Restaurant Tactics Adapted to Overcome Challenges of Pandemic
The future may seem uncertain, but one thing is for sure: Restaurants aren’t letting the coronavirus outbreak keep them down. While sit-down dining may no longer be an option, not all hope is lost for those looking to continue serving their communities.
On March 16, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer limited restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery options. Great Lakes Bay Magazine spoke with two businesses previously featured in our monthly Taste column to see what toll the pandemic has taken on their businesses financially, how they’re protecting their communities and employees, and what they believe can be done to weather the storm.
For Will Baird and Tim Chaffin, co-owners of Vin Trofeo’s Pizza & Pub in Mount Pleasant, the biggest challenge has been adjusting to prepare for the unknown. Knowing how to manage staff, stocking and orders has become a guessing game. At the root of their effort is the conservation of resources.
“When, we get to a point where we can predict normal trends and sales according to what our typical averages are, then it becomes very systematic on how many staff to keep on hand, or how light or heavy to make our truck orders, then day-to-day tasks become mundane,” said Baird.
“Because this is territory that has been completely unexplored, things become an educated decision to make the best prediction possible without being wasteful,” added Chaffin.
For Sushi Remix, which provides customers with custom poke bowls at its Bay City and Saginaw locations, the pandemic has impacted the rate of business and ability to keep staff on board significantly.
“The executive orders from Gov. Whitmer that have allowed takeout-only has drastically slowed down of our day-to-day business,” said Aaron Wesener, general manager of Sushi Remix. “We have the best employees in the industry, many of them have had to take a temporary layoff. But (employees that were laid off) are all supportive and excited to get back to work ASAP.”
While some have begun using excess staff to provide a delivery option that didn’t previously exist or registering their business on popular food delivery apps such as Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash, some businesses quickly got to work creating digital ordering systems of their own.
“As soon as we heard about the new regulations, we launched our own ordering platform that has no fees associated with it,” explained Wesener. “We also deliver through Grubhub, but please keep in mind that every Grubhub order costs businesses 30% from each order.”
Free delivery has been one way businesses have worked to make the option a no-brainer for hesitant customers who are equally uncertain about their financial future. For many at this time, every dollar counts.
“We have minimized our food truck orders to focus mainly on family-sized meals instead of single-serve,” said Baird. “We understand that most families will try to get the most bang for their buck, and so we will continue to focus on giving the customers great deals that won’t break the bank.”
ADJUSTING TO ADVERSITY
Entire food industry systems have been overhauled to ensure as many employees as possible are taken care of financially. By addressing wages, how tips and fees are allocated among staff members, and new functions for servers who once relied on tips, restaurants are working together to face adversity.
“We had to do a couple things to really maximize our performance to make sure we will be able to operate. We have certainly had to throttle back our staff and our hours to maximize our sales with our labor,” said Chaffin. “We asked for volunteers that would first be willing to work during this crisis and asked those that might have income elsewhere if they will be willing to work less hours temporarily until this crisis is over.
They all agreed to try the new system.”
For other business, such as the Bavarian Inn, the decision to close temporarily wasn’t made lightly. But it’s understood that the change is only temporary, while health and safety come first. All but its Bavarian Inn Cluck Truck food truck are closed.
“The Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Lodge, River Place Shops, and our retail stores on Main Street have been closed during this time as our guests and team members’ health is the most important,” said Vice President Martha Zehnder Kaczynski. “Businesses should think of their team members and how they can help them during this difficult time. We have a plaque our founder, my grandfather, Tiny Zehnder, always had in his office: ‘This Business Shall Continue Forever.’ We look long term and it’s not about making a profit this month or this quarter. We are all in this together and we will get through this together as well.”
Restaurants and other businesses are conducting their due diligence to protect customers and employees. Restrictions put in place by the federal government have been abided, with organizations taking a variety of precautions to limit physical interactions and the potential spread of the coronavirus.
“Inside of the restaurants we have moved to all prepackaged utensils, and we sanitize everything once an hour,” said Wesener.
“Due to the high contagion level of the coronavirus, our staff will utilize several methods to prevent any direct touching of food products before it reaches the customer,” said Chaffin. “Our normal double-door front entry has also been rerouted for the customer to our side door, which minimizes the amount of contact that could potentially take place for the customer. If an order is not quite ready, we ask the customer to please wait in their vehicle, and we will be more than happy to bring them their food.”
For the foreseeable future, businesses will continue to see support through delivery and takeout orders, but owners know it’s important for businesses to stay in touch with customers. For many businesses social media has become an extremely important way for organizations within all industries to maintain contact with customers, show support to their community members and partners, and keep people informed about things as their unique situation changes.
Nonetheless, businesses are adamant the situation is only temporary. A moment to test the resilience of their communities.
“As a family-owned business, we are always in it for the long run. Being a fourth-generation business, there have been many obstacles we have overcome over the years. Giving back to our community is the first step; we are part of the community, said Zehnder Kaczynski. “We have donated our food from the hotel, restaurant and food retail stores to Hidden Harvest, the Saginaw Rescue Mission, and our school district for children’s meals. We have donated PPE supplies for our area hospitals. We care about our community, and this will help us continue operating in the long run.”