitors.
It provides you with an avenue to speak directly to your customers, to voice your thoughts and to showcase your menu offering. And more than ever before, customers are scrolling through Facebook and Instagram to find food and beverages that provide them with inspiration, with hope that the world is slowly returning to normal.
Think about it, if you’re not on social media, if you’re not actively posting on your accounts, how will your customers know you exist (especially as screen time has increased during lockdown)? By using social media, it allows you to communicate to customers that you are open, ready for business and utilising a Covid-19 plan.
When posting to your accounts, think about your messaging. It should encourage diners to eat locally and support businesses while reiterating your premises is safe and ready for their business.
Regularly tell your customers what is happening at your venue; whether that is new food and beverage items, new cleaning regimes or even new staff. But remember, don’t make your social accounts all about you.
Your customers are struggling as well, so incentivise them to visit and make an order with your venue. Offer discounts such as ‘buy one get one’ or a free dessert or entree; every little bit opens your portfolio to new customers while your regulars feel they are receiving V.I.P treatment.
Social media also provides you the opportunity to experiment with new partnerships and dishes. Last month, popular Surry Hills, Sydney venue Butter formed a partnership with another venue as a strategy to get their name back out there after being closed during restrictions.
Julian Cincotta, co-owner and chef of Butter Surry Hills and Middle Eastern Eatery Thievery in Glebe combined dishes from the two venues and shared endless amounts of imagery across Instagram to inject curiosity into guests. The partnership involved a rotating menu with items such as fried chicken and hummus bowls, kebabs, fried chicken snack packs and charcoal birds.
It’s safe to say that Covid-19 has stimulated a lot of change especially within the hospitality industry. But that doesn’t mean we need to sit back and stagnate.
It means we need to come together, innovate and make important business decisions that will not only shape your venue for the short-term but also long into the future. So, while many venues continue to battle the decision to continue trading under the restrictions or close, now is the time to set yourself apart.
Take a moment to yourself and determine what works for your venue. Review your menu and cut it down, jump on-board the technology wave and kick off a digital menu and reservation service and take your social media presence to the next level – each little step can help you generate a profit and most importantly rebuild in a time where everything seems impossible.