The winter of 2020 has devastating potential for restaurants.
That’s a harsh first sentence of this narrative, but now’s not the time to dance around the point. According to the National Restaurant Association, “nearly 1 in 6 restaurants (representing nearly 100,000 restaurants) have closed either permanently or long-term” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate reality is winter will likely bring more closures.
So, the big question for restaurant owners like you is: How can I get my restaurant ready for the winter of 2020?
The seasonal measures you take will of course depend on the location of your restaurant. Restaurants in warmer states like Arizona, Florida, and Georgia may be able to offer outdoor dining through the winter months. However, Midwest states like North Dakota, Iowa, and Ohio typically experience very cold temperatures and snow in the winter, limiting outdoor options.
In this post, we’ll explore tips and ideas to help you safely prepare for the months ahead.
Ten Restaurant Ideas to Help You Get Ready for Winter
Even during a typical winter, many people choose cooking at home over dining out. Why is that? Here are five possible reasons:
- It’s cold outside!
- It gets too dark too early.
- Multiple layers of clothing are required, just to leave the house.
- Slippery ice makes walking treacherous and driving more dangerous.
- January resolutions mean more dieting and saving money.
And, of course, there’s just something extra special about homemade soup in front of the fire when snow is swirling outside.
Typically, transitioning to winter might not be too much of a hassle for your restaurant. Maybe all you have to do is change up the menu a bit, invest in some ice-melt for the sidewalks, and hire a regular plow service for your parking lot.
This year, you’ll need more than a winter season plan. You’ll need a true winter season strategy. Here are ten ideas and tips you might want to consider for your strategy.
1. Create a menu that celebrates the cold.
Get diners excited about visiting your restaurant this season with a new menu that celebrates colder temperatures. Think about what drinks and dishes you can offer that stay warm longer. You may also want to consider the bowl or glass you serve them in, as some retain heat longer than others. Here are a few warm and cozy ideas you could serve up:
- Warm cocktails like a hot toddy, mulled wine, Irish coffee, and peppermint schnapps hot cocoa
- Sizzling fajita platters
- Cheese or dessert fondues
- Homemade pot pies
- Soups and stews
2. Grow your own produce.
One of the reasons your customers may choose to cook at home is because of a lack of fresh fruits and veggies in the colder months. You can encourage them to stop in or place an order by growing your own produce in a heated greenhouse. A small greenhouse can help you grow fresh spices and ingredients for your most popular dishes. Plus, it will make a big difference for those customers who are craving freshness. In the summer, consider expanding your garden to the outdoors and provide hand-picked produce all year long!
3. Offer a “winter cold” takeout special.
There’s nothing better than a bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re stuck at home with a cold. Consider adding your own version of a “medicine soup” during cold and flu season to show customers you care. You can even turn that simple bowl of soup into a cold remedy bundle by adding some tea bags and a small pack of tissues.
4. Make winter fun!
Entice your customers to leave the comfort of their homes by hosting regular, socially distant events. Weekly live entertainment and trivia nights are great ways to do this! If you’re able to build a full calendar of weekly events for multiple months, consider adding a loyalty element. For example, you could offer each guest a card to be hole punched each time they attend an event. Once they’ve attended a certain number of events, reward them with a discount on their meal, a free dessert, or other perk.
5. Enhance your takeout menu.
Maybe you have some customers who prefer to eat at home, but they aren’t exactly excited to do the cooking. You can solve their problems by creating “take and bake” options. These are meals that you can prepare for your guests to take home and bake in their own oven. Pizzas, pot pies, and one-sheet meals are great, no-hassle options for your customers. You can also enhance the experience by including special instructions for re-heating the leftovers or other baking tips.
6. Extend the outdoor dining season.
According to recent research from the National Restaurant Association, “49% of full-service and 25% of limited-service operators say they are taking actions to extend the outdoor dining season for their restaurants, including installing tents or patio heaters.” Depending on your location, this may be an option for you as well. The next three ideas may help you creatively extend the outdoor dining season for your restaurant. Please note that any outdoor option involving tents, external heat sources such as space heaters and/or heat lamps, or outdoor lighting will need to be approved by your local jurisdiction.
7. Invest in igloos.
A Detroit restaurateur increased his winter sales last year by investing in several patio igloos. According to the National Restaurant Association, “Now, he believes they will help his business weather the COVID-19 storm by allowing parties of up to six people to dine in the igloo, which is outfitted with space heaters, an electric fireplace, and fresh air circulating through two open flaps in the back of the structure. Parties enter through a zippered door. Guests can relax for up to two hours inside the globes.” Each of these igloos is made of fiberglass rods and clear tent material and costs about $1,200.
If the igloo experience is something you might be interested in offering, please note that each structure must be easy to exit, have fire extinguishers on-site, and your staff needs to deploy proper safety protocols in their service and between parties. You will also need to have the structures cleared and inspected by your local jurisdiction.
8. Install patio heating.
Heating your current patio is another way to help your diners look forward to eating outside longer. Some outdoor heating options include:
- Fire pits
- Space heaters
- Overhead heat lamps
- Standing heat lamps
9. Offer warm blankets to diners.
Take the cozy factor to the next level by offering warm blankets to your diners! There are a few different ways you can do this:
- Include them as a menu option, asking your guests to purchase them for $5 or $10.
- Offer them for free during dining service at each table. After each use, be sure to wash and dry the blankets thoroughly.
- Invite guests to bring their own blankets by sending them an email or posting on your website and social media channels.
10. Reevaluate indoor social distancing.
Many of your loyal customers may still dine in your restaurant during the colder months. Show them how much you appreciate their trust and support by reevaluating your indoor social distancing practices. If you haven’t already, consider adding plexiglass barriers between tables or booths, spacing tables out as much as possible, offering plenty of hand sanitizer, and encouraging healthy habits from customers and employees.
We wish you and your restaurant the very best this season. Visit our blog again soon for additional tips and resources to help you through the winter months and beyond.