What systems did you implement to make the guest experience better?
I think the QR codes combined with the iPad gave guests a completely different experience. Not only did they feel safer, but they could browse at offerings throughout the course of the meal. They could look for that next signature cocktail they wanted to try or start browsing our dessert menu as they nibbled on their appetizers. They did not have to request a specific menu or wait for a server to suggest a dessert. All of our offerings were at their fingertips and they could pace their meal and their choices on their timeline and not ours.
How about the work environment for employees?
We immediately communicated best practices from the CDC and the local and state health departments in our region. We were one of the first companies to mandate face masks and disposable gloves for all of our employees before the various government jurisdictions mandated those guidelines. In addition, we implemented mandatory temperature checks several times throughout the course of an employee’s shift. Each employee complied and quickly understood the importance.
Talk about opening Smashing Grapes Kitchen and Wine Bar in September, in the heart of all this. What were some challenges unique to the times?
Opening a new restaurant in the midst of a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart! Challenges included major delays in sourcing furniture, lighting and kitchen equipment as the shipping industry was severely affected by the pandemic. Hiring was twice as hard as in normal times and creating a menu with unique offerings while vendors ran out of stock on the most basic of items created daily hurdles for my operations and culinary teams. We persevered through the challenges and found that the general public was overwhelmingly supportive and pleased to have a new dining option in the region.
How are you approaching the winter challenge? What advice would you offer to fellow restaurateurs?
There is no question that things will get worse before they get better. The combination of colder weather and losing outdoor dining, the rise and spike in cases across the country, which is driving consumed confidence to all-time lots, will prove challenging for the most seasoned of restaurateurs. The positive news is that with the recent vaccine developments, we believe that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I would urge fellow restaurateurs to buckle down, cut expenses, hold on to any cash savings they may have and focus on the guest experience with everything they have. No amount of marketing and advertising dollars are going to drive business into your units, only providing a great experience and hoping that those individuals will share their experience and keep customers coming through the doors.