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Here’s Why 30% of People Still Aren’t Comfortable Dining Indoors

Little by little, COVID cases are trending downward. As Omicron relents, states across the U.S. have been reporting fewer cases of the virus. Death numbers have plateaued. But while many Americans are ready for the "new normal" we've been looking forward to for so long, others are more cautious, recognizing that COVID-19 is still a real and present danger.

For the restaurant industry, this means two things: No. 1, some people are slowly beginning to return to restaurants. And No. 2, they're continuing their newfound habits of ordering online and staying at home for delivery. In fact, according to a recent study published by MorningConsult, 30% of Americans still don't feel comfortable dining indoors.

What does this mean for restaurant owners? As a restaurant owner or manager, you'll need to carry over the changes you made during COVID, providing your customers with options that make them feel safe and comfortable. You'll also need to make sure your marketing reflects your changes. Here are a few tips to keep your business running smoothly.

Continue offering online orders

Some people are returning to restaurants. But for that 30% who aren't, you need to have online ordering available so you don't lose your business. Meal delivery and takeout, both with online ordering options, are just as important as in April 2020. So, consider using a restaurant ordering system to help with cost protection during that pivot.

A restaurant ordering system makes it easy for your customers to submit their orders and receive their food. Choose from options like:

  • Third-party delivery apps (think Grubhub or UberEats, which charge a fee but offer existing drivers)
  • Content management systems with online ordering built-in (your CMS is what you use to build your restaurant website)
  • An online ordering integration for your website (helpful if your CMS doesn't support online ordering)
  • A custom solution you create yourself (or hire someone with coding know-how to build)
  • Point of sale systems with online ordering features

For takeout orders, make sure customers feel comfortable at your establishment when they pick up their food. Consider creating a special pickup window so they can drive by and get their meal — no need to come inside.

Automate your invoicing

The face of restaurant management is changing. That means your relationship with existing vendors may need to change, too — and automation is something that might come into the picture. Consider automating your invoicing, so this task doesn't slip through the cracks.

Automating your invoicing boosts efficiency while minimizing errors. A good invoice management software will integrate your data with your existing financial system, allow you to pay vendors with any payment system desired, and give you one-click access to audit trails.

Whether you're working with wholesale distributors to source ingredients or purchasing cleaning supplies in bulk, automating invoice management is a smart way to optimize your processes and stay on top of those little tasks that make a big difference.

Make diners feel comfortable

If 30% of Americans aren't comfortable dining indoors, 70% of Americans are ready to come back. It's your responsibility to make sure they feel safe eating at your restaurant. Establishing this comfort means adjusting how your restaurant is set up and staffed, preparing and serving food, and how you communicate with customers.

Many restaurants have started using QR code menus instead of reusable plastic menus. This contactless ordering option reduces germs migrating from diner to diner (and comes with additional design benefits). You can also set up contactless payment using a free payment platform. In addition, 57% of consumers say they're more likely to do business with companies that offer a contactless payment option. Gartner predicts that 80% of all ordering, payment and checkout services will be contactless by 2024.

Create a daily schedule for sanitizing tables, chairs, door handles, and any other touched areas. Finally, it should go without saying that all staff — from cooks to waiters to bussers — should be regularly tested for COVID-19. If anyone feels sick, they should not come to work. Trimming down your menu or adjusting your hours of operation can allow you to operate with a smaller staff when needed. (Low on waiters or tables? Online ordering means serving more customers through takeout and delivery, even if your seating space is limited.)

Be vocal about your options

Ensure your customers know you're offering indoor and virtual dining options. Every customer touchpoint needs to mention your continued online ordering. Your website, social media, email newsletter, and even signs stuck in the ground outside your restaurant should communicate the steps you're taking to keep all of your customers safe, including takeout or delivery options and any adjustments you've made indoors.

If your customers need a little help figuring out how to order — maybe you've switched to a new ordering system, or your town has an older demographic — consider making a video that walks them through the process step by step. This video could be a screen recording on desktop or mobile or a walkthrough on their laptop or phone. Share the video on your social media platforms to help your customers feel more comfortable ordering their meals.

If you aren't already utilizing SEO and geotags, these are the two best ways to market a local restaurant. Naturally incorporate keywords on your website that mention your city and type of restaurant, such as, "We're proud to be one of the best Atlanta sushi restaurants." Build out your Google Businessprofile with up-to-date information (including info on your COVID policies), so you'll show up in more Google searches. And encourage your customers to add a geotag when they post about your restaurant on social media.

The bottom line is restaurants need to be flexible. Pay attention to customer insight and be willing to offer the options your customers want. If you don't, you will miss out on at least 30% of the business you could have had.

And the good news? Accommodating your customers isn't that hard. After all, we learned how to do things the virtual way in 2020. So now we just have to keep on keeping on!

Source: John Marquez,