Questions to Consider as Restaurants Reopen
This is not Plan C or D or M or Q. There is no clear plan for what to do when some people are afraid to go to restaurants as they reopen.
Or are required to sit six feet from each and are separated by shower curtains.
Or talk through face masks.
Perhaps, if we’d listened more closely to Bill Gates’ talk in March 2015 on “how we’re not ready for the next epidemic,” or if we all had relatives who worked at the CDC, everyone would have come up with Plan V for Virus. But few of us are inclined to think about such unscheduled — and dire — situations.
So here we are.
As of this writing, we’re relying on common sense and the leadership of people like Danny Meyer, CEO of New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Shake Shack. Meyer let 80 percent of his staff go quickly in mid-March so they could collect unemployment. He stopped taking his salary, asked executive team members to take pay cuts, and funneled gift card purchases to a fund created to cover employee medical insurance premium contributions.
When Danny Meyer is looking into his home computer’s camera with candid helplessness, nobody should feel bad about not knowing what to do.
But there are those who are determined to do something. That’s the nature of entrepreneurial-spirited, hospitality-minded people.
In Louisville, celebrity chef Edward Lee and Maker’s Mark got together to form The Lee Initiative’s Restaurant Workers Relief Program, then expanded it nationally. Laid-off restaurant workers brought in a pay stub to prove employment and received hot meals, toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers, formula and personal hygiene items.
And a lot of restaurants turned into grocery stores.
Humanitarianism is good. Creativity is good. And in this environment, activities like that equal marketing. Will people have long enough memories to remember who were the creative humanitarians? Or will they just fall into old habits? Time will tell.
We’re all in this together, figuring it out. For right now we rely on energetic ingenuity and general goodwill.
When you get exhausted by all this new ground you’re breaking, or overwhelmed by worry, here are questions to consider and, well, not answers but — just something to think about.
QUESTION TO CONSIDER: A restaurant is inherently social. What can that mean besides “everyone together in a room?”
NOT AN ANSWER, BUT SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: On Facebook, someone posted a carry-out menu featuring “Virus Dinner Values,” and first on the list was Whiskey BBQ Chicken. You can imagine the droll, whiskey-themed Facebook caption. People are still funny and looking for excuses to relieve tensions with a joke. Can you help? Give them something to meme about?
QUESTION TO CONSIDER: Has your carryout and Grubhub delivery game kind of always been an afterthought?
NOT AN ANSWER BUT SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Now that it’s part of your main business, give it more than a panicky, passing thought. Can you source microwavable containers that aren’t plastic or styrofoam, that aren’t too expensive, that somehow extend your brand? Could be anything, just something thoughtful. I’m thinking of KFC’s cupholder-shaped nugget containers awhile back, and the ad I saw for Papa John’s recently where it was advertising a “seal” it uses on the box that guarantees nobody — no Grubhub driver, no HR-nightmare Papa John’s employee — will touch or breath on your pie. How can you create a point of difference in carryout and delivery? What problem can your brand solve?
QUESTION TO CONSIDER: Do you have something worth promoting right now?
NOT AN ANSWER BUT SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Carryout, take-out and drive-thru meals have helped. But have you come up with a point of difference? And how are you going to get attention drawn to it?
Generally, I guess, look around. See what others are doing. Try to make news, be a meme, say something worth sharing. For whatever it’s worth, you’re permitted to feel bad. We’re all going to be burning through a lot of bad-sad-mad feelings for at least a year, all of us. But the world wants you to pull through, even if they’re not sure how to help. Maybe you can help them help you? Just something to think about.
Charlie Hopper, principal/writer of ad agency Young & Laramore, shares views on restaurant marketing at SellingEating.com, as well as in recently published books “Nuggets, Nibbles, Morsels, Crumbs: Selected Restaurant Marketing Columns from Food & Drink International,” and “Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word Delicious.”