With colder weather quickly approaching for most states, restaurant owners are preparing for the first “pandemic winter” of our lifetimes. With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis forcing locations to mostly do business outside, without the right planning and investments the next few months can easily become a make-or-break moment for many pizza shop owners.
Right now is the time to prepare as best as you can for the uncertain days ahead. Here are 5 ways your restaurant or restaurant chain can prepare for this unusual winter.
1. Hire Seasonal Workers Quickly
Despite high unemployment, the race to hire seasonal workers is starting right now. The most in-demand employees? Delivery workers, which is troubling for pizza shop owners that need more delivery drivers during the winter months. With every business pivoting to online shopping and delivery, these employees are predicted to be tough to hire in just a few more weeks.
Hiring quickly is usually difficult -- even before the pandemic. For instance, Tara Lindstrom, a franchise owner of Pieology mentioned:
“By far hiring is our top challenge in the restaurant industry. Not only getting qualified applicants but getting back to them in a timely manner before they accept a job somewhere else. The managers work the line during lunch and dinner. And so by the time they call them back, they might have taken another position.”
With a larger pool of candidates, the job of sifting through hundreds if not thousands of unqualified applicants can be a chore for you and your team. As seasonal hiring ramps up, you will want to get ahead of the curve by taking stock of your current hiring funnel and see if you can speed it up in any way. Consider adopting automated hiring solutions to increase the speed of your hiring process.
2. Prepare for Cold Weather Outdoor Dining… and Indoor
If your location has an outdoor dining area, there are some obvious preparations to make. If you haven’t yet, invest in outdoor heaters as they are selling out fast across the country. Setting up insulated tenting can help as well, but keep in mind that the entire point of outdoor dining is to have adequate airflow to disperse the coronavirus. Most cities require that at least 50 percent of the sides must be open for airflow.
It’s also important to keep in mind the smaller details that come with this new outdoor setup. Your city will have restrictions on the type of heaters that can be used. Owners may need to buy more fire extinguishers to cover the outdoor spaces. The seating area should be mapped out to ensure enough distance between the new heaters and other objects (ie. the temporary tenting). And finally, your waitstaff needs to be trained on operating the heaters, detecting leaks and malfunctions, as well as how to operate in weather that may be slippery or snowy.
While the outdoor dining requirements are one thing, owners should keep an eye on the latest news on indoor dining. Just recently, cities like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and New York have allowed for more indoor capacity. As the weather gets colder, and if virus cases remain low, it’s possible that indoor capacity will continue to rise. So owners should prepare for more indoor seating as well, and not spend all their time and resources on their outdoor dining.
3. Put Staff and Customer Safety Above All Else
The absolute worst case scenario for your pizza chain would be to spend thousands preparing for a COVID-19 winter, then having to shut down for weeks due to a single positive case. It simply isn’t worth dropping your guard, even if cases in your town are low. All it takes is one.
It’s incredibly important to be diligent about keeping your location safe and secure. It starts with training your staff to stay safe in and out of your restaurant. Gently reminding them that if one of them gets sick, then the entire team suffers is an important talk to have. Keep up sanitation efforts, get rid of anything customers would reuse (ie. swap out menus for QR codes), and enforce the wearing of masks whenever guests are not seated at their tables.
It’s clear that there are differing opinions on masks, social distancing, and the virus itself; but as a business owner, it all comes down to making a business decision. City officials are taking contact tracing seriously and closing down restaurants all the time for violating pandemic restrictions. By staying vigilant and putting your staff and guests first, your location will have the best chance of staying open when others can’t.
4. Double Down on Digital
While many restaurants are going out of business, Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) are actually thriving during the pandemic. Pizza, in particular, has seen increased sales basically across the board as consumers look for convenient, low-cost meals that have the added benefit of being comfort food during these troubling times.
During winter, consumers will opt even more for pickup and delivery. Savvy pizza store owners should make investments into these areas of their business. Domino’s, who heavily invested into the digital side of their business with better mobile apps and online experience, is seeing double digit growth in their revenue. Taking cues from them, is your mobile ordering experience a good one? Now might be the time to update and upgrade your website.
Another idea is to make pickup easier with dedicated 5-minute parking spots for picking up, or even converting multiple parking spots to be “pick up only” areas where your staff runs out the order to your customers. Little Caesars have had great success with their pizza lockers for years, and their investment almost seems precinct for today’s consumer behavior. A scan of their phone to open the locker, and it’s a convenient, completely contactless way for their meal to be picked up at their leisure.
5. Market These New Innovations
Budgets are tight, but unless your customers know about your location’s updates, it will be tough to reap any benefits from your investments. To keep costs low, leverage social media to spread word of your newly heated outdoor patio, or your commitment to safe indoor dining, or new digital delivery options.
Managing your social media campaign doesn’t have to take up your time or be too expensive. Part time social media managers range between $20 to $50/hour, and contracting an expert for just a few hours a week to run awareness campaigns on Instagram and Facebook can pay off.
Word of mouth is the ultimate marketing tool of course, as is repeat business. Starting a loyalty program offering discounts and freebies to repeat customers and referrals is an extremely cost-effective way to bring in more business during the winter.
And finally, be honest about your predicament. Despite these rough times, communities are banding together to help local businesses all the time. Asking the community to support your restaurant can raise awareness and bring more locals to your door or website.
The coming winter will undoubtedly take a toll on many businesses, especially in the restaurant industry. But there are obstacles that we can see coming, that you can tackle today to put your pizza chain in the best possible position to succeed and weather the storm. Learn more about how Workstream can help your business in such times.
Robert Woo is a freelance content creator for various companies from startup to enterprise-level. When not writing SEO-friendly articles, he writes and performs comedy, plays guitar, and champions the Oxford comma.