- Stay-at-home orders and mandatory restaurant closures are forcing restaurants across the country to shift to pickup and takeout service.
- Suburban restaurants are doing everything they can to gain attention on social media to boost their sales.
- At the same time, many are struggling to stay afloat.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
Restaurants are doing everything they can to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
But while some urban eateries have successfully transitioned to takeout service, with aid from delivery apps like Grubhub, Seamless, or Postmates, restaurants in suburban and rural locations are struggling to keep up with social distancing mandates.
The problem is especially pronounced in places where people already live far away from one another and delivery service is uncommon.
Maguire’s Bar and Grill, an Irish pub in southeastern Massachusetts, is one of the more popular restaurants in the small town of Easton. Before the crisis, 85% of its customers were dine-in only.
“What used to be 20% of our business model is now 100% of our business model,” said owner Neil Levine. “We knew that the shutdown would have to change everything we did from top to bottom. So we had started to lay out a plan, and try and get a model of what we were going to become when this happened. We weren’t sure exactly when it was going to happen, but we knew it was coming.”
Levine took to social media to try and boost his sales, posting humorous videos several times a week for more than 4,500 Facebook followers. In one, he dresses up as CNN anchor Erin Burnett and pretends to do a live report from the parking lot. In another, he interviews his employees about their favourite menu options and asks his viewers, “Are you hungry now?”
Followers wrote heartfelt comments telling him “Keep the videos coming,” “You bring a smile to our faces,” and “The videos are awesome! Stay positive and keep supporting local awesome restaurants!”
“People need to laugh now,” Levine told Business Insider Today. “There’s enough crying, there’s enough sadness, there’s enough heartbreak with what’s going on in the world. People need to be lifted up and that’s what the videos are all about. We have a moral responsibility to lead, and business owners have a moral responsibility to do the right thing in this crisis.”
Levine is not alone.
In Oklahoma, J. Mays boosts morale in a similar way: by trying to make people laugh. He dresses up in a lobster costume for Facebook videos and for deliveries.
Mays, who co-owns the Hamilton Supperette and Lounge in Oklahoma City, says before the pandemic, his restaurant did virtually no takeout.
With sales now down about 70%, Mays says he’s pulling out all the stops to make his employees laugh and let customers know he’s open for business.
He manages seven other establishments across the state, posting on social media to drum up good spirits and good business.
His catering service, Cafe 7, has shifted its strategies too, now providing discounted meals for ICU staff in five different Oklahoma hospitals.
In addition to learning new business models, restaurants outside of major cities are also adapting to contactless pickup.
Levine has a strict protocol for that and posts detailed instructional videos on his Facebook page.
“You have to call up and place your order on the phone,” he said. “You come into our parking lot, you stay in your car. We have spotters that recognise you in the parking lot when your food is ready. We place it on a table outside in the parking lot. Our staff comes back inside the restaurant and you retrieve your food.”
He introduced this new system mainly through social media.
“With every phone call we get, people say, ‘Hey, I saw the video,'” Levine said. “I wake up every morning and I am literally fighting for the very existence of the business that I have built over the past 28 years. I’m fighting for the existence of my way of life. I’m fighting for the existence of the 44 people that work here.”
Small businesses across the country seem to be taking the challenge in stride.
Wooden Robot Brewery in Charlotte, North Carolina, has similarly been boosting morale by spreading positivity on social media. The brewery has even released new beers to give its customers something to look forward to.
Many small business owners like Levine and Mays don’t expect to turn a profit right now. They simply want to make enough money to pay their employees and their bills.
“Keep those phones ringing,” Levine says in one Facebook video. “If you keep those phones ringing, we’ll be here on the other side.”