Lessons from COVID-19 for Restaurant Owners with Rev Ciancio

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It’s no surprise that the outbreak and ensuing pandemic of COVID-19/Coronavirus has changed life as we know it in many ways. With roughly 20 states shutting down restaurant dine-in services as well as various counties within the remaining states following suit, restaurants and restaurant owners are having to restrategize their operations. In the latest episode of Give an Ovation, CEO Zack Oates sat down with Rev Ciancio, Founder of Yeah! Management, an independent marketing consultant agency, to discuss how COVID-19 will ultimately change the restaurant business. Their conclusion: things will never be the same.

Adapting Your Business

As referenced in our previous post, from menu options to hygiene practices, restaurants are going to have to adapt during the upheaval of COVID-19. Likely, things will calm down as the coronavirus’ momentum slows, but will the public and consumer market have an adjusted expectation as it pertains to cleanliness standards? Rev referenced New York’s recent announcement to increase the amount of cleaning in the city’s subway stations and cars, but this peaked concern regarding how much cleaning was happening before the pandemic. Additionally, subway users are going to expect the increased amount of cleaning to be the new standard. Relating this back to the restaurant industry, will your customers also be expecting a new hygiene standard? Does this mean additional adaptations, like hiring new staff dedicated to maintaining hygiene standards?

Zack and Rev further discuss how restaurants need to focus on meeting the needs of their customers at this time. Traditionally sit-down style restaurants will be the most affected by recent mandates and closures. Many restaurants have already begun adjusting their menus and providing delivery options for their customers. The reality is that if you’re a steakhouse, not many people are looking for a fancy steak dinner right now, but there’s the opportunity to adjust your menu to provide your loyal customers delivery-friendly options, like an amazing burger.  Rev mentions that this provides an opportunity to identify new operational efficiencies in your process, “Why don’t you just do a value driven menu, right? If you’re normal entrees, you know, here in New York City, costs $25 bucks, is there a $12 version that you can create that feels easy to pick up or easy to deliver at a higher pace?” 

Focusing on Customer Experience

Overall, one of the biggest lessons to be learned for restaurants from COVID-19 is to put greater focus on customer experience. Rev explains that one of the biggest pitfalls of restaurant owners is to start a restaurant with a self-involved perspective,

 “I think restaurants are going to have to start to bend to the laws of technology. By that I mean, there are tons of software companies that go and create a product that’s interesting, but the ones that are successful, are the ones that solve a need, right? Restaurants, traditionally, are built on almost an ego basis. I’m a great chef, I wanna share this food, I want to create this environment. And it’s like, well, does the neighborhood actually need your restaurant?”

In an indirect way, your restaurant is already being compared and competing with automated and digital services, it’s being ranked by your customers. Even if you’re not in the same business as Amazon, your services are being compared to Prime Delivery. It’s critical to start identifying areas where you can effectively compete within the digital marketplace.

Communicating in the Digital Age

Beyond services offered, learning to communicate in the digital age is just as important. Your business is no longer solely based on word of mouth and physical communication. Zack and Rev discuss that word of mouth has gone digital, from reviews to social media. In today’s market and especially in light of coronavirus, digital focus is greater than ever. Even with the eventual decline of the COVID-19 hype, there will be a new demand from customers for digital accommodations. This could take the form of ordering, delivery, and basic communication.

The Game Plan

So. You’ve read this entire post, you have a lot to think about, but the question remains: now what? Where do you go from here and how do you take the lessons from COVID-19 and apply them in a meaningful way to optimize your business?

Luckily Rev left us with a game plan as he wrapped up his podcast discussion with Zack. He suggested restaurant owners/operators sit down and write down three columns – Awareness, Acquisition, and Retention. Go through each column and identify what efforts your business is making in each area. Once you get to the end, reverse engineer the process. Identify what areas are successful and driving business then strategize where you can optimize and build upon those efforts. For Example: if you’re looking at Retention, ask yourself “how do I know I got a customer to return? Did I use email? Coupons? Where can we improve on this?”

With a wealth of knowledge to help you not only weather the Coronavirus storm, but to bounce back from it even stronger, we hope restaurant owners will take the opportunity to build up their businesses. If you want additional help strategizing during the COVID-19 crisis, contact Ovation today and speak with one of our account specialists to start connecting with your customers and growing your business.

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