The fifth installment of the Business Resilience Series explores the unique challenges faced by the restaurant and hospitality industry as it considers how to re-open for business.
The panelists included:
- Aimee Schulhauser, Owner & Founder, Schoolhaus Culinary
- Matt Pinch, Co-Founder, President & CEO, Leo's Hospitality Group
- Jim Bence, President & CEO, Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association
- Jeffrey Boutilier, President Ascent Strategy
The panel explored a range of issues including the "new normal" we all face, and the considerations they are weighing as they prepare for the future of their own businesses. From this week’s panel, here are five recommendations for restaurants as Saskatchewan begins to reopen.
1. Move Outside if Possible
As social distancing becomes a significant factor in daily life, many restaurants are struggling to make use of their limited space in a way that makes financial sense while ensuring the safety and comfort of customers. One option Schulhauser plans to explore is finding and using any available outdoor space to expand her restaurant’s footprint and allow for effective social distancing. Bence agrees that patrons are more likely to feel safer outside. With summer weather on the horizon, restaurants should begin to plan for outdoor service options.
2. Easy, In-House Delivery Options
The panel recommends that restaurants act quickly to develop in in-house delivery system if they haven’t done so already. While many customers are turning to third-party delivery vendors like Skip the Dishes or Uber Eats, Bence says most don’t fully understand just how deeply these delivery companies eat into restaurants’ already-thin margins (often taking a full 30% of profits). Schulhauser has set up a dedicated delivery hotline and a system for processing sales (including e-transfers and over-the-phone credit card payments) in order to limit in-person interaction and maintain control of her own delivery. She recommends restaurants use social media relentlessly to regularly communicate exactly how to place orders, and to remind customers that “We’re still here.”
3. Communicate with Landlords
Covering fixed costs like commercial rent continues to be a top concern for restaurant owners. While the federal and provincial governments recently introduced the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, both Pinch and Schulhauser agree that regular and direct communication and negotiations with landlords is still one of the best strategies for restaurant owners. Bence notes that the Saskatchewan government has been more receptive to feedback from industry on policy compared to other provinces, and hopes that this will lead to more effective, long-term rent relief programming for local businesses.
4. Post Clear Guidelines
Even as Saskatchewan begins to officially “reopen,” there remains a great deal of concern within the industry that customers will be reluctant to visit restaurants for some time. All panelists recommend that restaurants clearly communicate to customers (both online and in-store) the measures that are in place to keep them safe, from routinely sanitizing payment machines to spacing tables to allow for social distancing. Bence encourages restaurant owners to review the comprehensive handbook of re-opening guidelines and best practices released by Restaurants Canada just this week.
5. Maintain Realistic Expectations
Pinch cautions restaurants from falling into the trap of believing that re-opening will mean returning to the way things once were. Owners will need to continue innovating and adapting to meet new challenges and must accept that their businesses will operate differently than they did before COVID-19. He notes that restaurants will need to do everything in their power to ensure the health and safety of customers and staff, but that this will not be a “100% certainty” until a vaccine for the virus is widely available.
For more information on restaurant guidelines, visit:
- Saskatchewan re-open plan
- Restaurants Canada: Navigating COVID-19: Updates and resources for foodservice operators
The Business Resilience Series is a community initiative of Ascent Strategy, Economic Development Regina, the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, the Regina Warehouse Business Improvement District, and Path CoWork.