The Halt of Dine-In Service: Strategies For Survival

Jul 23, 2020

Hospitality expert, Sarah Fitzgibbon shares her strategies for survival that businesses can follow to meet the increased demand for takeaway and delivery orders.

With Melbourne in the midst of Stage 3 COVID-19 restrictions, times are undoubtedly tough for many hospitality businesses.

Australian Vocational Training & Employment Services (AVTES) hospitality expert Sarah Fitzgibbon echoes this sentiment, adding that people are “more down” than earlier in the year when restrictions were introduced.

However, she says all is not doom and gloom for the industry, citing a huge surge in takeaway orders.

She suggests a range of strategies that business owners can follow in order to capitalise on the goodwill of customers and the increased demand for takeaway and delivery orders.

Give Customers What They Want While Trying to Adapt

One of the most important things you can do is review your menu.

Fitzgibbon says that offering takeaway – rather than waiting for dine-in to return – is critical, and that menus should be tailored to include dishes that are fairly priced, travel well and meet customer expectations.

“Delivery can take up to 40 minutes in metro areas, and on arrival, they still have to look and taste good,” Fitzgibbon says.

“Dishes that travel well include wet dishes, curries and stir-fries that have traditionally been takeaway options. Conversely, popular fried items including chips, burgers and things like that can be problematic.”

As these are typically among the best sellers, Fitzgibbon doesn’t suggest cutting them off the menu.

Rather, she says there is an opportunity to adapt these dishes for a takeaway or home setting.

“This may mean switching from fries to chunky chips or, if you sell burgers, having the lettuce in a separate container so people can assemble it themselves. It may also mean looking at different products [in addition to] your best sellers” she says.

“There is room to be a bit experimental, but you need to be looking at what customers want, [which] can be as easy as asking them. People are generally supportive [and] will often give you time to work things out.

“So it’s important to ask customers what they want and what works, as they are often happy to provide feedback.”

Turn the Messaging Around

With this groundswell of support for shopping local, Fitzgibbon suggests business owners should be active on social media, and engage in other marketing methods.

She says the promotion of new menu items, specials, ingredients and other facets of the business can be done through Facebook and Instagram, as well as brand packaging, email lists, physical signage and a “good old fashioned mailbox drop [of] A4 fliers cut out on plain paper, [that] can stand out among the rest.”

However, she cautions against bombarding potential customers with emails, saying that once every 2-4 weeks is typically sufficient.

Regarding the messaging, Fitzgibbon suggests customers are responsive to a positive angle when promoting the business.

“Rather than something like, ‘we’re struggling and need your help,’ an alternative is ‘we are so grateful for your help, thank you very much for it’,” she says.

“That can go a long way.”

Creativity Is Key

A hit during the first round of restrictions, Fitzgibbon says the targeted sale of grocery, pantry and boutique items are still a great way for cafés and restaurants to increase their average order value.

She adds that if McDonald’s and other large businesses are doing it, there’s research behind the method.

“Anything these businesses can sell which will add to the convenience of, and value for customers while still being profitable for business is worth doing,” she says.

“It might not necessarily be things you can buy at the supermarket. For example, if you’re a café, and people love your muffins, it might be worth considering selling multi-packs. Or, if your business makes lots of pasta, having sauces and packets of pasta available to make at home.”

Fitzgibbon also suggests free delivery for customers who spend over a certain amount and creative techniques – such as a live stream of a local band or performance, the creation of a Spotify playlist that goes with the meal and providing a personal touch with delivery – that may enhance the dine-in-at-home experience.

“It’s worthwhile thinking of all the different senses– what people see, smell, hear, touch and taste – and working with that. There are some cool things you can do [in this space],” Fitzgibbon says.

“And businesses are finding that it’s not necessarily costly to [provide delivery] instead of using a delivery platform. Having a neatly presented staff member bring orders to customers, thanking them face to face for ordering with you and wishing them a lovely meal… can really elevate the experience.”

She adds that businesses should be encouraging repeat business through things like coupons, valid for a week or a month, that “keep your business at the top of mind, and encourage customers to return.”

“People are really supportive at the moment, so keeping connections and communications open and encouraging referrals is especially important,” she says.

“It’s another thing that can go a really long way.”

An initiative of Fine Food, Hospitality Unites is the voice of the foodservice industry, dedicated to sharing the collective experiences and solutions to thrive in a post-COVID economy.

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