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How Can The Food & Drink Industry Survive This Pandemic?

As we turn the page toward 2021, it goes without saying that many in the food and drink industry have had a very difficult year. The coronavirus pandemic, unprecedented in modern times, caused society as we know it to shut down, and unfortunately led to extreme difficulties for countless food-related businesses. As of this writing though, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccinations are being approved and shipped out, and some experts are predicting things will be back to normal by the summer of 2021 (though others believe it may take a little longer).

This is important because it essentially sets a timetable for food and drink businesses that have struggled so mightily of late. People running companies in this space now know that if they can survive another five, six, or seven months, they may begin to get their businesses back — and may ultimately outlast the pandemic after all. This is still going to be a significant challenge for many such businesses that have long since gone past their runways however, which is why we’re highlighting a few strategies that may help them survive a little longer.

Market Toward Past Customers

One of the primary goals for people running businesses in this space right now should be to retain existing customers. It’s reasonable to expect that plenty of these businesses are itching to visit their favorite shops, cafés, and restaurants once it’s safe to do so. And if business owners are able to stay on their minds, they may set up their food or drink establishments to be early priorities. In other words, good marketing can serve to bring business back up to speed more swiftly once we’re all allowed out again.

It’s easier said than done to appeal to customers when not actually seeking their business in the present. But via social media, a food or drink business can make a good effort of it simply by highlighting things customers might miss or look forward to. That means sharing photos of dishes or drinks, teasing post-COVID menus and the like. Those who really want to get creative could even publicly experiment with new recipes, or poll customers on what they’d like to see on menus after the pandemic.

Sell What You Can Now

A lot of food, drink, and even dessert businesses have made a go of getting by during the pandemic by turning to delivery services. Though unfortunately the numbers suggest that these delivery services aren’t much help, with various service fees essentially negating profits. Still, even a small profit can be the difference between surviving and not, provided it is a true profit and not merely a few sales that don’t make up for the cost or effort.

Delivery is one option, but some businesses would also do well to try generating business in other ways: selling gift cards, selling recipes, packaging certain items like sandwiches or desserts for takeaway, and so on. Every little bit helps, particularly now that the end is in sight!

Look Into Catering & Events

Back in March, when the coronavirus was a brand new concept, we highlighted food as the key to success at graduation parties. And really, this can be said about all kinds of celebratory events! Birthdays, weddings, reunions, graduations…. You name it, we say it needs great food and drink. Now, right now people are (rightly) being encouraged not to gather, and there are far fewer events to cater. However, people are also looking for easy, appealing, and safe food and drink options even for smaller gatherings. Additionally, people will begin to host events once they’re vaccinated. For these reasons, exploring some catering is not a bad idea. Even if that means working in advance on just a few events for familiar customers or other contacts, a business might be able to pick up a few much-needed payments that can extend the runway just a little bit.

Work Toward Opening a New Shop

Considering opening a new shop right now might seem difficult, if not almost irresponsible. There’s actually some logic to the idea though, because of the favorable conditions that may surround some of the associated costs. To explain what we mean we’ll use coffee shops as an example, because these are some of the food and drink businesses that are actually seeing customers return already.

The costs associated with opening up a coffee shop are relatively minimal compared to a lot of other businesses — averaging out between $60,000 for a small kiosk and $300,000 for a high-end store space. But with relatively cheap supplies and high margins for products, a lot of this cost actually comes down to real estate — which figures to be unusually affordable in some places emerging from a pandemic. The possibility of affordable real estate, combined with the fact that other aspects of a business like this aren’t particularly costly, means that an initial investment in a new shop right now might be relatively low. Naturally it’s still a setback in the short term, but business owners who can swing it will find that these new shops make for significant boosts to existing businesses once the world reopens.

Prepare Space for Post-COVID

Finally, whether in a new shop or existing place of business (or both), business owners would do well to prepare physical space to accommodate anxious customers. The hope, of course, is that vaccinations are effective enough that we can return at some point to a full version of normal — without masks, distancing, or other unnatural precautions. In the meantime though, people will be (and should be) inclined to continue taking protective measures. As such, we’ve already seen glimpses of what restaurants will look like post-COVID, with dividers, spaced tables, extra ventilation and sanitation efforts, and so on. Some business owners will likely attempt to avoid these precautions on the grounds that things will be safe upon reopening. But we’d still recommend business owners embrace the changes so as to reassure (and thus attract) as many customers as possible early on.

There is nothing easy about all of this, particularly with several months at least to go before vaccinations are effective enough for food and drink to get back to normal. With some hope starting to settle in though, these are some of the things business owners can do to survive a little longer, and thrive upon return.

Written exclusively for

By JJ Berdine


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