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25 Survival Strategies for Breakfast Spots and Diners

Mar 27, 2020

Breakfast at a Diner

As we head into the second (or for some operators third) week of stay-at-home guidelines from state and federal governments, operators are reporting plummeting sales and empty dining rooms. Here Simplot Corporate Executive Chefs Roberto Roman and Michael Zeller offer timely advice for breakfast- and lunch-focused operators new to takeout, delivery and grab-and-go service.

 

We are seeing some incredible, entrepreneurial ideas pop up from operators around the world and we've created a list of the 23 things you can do right now—today—to protect your business through this crisis. But we also know that operators that focus on high turnover dining services - especially breakfast and lunch diners, that did little takeout and delivery business before the crisis–are especially hard-pressed.

Many of you are in heavy foot-traffic areas that are deserted or part of a customer's work routine that is now disrupted. But there are still things you can - and must - do right now to stay open and reduce losses. 

 

Get your employees on board

New ideas work better when they get buy-in from people involved in the process, so gather ideas from your staff and give them an opportunity to shine, contribute, and pull in much-needed tips by taking on new challenges or roles. 

  1. Get a commitment from business associates that are willing to change work mode, this will give proper staff to keep workload safe and evenly.
  2. You're likely going to need someone who can navigate social media, someone who is good with logistics and scheduling, and someone who is adaptable to change. Look for these helpers, and ask them to join the common cause.
  3. Ask employees who in their own personal communities might need food, and give them agency to market your products through their personal networks.

Make a lot of noise

Normally your business is more low-key, relying on location, regulars, and amazing offerings to keep things humming. Now that model won’t work, so you need to SHOUT out into the digital and physical space, and let folks know you’re still here to serve. If you have social media accounts or email lists, start communicating - and soon. Look to your neighboring businesses to see what is working for them, and start marketing. Check your online orders and credit cards for any sources of customer contact information, and send them a text or email or postcard to let them know you’re open.


Join a bunch of existing communities

You might be at a loss if you don’t already have social media or email marketing tools, but don’t worry. There are still a ton of great opportunities as long as you speak from the heart and continue to show your passion for feeding people even in times of crisis.  

  1. Facebook Groups: As an operator, you personally have a story to share and a community (or 10) to join. Search for Facebook Groups in the geographic locations where you work and live and join those groups. You can promote offerings, specials, your charitable work, and find inspiration from what others are doing.
  2. NextDoor App: Register an account for the physical address with the highest population density that is connected to you - it could be your business or your home - and start promoting to real people in real time.
  3. Chambers of Commerce: You might not be a member of your chamber community, but their mailing list could be your savior right now. Reach out to your local business or retail association and pitch special offers to member businesses - some employers might be looking to send “meals on wheels” to employees stuck at home. It’s worth it to ask.
  4. School and Faith Communities: If you are an operator with school-age children or attend religious services, reach out to the congregation and the PTA, ASAP. Families need to feed their children, and they may welcome a message from a friendly, local business delivering comfort food.

 

Clear the shelves and sell everything

We know it sounds wild, but it will work. Right now you’re sitting on inventory that isn’t helping you make ends meet, trying to figure out how to transform your pre-crisis inventory into post-crisis revenue. The great news is that our food supply chain is secure and operational, so you can always buy more inventory. So sell everything you have right now and start over with a mind’s eye toward this “new normal.” 

  1. Create an inventory list of everything you can quickly and easily restock.
  2. Distribute that list far and wide, noting that you’re clearing the shelves to meet immediate expense needs and planning to reopen with delivery and/or pickup orders with a new, fresh “stay-at-home” focused menu.
  3. Track every single inbound request you get - that’s your new email list for future takeout and delivery.
  4. Coordinate a pick-up and purchase system that adheres to CDC guidelines for safe interactions.

 

Sell nothing

People are responding to the service industry’s unique plight by buying gift cards to food service operations to help fill the immediate need for cash flow. 

  1. If you don’t already have a “gift card” offer available online, set one up right away.
  2. Some operators have even asked their staff members for their Paypal, Venmo, or CashApp accounts and spread that information far and wide, encouraging regular customers to still “tip the staff,” even from afar. Helping your staff stay afloat can allow you to focus on keeping the operation going.

 

Feed the masses, family-style

One of the delights of operating in the foodservice industry is being able to customize meals to individuals and revel in making a customer happy. But that sort of customization takes staff, time, and inventory. In our new normal, we advise creating pared down menus for simplicity, to reduce cost, and to make it easy for limited staff to manage. In that vein, treat the world like a catered event and promote family meal packages.

  1. Using your new digital outlets, create a “meal in a box” for two, four, and six persons at a catering-level menu price point.
  2. Consider full-day specials, i.e. include breakfast and/or lunch for tomorrow receive 10% off dinner when all picked up at the same time.
  3. Package items as family-style meals in foil half-pans.
  4. Add “free” beverages, desserts, sides or pantry items (like toilet paper!) will add to the deal value.
  5. Provide safe “freeze and reheat” or “bake at home” instructions to encourage the ordering of multiple items at one pickup/delivery time.
  6. Mirroring the “Groupon” model, be sure to message that “this will only work if we get a minimum of (10? 20? 50?) orders to help encourage the spreading of the offer.
  7. Coordinate a pick-up and purchase system that adheres to CDC guidelines for safe interactions.
  8. When possible, offer a delivery “route” that adheres to CDC guidelines for safe interactions.
  9. Circle back and offer a “subscription” service for a weekly delivery of 3+ meals that customers can incorporate into their new routines.

 

Focus on your best-selling menu offerings

What you do, you do exceptionally well. Since food is such a comfort in times of crisis, there is likely to be a pent-up demand for the comfort foods you provide to your customer base. Whether that’s your monthly chili special or your homemade cinnamon rolls or your mile-high pastrami sandwich, make that item the start of the show.

  1. Identify your superstar menu item. 
  2. Determine a catering-style price point for producing that item, packaging it for pickup or delivery.
  3. Using signage, posters, flyers, and digital tools, create messaging around the item itself to remind people how much their taste buds miss your food. For example, “Our two-egg breakfast is so lonely without you. Grab a to-go order today,” or “We are up to our aprons in pepperoni calzone, consider helping us out and adopting one today,” or “Remember breakfast for dinner? We do. We’re here for your comfort food with eggs all day.” 

 

Please contact your local Simplot sales rep to help you implement these ideas and more. We’re here for you!