The whole restaurant industry can attest to how brutal the pandemic has been to them. Many businesses have not been able to survive and many of those that did have had to make painful cuts to staffing and/or branch sizes. However, over the past few months there have been small, nimble and more “modern” restaurants opening, equipped with new-found experience on how to navigate such a tricky business climate.
Virtual kitchens have been popping up on online food ordering platforms such as Deliveroo and UberEats, often founded by former restaurateurs who realised the need to change their business model. I myself am one of them, not the first and certainly not the last. Unfortunately, I had just started my small restaurant a few months prior to the pandemic taking over our lives, but I had already envisioned much of my business coming from takeaways and online orders.
The first 3 months of the lockdown were brutal. Luckily my sound financial planning had included a 6 month rainy day savings pot that would cover salaries and overheads, and I didn’t expect to be using it so soon. Being a new restaurant was actually a blessing in disguise; we were able to pivot and change a large chunk of how we planned on operating, without question from customers who had yet to grow accustomed to us and our brand.
When the lockdown began and we were not able to have any dine-in customers, we quickly focused on promoting our takeaways. This was extremely important considering people had to eat and grocery stores were chaotic. We began offering promotions on meals to increase quantity sold, albeit lowering the margins, and this proved to be a hit especially since many households were locked down with multiple people and it was easier for them to order from a single restaurant.
Another issue our restaurant encountered was all the excess space we had but couldn’t use, at least for eating. We invested in a meeting room booker and as lockdown restrictions eased, began accepting bookings for small groups of people to use areas of the restaurant as co-working spaces, with strict safety measures in place, of course. This was a game changer for us especially as it was venturing into a different type of business or service for us. We had started with the intention of just offering food and drinks but we found ourselves offering venue space, regardless of how small.
Finding what were initially temporary solutions to our problems now feel like they are actual opportunities for us in the long term. Aside from running a restaurant, we have seen that there is a demand for workspaces, especially smaller, cheaper venues compared to what you would get at say, WeWork, which charges much more with a lot more amenities. While our finances are still not where we had planned, with the pandemic still on going, we are doing much better than many would have expected and are actually still considering expansion in the long run.
What running a restaurant has taught me is to always keep an eye on changes to the landscape and always be willing to adapt if you are not able to be the first mover. Modern challenges require modern solutions and sometimes these are forced upon us and we have no choice but to go with it.