For small restaurants, quick and strong transformation is the new normal

Published April 26, 2021

In the wake of the global pandemic, many small restaurants had no choice but to shut down  their dine-in service as government officials declared them unsafe. And, with some restaurants facing the prospect of never reopening, restauranteurs quickly made big operational changes just to stay in business, offering their customers take-out, delivery and curbside service.

Then, as restrictions were lifted, many small restaurant owners started reopening their dine-in service and expanding their outdoor services—and a new normal set in. Novelties like makeshift drive-thrus and curbside service are still part of the picture, but now yurts and igloos are, too.

And no matter what form your small restaurant service takes, safety is still the first order of business while providing excellent customer service and supporting staff to do their jobs. So, when it’s done well, making changes to your small restaurant dine-in experience—while still providing curbside, take-out and delivery services, can help your business during the pandemic.

Bringing in all the contactless ways to enhance the diner’s experience

Trying to stay away from one another has been counterintuitive for most restauranteurs and their guests. After all, going to a restaurant is one of the most popular forms of socializing—and providing a warm, welcoming environment just goes with the territory of operating a restaurant. But, challenging times call for adjusting to make it work, and implementing contactless processes is one of the most important things you can do.

Pay-at-table technology. Giving your customers the ability to pay at the table without having to hand over their debit or credit card should become standard practice—and there are various ways to do it. From providing electronic tablets at each table, investing in mobile POS systems and mobile apps with payment processing to accepting mobile payments, it’s an easy, fast convenient (and safe) option for your customers. 

QR code makes a big comeback. During the pandemic the little square with a matrix barcode has made a comeback—big time. Small restaurants can use QR codes to create menus that customers can download on their phones so there’s no need for a physical menu. It’s a cost-effective way to make paying safe and easy for your customers. By simply opening their phone app and pointing it at the QR code, your customers can safely look at your menu on their hand-held devices. Want in on the QR code revolution? Read this NCR blog.

Mobile payments become a digital wallet. Already a growing trend because of their convenience factor, mobile payments got a serious boost in use during the pandemic for their inherent contactless features. So, customers will appreciate it if you invest in POS systems that accept their mobile payments, like Apple Pay and Google Pay—for the convenience and the safety. Read why NCR Aloha POS is rated #1 by restaurant staff.

Shifting layouts, make outdoor dining and off-premise services a priority

If your restaurant operations weren’t flexible before COVID-19, it’s likely they are now. In addition to “going” contactless, restaurants have had to change their floor plans, carefully place social distancing signage and put operation-wide sanitation plans into place. It’s been a lot for small restauranteurs to deal with, and depending on where your restaurant is located, it also requires checking with local and state regulations to see what’s even possible. 

Expanding outdoor space. Even if you don’t have a patio, you can turn your parking lot into an outdoor dining area. Some cities are even allowing restaurants to use streets for expansion, like New York City did with their Open Streets plan last year.

And restaurants are using tents, greenhouses and igloos (and other creative ways) to keep their outdoor dining going. In Philadelphia, the Germantown Garden Grill (a steak house) has installed plastic igloos with warmers in each one that not only keep customers six feet apart, they provide physical barriers, too. Read about what other restaurants are doing to keep outdoor dining open during the cold weather season.

Be sure to stay on brand. As you reopen or readjust your dine-in services according to new restrictions, make sure that whatever plans you put into place reflect your brand. Take what’s unique about your food and beverages, and your customers, and incorporate that into your content and imagery. 

Off-premise service becomes a lifeline, keep it. Curbside service, delivery, pickup and drive-thru helped many restaurants initially stay in business during COVID-19 and now they’re likely going to become a permanent part of your business. If you’re still implementing or need to fine tune your curbside service, OSHA has released safety guidelines you’ll want to take into consideration. These services will be crucial for small restaurants during the cold weather season, even with expanded outdoor dining and social distanced in-door dining.

Learning the hard way, but ready for the future

The pandemic is continuing to test small restaurant owners’ ability to pivot quickly and safely—and still provide excellent customer service. But, all the changes and transformations may end up setting you up for stronger business operations. For now, while complying with local and state regulations, you can take steps to provide your customers with safe, enjoyable dine-in experiences—and make transformation a regular part of your business. 

See how NCR Aloha Essentials can help.

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