Last updated: Post-pandemic business plan: A primer for moving forward

Post-pandemic business plan: A primer for moving forward


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When you consider how COVID has altered business, one of the starkest examples is the restaurant industry. Already one of the toughest businesses to find success in, the industry has been sucker-punched by pandemic-induced closures and restrictions.

As they move forward with decreased sales, restaurants must innovate or completely recreate, at least in the near term. But how can they come up with a post-pandemic business plan when so much is still uncertain?

Post-pandemic business plan & COVID realities

As they say, “Everybody’s gotta eat.” COVID has come knocking for all of us, but it may not be as plain to the naked eye if you aren’t in the food industry. The changes we are all experiencing regardless of the industry include:

  1. Child care gaps—workers cannot overcome lost childcare options.
  2. School reopening uncertainty—planning is impossible with K through college reopening uncertainty.
  3. Supply chain weakness—supplies are not guaranteed, impacting income potential.
  4. Travel restrictions—sales calls and site visits have to be reimagined.
  5. Workforce confidence—legitimate fears of going out and the comfort of unemployment

Businesses must account for all these dramatic changes and challenges as they plan for the year ahead and whatever may happen as we pick up the pieces after a traumatic 2020.

COVID upheaval, unimaginable challenges

The challenges have been practically overwhelming for restaurants, especially considering the razor-thin margins the industry lives on under normal circumstances. Restaurants generally operate with about a 5% profit margin. Between March and May, the industry’s losses were conservatively figured at $120 billion. The losses have mounted with the return of lockdowns as COVID surges.

Here’s what restaurants face:

  1. Far fewer guests: Restaurants are required to decrease seating
  2. Mask requirements: While the value of wearing masks is scientifically supported, many still object to the rule
  3. Staffing costs: Restaurant staff must take extra pains in sanitizing between customers and wear masks and other protective gear
  4. Menu changes: Loss of the dining experience and a decrease in patrons requires orders to shift. The incorporation of take-out to mitigate financial losses creates new expenses in added labor and materials.
  5. Fees: Participating in outsourced delivery like UberEats and GrubHub comes at the cost of 20%
  6. Optics: COVID has forced a shift, meaning that restaurants are focusing on adhering to reopening guidelines at the expense of being able to live up to their previously known brand

Restaurants tend to follow a law of thirds, with a third of their operating budget allocated to staffing, another third to food and beverage costs, and the last third to overhead. As they move forward with a decreased capacity of 50% for food and beverage sales, they must reinvent themselves.

Work and personal worlds collide

On Friday, March 13, we closed our studio in a small downtown city in Upstate New York to send our staff home to work remotely. We had a last meal “out” before we went home.

I had no way of knowing how much I would come to miss the solicitousness of the waitstaff, the ceremony of having ice water poured in a goblet, the sensation of having someone else prepare my food, and be actively invested in whether or not I enjoyed it. Oh, and let’s not understate the idea of walking away from dishes and clean up. Sigh.

A white man in his 40s sits in a Thai restaurant holding chopsticks over a plate of ginger chicken and rice. In the foreground there is an artfully presented dish of sushi. The man is looking a the persona taking the photo.
A business lunch, which was once business as usual, in hindsight feels like an extravagance never to be enjoyed again.

My business doesn’t serve food; we create ideas and campaigns as an advertising and marketing agency. We can do our work remotely. Still, there will be missing elements and need to be replaced in a post-pandemic business plan.

The human element– particularly nonverbal cues, a turn of the head, a flared nostril, a nearly imperceptible head nod—these are things we use to inform our direction.

There is also the idea of camaraderie: relationship as a service. The emails I received as the shutdown rolled on, and the impact became more pronounced were heartbreaking. They required a different service level, a blurring of what had previously been a line between work and personal.

In a post-pandemic business plan, empathy reigns supreme

Here’s the thing, we’re all starting from scratch, and we all remember how it used to be. If we can hold on to that, we can develop approaches that blend empathy and usefulness.

    1. Imagine what you will miss: service, company, spontaneity.
    2. What you will need: patience, confidence, creativity
    3. Transform your professional efforts to anticipate & honor need: be of use.
    4. Remember, we are all experiencing the pandemic: Think in terms of unity, rather than suffering.

Consider that everyone has to reinvent personally and professionally, and it can ease the trauma of forced change. It can also open an avenue to greater customer service.

Showrooms have to rework their entire existence, but instead of considering themselves obsolete, they are leveraging digital and talking about layering the in-person experience with digital freedom. Virtual tours that offer increased safety and customization, the idea of private showings, increased communication.

There are certain to be waves of change that we have not even imagined, but we can move forward by allowing ourselves the grace to acknowledge the fear and discomfort. Recognize that we have always been pursuing new benchmarks in business, challenging ourselves to be more efficient or more innovative.

We still have the capacity to do that and, perhaps more than ever before, we have a better sense of the emotions of those we are trying to service.

Where do we go from here?
The most brilliant minds are on it.
Learn more HERE

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