These are four key themes to focus on.

The reopening of the U.S. economy poses unique challenges and opportunities for restaurants that have been operating at a limited capacity for over a year. Looking into the near future of herd immunity and widespread vaccination, Choco undertook an internal survey of customers and users to understand the sentiment of restaurants as they reopen.

These are four key themes that restaurateurs must focus on now so they come out on top during the ensuing restaurant renaissance.

Reconnecting with vendors

After a year of ups and downs, many restaurants had to pare down the number of vendors they worked with to save on costs. Choco’s internal data suggests that the average restaurant reduced the number of vendors they work with from seven to three. As the economy reopens, reconnecting with vendors to check on updated inventory and pricing will be a vital first step in reopening the restaurants.

Restaurants may also want to look for suppliers that offer package deals or discounts to minimize the costs of the first order of groceries. Vendors are also scrambling to get their accounts back with fewer sales reps and fulfilling orders with limited delivery capacity.

Rehiring back staff

Restaurants are an inherently collaborative business and many had to let go of the majority of their staff as pandemic-related lockdowns forced restaurateurs to cut wherever they could. Now we’re seeing an influx of restaurants looking to hire back talent.

Advertising these roles on all channels including social media as well as having policies in place to keep employees safe will be key. We have heard of restaurants taking a more proactive approach in getting their teams vaccinated, such as navigating the website in English and driving employees to vaccination sites, which helps with reopening safely and protecting those who live with vulnerable extended family.

Dealing with outstanding debts

After a year of turmoil, many restaurants are in the red. While PPP loans have stopped the bleeding, the real key will be accessing the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Act, passed alongside the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Individual restaurant locations can get up to $5 million to cover all types of expenses, therefore, keeping an organized balance sheet and applying for government grants will be the best way for restaurants to pay down their outstanding debts. The Independent Restaurant Coalition can also be seen as a helpful resource as they host a series of round table talks with law firms and financial institutions to educate restaurant owners on how to best apply for the funds.

Communicating with Customers

As restaurants reopen, clear customer communication is imperative. Covering all bases to make the public aware of the precautions put in place to welcome customers back safely, new operating hours and the availability of indoor and outdoor seating will be important as the weather gets warmer and people seek out various dining options. Engagement across all channels, from Instagram and Facebook, to direct offline signage will attract the community back to your restaurant.

Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a tremendous challenge that the restaurant industry faces for the foreseeable future. One underlying theme from the pandemic is that the industry has had to digitize and use technology to keep their doors open and stay afloat. In the coming year, technology will continue to be the central pillar for addressing these four factors of reopening: vendor relationships, rehiring staff, dealing with debts and communicating with customers. By embracing digital tools, restaurants can stay ahead of the curve and expect success in the coming restaurant renaissance.

Chelsea van Hooven is Global Industry Advisor at Choco. She is an alum of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded by the Slow Food initiator Carlo Petrini. Prior to advising global restaurants and suppliers at Choco, van Hooven consulted several small scale producers in Europe in regards to market entry, development and sustainability.

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