In a webinar as part of Toast’s Restaurant Recovery Series, co-sponsored by 7shifts and our trusted partners at XtraChef, we gathered restaurateurs from around the country to discuss new ways of managing staff, new service and compensation models, and how COVID-19 has impacted their business.
Hosted by Henry Patterson of Rethink Restaurants, the panel featured restaurateurs:
In case you missed it, here are a few of the top takeaways from the session:
Change Up Your Business Model and Ops
In terms of how restaurants do their business, there’s a stark divide between pre- and post-COVID measures. The restaurateurs featured all discussed how they’ve pivoted their business model to succeed during the pandemic:
“We have gone through a lot of evolutions, it was a daily or weekly pivot to meet guests where they were. We did groceries for a while when the stores were overwhelmed. More recently, we did a hard pivot into a bottle shop, and build out our e-commerce. Our restaurant doesn’t exist in real life, it exists on the internet,” said Andrea Borgen. In addition to the in-store and online bottle shop, “Full service is gone forever. We want to create a business that works every hour when you’re paying rent,” they added.
Kevin Healy, whose HOUSEpitality Family represents over 8 full-service restaurants and multiple concepts in the Richmond, VA area, took the opportunity to rethink his entire business. After a brief shutdown in March, they kept to take out until local laws allowed patio dining. When they reopened, it was with 75% less staff. They empowered guests to order food and pay through Toast Order&Pay and had captains provide “the traditional touchpoints of service,” like greeting, getting water, checking back, and upselling cocktails and dessert. They also implemented a 20% service charge in lieu of tipping. The results were impactful:
“Every one of our employees has gotten a significant raise,” said Healy.
At Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, Tanya Li adapted their bakeries to a digital-only takeout model and shifted where most of the baking was done. Prior to the pandemic, most of everything was baked on-site in each of their nine locations. Only bread and doughs came out of their commissary space. With the advent of COVID, “everything is made in the commissary. We moved things around in bakeries to accommodate the staff.” This allowed Flour to create extra space for staff to stay safe while utilizing extra space that they already had. They’ve also leaned heavily into online and app orders, which has resulted in better tips for their employees.
Communicate Well and Often
Communication was a hot topic of discussion with all three restaurateurs sharing unique ways in which they stayed connected with their teams during shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. z
“We set up a hotline so every day a different person from the executive team was available for anyone to talk about unemployment, and we made sure to always have a Spanish speaker. JoAnn Chang is an incredible leader and made herself available to chat with anyone about safety protocols. Our managers are really great about staying in touch with their teams, keep them connected,” said Tanya Li.
For Andrea Borgen’s small team, it was essential to keep in touch: “As this has continued, keeping employees engaged, making sure we check-in with those who are furloughed and keep sharing stories in a group chat,” said Borgen.
Kevin Healy uses 7shifts’ communication tools for the HOUSEpitality restaurant family: “We do message to our staff through 7shifts—it’s been a great communication tool.” Other restaurants are using group chats via MMS or iMessage as well as Slack. But the most important thing is that you’re staying in touch.
Establish Health and Safety Measures
One sentiment echoed by all three restaurateurs is that with such a huge phenomenon like the pandemic, you have to regain the trust of your team and your guests. In the current climate, that starts with safety measures. At Flour, Tanya Li and her team have implemented:
- Temperature checks upon clock-in
- COVID-screening questions, accessed via QR code, in English and Spanish
- Masks and required for staff at all times
- Plexiglass screens in front of registers and takeout areas.
Barcito has closed their dining room outright, and don’t allow guests insode at all—ordering and pickup takes place at a window by the entrance.
The staff at HOUSEpitality ran into some issues with private events when guests refused to wear masks, despite it being in the contract to do so. “We had a couple of situations where empowered staff to step aside until [guests] put masks on. The staff retreated to the kitchen, and when guests’ were masked, we were happy to serve them again,” said Healy.
Use Whatever Resources You Have and Adapt
When it came to pivoting and keeping their restaurants alive through the pandemic, all three were incredibly resourceful. For example, all three restaurants featured utilized the Paycheck Protection Program to pay multiple rounds of payroll before furloughing staff. HOUSEpitality utilized some outdoor space they had to start a small catered events opertion within the state and local guidelines. And Barcito put its existing inventory online at retail prices in their pivot to a bottle shop.
Closing Thoughts: Staffing Models for Growth Webinar with Toast and XtraChef
All three restaurateurs featured have made enormous strides and sacrifices to keep their business growing and their staff taken care of the best they can during the pandemic, while building for the future. One thing that everyone agreed on, including host Henry Patterson, was the role that restaurant tech plays in getting there. “When implemented correctly, technology improves hospitality,” said Andrea Borgen.