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Why eating in a COVID environment won’t bring customers back in the restaurants immediately.

With the will to overcome the COVID ordeal, many solutions designed for restaurants have flooded into the market. Most of them with no hints of appeal…

But, what if the solution was not to adapt the old processes of eating, but creating new ones?

A well known continuous improvement methodology in the automotive industry, called lean management, develops tools to learn to think out of the box.

The observation is simple, if you for solutions starting from what you’re used to do, you may get stuck in a dead-end; while stepping back, and asking you what is the initial goal of your business, can help to see your business in another way.

Let’s reason together on the topic.

To start, we would like to ask you a couple of questions.

1.Have you ever thought what is the purpose of a restaurant?

a. One answer could be: “feeding” people. Eg. People who have no time for cooking (lunch break during work), or an empty fridge at home…

b. The second answer could be: getting a full experience around food. It can be either eating something different from the food you can find at home, or live something unusual.

c. Last answer: for socializing/gathering reasons. This option won’t be covered during our example as out of topic for now.

>> What does it mean? You won’t get the same objective and business development between answer a, b or c.

2. Second question: what are the limits linked to the current situation?

People tend to get scared. You can find in the press numerous analyses showing people don’t feel safe to go back to the restaurant.

>>In such a context, how would you develop trust and arise desire towards your customer to have him go back?

3. What are the opportunities of your nearby environment:

Do you have an outdoor space? Are you close to a park?

Have you considered that summer is coming?

4. Why would you (as a customer) go back to the restaurant knowing you can’t socialize?

a. For necessity: you get back to work and you have to eat something.

b. For eating something different or because you’re tired to cook at home.

>> Question 4 brings back to question 1.

Now that we have those questions in mind, let’s work around it.

Covid security restrictions is going to change your business model.

Reviewing your space layout will mean less people to eat during a service, meaning less profit as at current state. Will it be sustainable?

What will you do? Start the maths, see how to optimize the tables versus the number of waiters? Change the menu to review the food cost? Develop a click and collect area for order to go? Negotiate new monthly rents? Change location? For sure you will have to rationalize your business model and optimize your costs.

But, what if it would mean creating a new business opportunity?

If we think about the restaurant as being an experience around food, why not creating a satellite of your current concept?

What does it mean?

. You’re a small restaurant offering easy food to people during working days and you’re located close to a park.

> Why not creating a satellite in the park to deliver a full experience around picnic concept including a basket and a sanitized mat in predetermined area of the park? (of course, the project will have to be reviewed with the city).

Does it sound better than plastic walls between tables?

. Moreover, it seems pretty clear people look for trust. If they don’t feel trust, they won’t go back eating in public spaces. Have you thought how they will get trust?

Well, besides all the cleaning prevention, they will probably feel safe if not mixing with others.

> Why not combining trust with a new full type of food experience?

Before the Covid in Milan, the one to one experiences were getting pretty trendy:

Backdoor 43, with the smallest bar in the world (you can enter 3 max. at a time) was having regular bookings. A new speakeasy, Dandelion, had popped out and once you had solved a rebus, you could book a 2 hours slot only for you.

So instead of trying to propose your same offer in an adapted environment, why not proposing a new type of experience, where the fil rouge will remain your food identity but where you will be able to charge more?

The idea behind is that people will go less to the restaurant and pay a bit more for an entertaining experience.

Do you start understanding which conclusions we want to drive?

. In the Netherlands, a restaurant has launched a pilot with tiny greenhouses revisited in individual restaurant rooms along the river. In a city like Milan, people would start booking in advance to get such a unique experience.

At the end it’s the same principle of the famous igloos on one of London’s famous rooftops which are operative during winter each year and almost always fully booked.

With a secured process developed to serve the food, an anticipated booking and payment, people could enjoy their meal in safety and appreciate an experience they would tell about to everyone.

Then, think about adds on. You can think about many things, don’t be shy in being creative.

Have you ever seen those silent parties where each people dance with his own type of music in the streets thanks to a headset supplied by the organizing entity?

Well, why not distributing ear pods to the customers when they arrive, so the chef can use them to explain the food to the customers of each service, all at one times without any human contact? People will feel connected to the other customers and the chef, while understanding which food they’re about to it and the story behind.

. Besides, with summer coming, it will be easier to develop outdoor experiences.

Vilinus got famous those weeks as they decided to stop the traffic to extend the outdoor area for bar and restaurants.

Magazines write that it will be the rise of streetfood trucks.

Let’s be rational, people are tired to stay home; and in big cities like Milan, the apartments are tiny, doom and become easily warm during summer time. People will have the urge to go out.

Have you ever seen those socials dinner happening in the fields? Well, if you have a “healthy” or “farm to table” concept, why not organizing dinner with easy social distance in the fields. Imagine by night, a field, with round tables every 4 meters. For sure, the people will enjoy the special experience. So many cities have fields nearby, think about Chiaravalle in Milan. If you live in a place where the weather is not stable, you can consider pergolas or think about alternative solutions.

In the economical capital of Italy, old warehouses are highly appreciated for fashion, art or design events. What about a “social distance” dinner in Fabbrica Orobia for example? Why not facilitating access to some structures to help the restaurant business?

. Last, people have been reconnecting with cooking for weeks. At one point, they had even the feeling to become chef and able to cook extraordinary tasty dishes. They may become pickier with traditional food as they have been able to reproduce it at home.

If they go to the restaurant, it will be for tastes they can’t find at home. They will be ready to go back if they feel safe and can enjoy their eating experience.

So instead of creating a constant fear environment: can you NOT think about Covid if eating with restrictions signs and wall separations everywhere?

Do you know that people find food less good if not in a relaxed context?

Why not creating a safe environment that become a new unique experience…

Summer looks perfect for opening temporary satellite and adapting the actual business in a more clever way. Then at September, we will resume and review the old models to see if possible to make them sustainable.

So what are you waiting for? Take a piece of paper, ask yourself the first questions above and think out of the box. It’s from limits that the best ideas are born.

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