The shutters might be down and the seats upturned, but many restaurant owners are working overtime.
Turning to a take-out model has kept a lot of restaurants afloat during this tough time. But for many brick and mortar food businesses, take-out and home delivery is unchartered territory, and navigating it for the first time is not always smooth sailing.
When chef Johnny Burke started Johnny’s Takeaway, he had to adapt his business to comply with the complex licensing regulations and legal red tape of running a catering company. The experience taught him a lot, and he’s since built a lean business that offers chef-cooked meals that are ready to heat and eat at home.
Jeff Israel, Vistaprint's Podcast host (and also a passionate foodie and loyal customer of Johnny’s) first spoke to him last year on Vistaprint’s Small Business Stories Podcast. Jeff recently caught up with him again (from the safety of his closet) to see how his business is doing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic...and how he continues to adapt.
"It's an extremely scary time for people in our industry. We're operating at much more cautious levels. It's made us have to stop, slow down, and think about how we purchase, how we go about the day prepping and selling, how we engage our clients, how we deal with our employees."
Here, Johnny shares some practical tips for turning your restaurant into a take-out business.
- Share often on social media
- Share more than just food photos
- Offer delivery
- Make every meal photogenic
- Connect with your community
Share often on social media
Give your followers and fans a taste of what you’re prepping in the kitchen. Sharing photos of your food not only whets their appetite, but it also helps them plan their meals. If you’re prepping a dish for later in the week, let people know what you're making, how you’ll garnish it, and when it’s going on the menu. And while many traditional kitchens frown upon using phones in kitchens, Johnny understands the value of sharing photos of his dishes with his followers.
Some of his key social media advice?
- Don't overthink your posts.
- Ask for customer feedback.
- Stay relevant.
If you don't normally share a lot on your social channels, Johnny's basic advice for first-timers is, "Post it. Be relevant. And have people thinking of you." Use food holidays (like National Fried Chicken Day) to stay relevant and even inspire one-off dishes. And don't forget to add hashtags to your posts to maximize their exposure.
Social media is also a great feedback tool. Set up an Instagram poll to get quick opinions from followers, and don't be afraid to interact with customers on Facebook and Instagram. Plus, you can also use Instagram as a vehicle for take-out. Instagram just debuted special take-out stickers for Stories, so you can add a sticker that lets followers order food or buy a gift card with just one tap.
And share more than just food
Right now, customers are worried about safety and cleanliness. Ease their concerns and be upfront about what you're doing to keep your kitchen clean. Johnny says that while posting on social media is a routine part of their day, they're now sharing more than craveable food photos. Think: bleach and hand sanitizer.
"In the past, we'd want to keep our cleaning products closed away...but now, we want people to know that we have those products and are using them."
Do what you can to deliver...literally
If you’re adjusting your menu regularly, updating Uber Eats and Grubhub can take up a lot of time. Making deliveries yourself, in the safest manner possible, can give you control over frequent menu updates and ensure everyone who comes into contact with your food follows your stringent health and safety procedures.
When Johnny was looking to adapt the business from take-out to delivery, he checked in with his staff to see if they were all okay with working.
Johnny asked, “Who wants to deliver?” and everyone put their hand up.
He adds, "The delivery on our own end is really just the hard work of our own team. It's back to bootstrap days. We’re all in. It could be any of us delivering, including the chef. At the moment, it’s all hands on deck in the safest manner possible. It really takes a village.”
When your eatery is ready to start offering delivery, an easy way to make each vehicle stand out is a car door magnet. If employees are using their own vehicles, these magnets are a great way to make your delivery service more official - and the magnets won't damage their car doors.
Prioritize people’s wellbeing
Whether it’s making sure your staff avoid burnout or that everyone on the team and their family is well-fed, right now, the main focus is taking care of people’s wellbeing.
As far as Johnny’s concerned, the most important things right now are, “To have fun. Cook great food. Make sure everyone’s healthy, safe, and that everyone that comes in is enjoying everything we’re putting out in the safest, cleanest and healthiest manner possible.”
Picture each meal on the plate
A well-known adage among chefs is, “You eat with your eyes first.” And in an era where photogenic food has never been more prevalent, expectations are high.
When packaging food, make sure it’s easy for people to reheat and plate up without losing any of its visual appeal. Many of Johnny's meals are designed to reheat at home - make sure you give customers the info they need, whether on a postcard or in emailed instructions.
In these tough times, a 'thank-you' can go a long way. Staple a business card to their take-out bag thanking them for their business - even a simple phrase like 'Enjoy your meal' can make a big difference when you can’t say it in person.
The experience people have when your food arrives is crucial. Brand basic paper bags with labels, and use customized stickers to seal carry-out containers. And don’t forget to add a menu, flyer, or postcard to every delivery bag with news of upcoming offerings, promotions, updated delivery details, or even your business story.
Connect with your community
Johnny’s Takeaway is currently offering Feed the Frontline packages to his customers where they can buy packs of 10 meals as gifts for medical workers in his area. The meals are packaged & delivered directly to the hospital or medical center. By ordering for these key workers, Johnny’s customers keep his team busy and at work.
If you want to do something nice for a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker, consider buying a gift card to a local restaurant online. Even if the restaurant is closed right now, they'll be able to use it when it reopens...and you'll be helping out a small business in the short term.
More than ever, the restaurants in your community need your support. To make sure you can enjoy your favorite sit-in meals again, support them by treating your family to take-out.
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