4 Key Lessons the Restaurant Industry Learned from 2020

Posted by Stephanie Hilliard on Sep 01, 2023

4 Key Lessons the Restaurant Industry Learned from 2020
Herndon, USA – April 27, 2020: Virginia Fairfax County street with sign for open pizza restaurant for take-out curbside and delivery during coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic

For everyone, and particularly those in the restaurant industry, 2020 has been a constant uphill battle to survive in these unprecedented times. In most states, restaurants faced limited capacities, outdoor dining only, or a full shutdown of their operations, and some are even having to revert to these stages now as COVID-19 cases trend upward. 

Before we jump headfirst into 2021, there are a few key lessons not to forget from the restaurant industry struggles of 2020.  

How to Get Your Customers to Dine with You at Home 

If your restaurant never had a takeout or delivery program, it’s likely you do now! With many restaurants having significantly lower capacity available for seating, these programs were sometimes the only way you could stay open. Tailoring your takeout menu to your customers (while staying profitable) and organizing how your food could be delivered to make it easy and convenient for them was a top priority throughout 2020.  

What to Keep Doing in 2021: Continue to use these programs and update them accordingly! Customers are now more used to getting takeout or delivery from their favorite establishments (even if they weren’t a big proponent of them before), so it’s a great way to continue to grab business, regardless of where your customers are eating your food.   

How to Be Resilient with New Restrictions 

COVID-19 has brought a lot of uneasiness when it comes to “business as usual”, in fact, “business as usual” is probably kaput at this point. To survive 2020, your restaurant has evolved with your versatility, creativity, and resiliency at the helm. You increased cleaning and sanitation procedures to keep customers and staff safe. You changed your restaurant’s layout to accommodate for social distancing. You set up outdoor dining tents to extend your seating capacity. You made every square inch of your indoor and outdoor space work within restrictions. You were creative in altering your menus to include meal kits, to-go cocktails, and partnered with other businesses to work toward each other’s success.  

Each restaurant rose to the occasion and adhered to new restrictions in the hopes of making it through this global pandemic and that is a success unto itself. 

What to Keep Doing in 2021: Eventually things will return to some type of normal (whatever that looks like), but you should continue to innovate in your operations to always stay on top of your game, with or without a health crisis.  

How to Continuously Engage Your Audience  

From unexpected closures to menu items changing on the fly, you had to figure out a way to keep in contact with your customers about the latest happenings in your restaurant. Email marketing, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever medium you used helped your customers stay informed about how and when they could support you. Especially if your restaurant had a shutdown period, these ways of communicating and engaging are evergreen for retaining customers and hopefully gaining new ones along the way.  

What to Keep Doing in 2021: Keep up this high level of communication and transparency with your customers, they appreciate it, and your restaurant stays at the top of their mind! If you took the time to dive more into these useful and, in the end, lucrative channels, continue using them to help your restaurant for years come.  

How to Lean on Your Community 

With restrictions and shutdowns, there’s no easy way to slice it that restaurants and their staff have been disproportionately hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has fueled many small business owners to encourage their communities to work harder at patronizing these restaurants to keep them alive. This has fueled many small communities to come together to support their favorite restaurants, and many owners to think of new, creative ways to keep their customers coming back for more. 

The increased fervor for shopping small has been particularly important in the holiday season with 2021 just around the corner, a time that would have been traditionally busier for restaurants with holiday events and parties on deck.  

Your community patrons have helped you stay the course of 2020 (it’s likely you’ve helped them in the past with fundraisers or benefits) so it’s important to feel okay about leaning on them in your time of need. 

What to Keep Doing in 2021: Continue pushing to get involved with your community and expressing your gratitude. Don’t let them forget what their patronage (especially in the rockiest year) has meant to you and your restaurant.  

This past year has been one of growth, ingenuity, and community even while we were apart. Be sure to take these lessons and use them to create a better 2021 for your restaurant and beyond. 2020 was tough, but you are even tougher. 

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