As many restaurants prepare for a reopening, there’s a real opportunity to approach it more as a new beginning, both for restaurants and the industry.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘the new normal’ and speculation about what things will be like moving forward.  While the main focus for many restaurants right now is survival, it can’t end there.  A big part of what will define survival is not just that you recover; it will be how you recover.  The aftermath of COVID-19 needs to be a new beginning for restaurants more than a re-opening.  To treat it any other way is missing a real opportunity.

For restaurants that are planning this as a new beginning, it’s an exercise that will combine examining everything you’ve done in the past with taking new sensibilities and realities into account for your restaurant moving forward.

Returning staff

This will be a new beginning for restaurants, but also for employees.  Returning staff will also need to face new realities and there will likely need to be some new training.  This is an opportunity to step things up for every department, and include important things that may have been missing from training and policies in the past.

For serving staff in particular, it’s time to incorporate sales into the job as an absolute priority and an essential aspect of service.  This is an overlooked necessity throughout the industry and the greatest opportunity to increase your profit margin.  For new servers, incorporate sales into the training and expectation from the beginning.  Teach and train that in a restaurant, at least in your restaurant, sales and service go hand in hand.  It’s time to stop treating up-selling like it’s evil.  It will be more important than ever to increase the per guest average to make up for the loss of sales.  Sales oriented serving is not only the greatest opportunity to increase sales, it has no additional cost attached to it.  And it matters that the servers will make more money, too.

The elephant in the room

Selling is something that most servers resist like the plague and managers everywhere allow them to do it.  Most servers don’t know how to sell, don’t think it’s their job, and more than anything, it scares the s#%@ out of them.  They don’t know what to say, they equate selling with bothering guests, and most managers are not far behind in these sentiments.  The change that’s required is in training toward the right mindset, the right language and an understanding of how selling is a vital aspect of providing service.

The challenge is of course, how you accomplish transforming your servers into a professional team of sales professionals.  I repeat:  a selling mindset combined with appropriate language, which are largely absent in server training in the industry.  Simply telling servers that they need to up sell is not effective, as you may have found out over the years.  What’s necessary to achieve results is a specific plan that will lead to stronger communication skills for your serving teams.

Indirect ways to affect sales

This should also be a new beginning for restaurants and the way they communicate with the public.  There are ways to affect your sales indirectly, including improving the perception of your restaurant in the public eye.  I’m not talking about advertising.  I am referring to everything from how you and your staff communicate with guests and each other to how friendly you are to passersby when you’re outside your front door.  I’m not suggesting that managers need to visit and table check every table of guests (which your servers should be doing often and effectively), but certainly a smile and a hello.  The same is true for any manager or staff member when they‘re out on your patio and people are passing by.  A positive and warm feeling someone might get from simply passing by your restaurant could very well translate to a future visit from someone that has never been to your restaurant before.

How else are you connecting with your customers?

  • Who are they?
  • How do you reach them when they’re not in your restaurant?
  • Do you have a database to work from?
  • Do you have a collection of email addresses, phone numbers, addresses?
  • How could you start one, and what would your message be when you reach out to them?

Ways and reasons to ask for their contact information could include things like having a contest for a prize and collect their information on their entry ballot.  You could have them sign up for birthday or anniversary recognition, frequent visitor discounts, or offer a complimentary beverage or appetizer for signing up to your social media page.

You may have a natural resistance to giving things away, but the benefits outweigh the expense.  Firstly, your cost is a soft cost that will bring them in almost always with other guests who will be spending much more, and you’re gaining access to reach them in the future without spending money on advertising.

Here’s to a new beginning for restaurants

  • Treat the current situation as an opportunity for a new beginning
  • Servers need to be trained to be professional service and salespeople
  • Create new business opportunities now and reach out to your customers through social media, and any other available communication
  • Create and build your customer database, with their permission
  • Identify, review and meet the challenges that existed before COVID-19
  • Ensure your restaurant is adapting both to the current situation and possible future setbacks

This really can be the new beginning for restaurants that would move us forward and beyond our expectations.  Approaching things with a fresh outlook and in ways that you may not have before is a great opportunity to ensure your restaurant will still be valued and relevant moving forward.