Doing More With Reduced Hours and Capacity

Learn how to get creative in running your business amidst slowdowns and restrictions.

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customer at restaurant covid
To retailers, restaurants, bars, and SMBs — check out our tips for weathering the pandemic storm

When the economy, market conditions, or a once-in-a-century pandemic strikes, small to medium-sized businesses are likely to feel the impact more than their large competitors. For entrepreneurs, change can mean catastrophe or opportunity. While you may not be able to compete with mega corporations on some levels, you may be more able to outsmart or out-serve them in others. Capitalizing on the ability to transform quickly could be just the advantage you need when doing more with less hours or seating.

Small businesses are better able to shift and adapt quickly to respond to the market. In these uncertain times, that agility may be the best way to weather the storm. At some point, every organization is put to the test: adjust or fail. With so many other businesses in the same situation, you may find lessons learned by other companies work for you, or you may lead the way to innovation.

If hours of operation or maximum capacity are the issue, you’ll need to maximize your performance during the time available. To do that, market to your audience; meeting their needs will help them help you meet yours.

For retailers 

Target your customers

Restrictions on capacity within your business may be hurting sales, so it will be necessary to optimize the time available. Large retailers are shifting the way they target buyers, and so should SMBs.

Special hours, dedicated to senior citizens and the disabled community, should be the norm in your retail establishment. For this demographic, the ability to shop without worrying they’re holding up the line for those who may be less-than-patient could be a boost. You might even offer a nominal discount to entice them to shop locally, rather than at the big box stores.

Can you offer separate hours for other groups as well? Are work-at-home parents who are also dealing with homeschooling better able to shop earlier in the day or later in the evening? You may be able to open your local grocery at 6 am with a skeleton crew, unlike your larger competitors. Consider asking for suggestions on social media — you might be surprised to hear when work/school-at-home parents would prefer to shop.

Get the word out 

If you don’t have a huge advertising budget to promote special hours/deals for seniors or others, look to your social media pages (if you didn’t have them before, create them now) to spread the news and encourage followers to spread the word to their neighbors.  Don’t know how to get followers? Post in groups within your community — either created by the city/town itself, or others. Is there a Mom’s Facebook page in your town? Post there, and look for other groups locally that might be interested, as well.

If your target audience is local, you’ll want to promote your business as much as possible within the community.

Create flyers staff members can distribute throughout the neighborhood to spread the word, as well. Offer a discount coupon on your flyer to get people started using them. Then send out flyers with “this week’s specials” or other promotions. If your target audience is local, you’ll want to promote your business as much as possible within the community.

Start delivering

Think you can’t offer delivery? You may be able to. You might not have a website with every food, beverage, and household item in your store carefully photographed, but you have a telephone. Encourage buyers to call in orders then deliver for a small fee. You may find as many working/schooling-from-home parents take advantage of the service as those who are less mobile. Advertise the service on your social media pages, at the checkout counter, and in your flyers.

Not a grocer?

Flyers, coupons, and incentives draw traffic and sales.
Creativity will be key for those SMBs that don’t sell essentials. If you don’t already have a website to sell your products, slowdowns give you the time to get one up and running. If you do, boost sales locally with the same incentives. Flyers, coupons, and incentives draw traffic and sales. You might consider a small loss leader — perhaps a freebie for the kids — to drive traffic.

For restaurants 

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hospitality industry the hardest; adaptation has been key to survival. Adding delivery service and curbside pickup has been the salvation for many restaurants, but can you do more?

Make it even easier

Meal deals are the newest way restaurants are looking to compete. Create family feasts that busy parents can order without the hassle of asking what everyone wants. These can be relatively simple — a discount on burgers for 4 — or more complex, such as lasagna night trays with garlic bread and soup. Whatever your specialty, look for ways to simplify ordering for families to increase sales.

Make it more fun

Create events that stick in customer’s minds: Takeout Tuesday Tacos will resonate when it comes time to meal planning for families. Get silly with it for the kids — Friday Fish Fry could include fish sticks with an inexpensive toy for the kids (you know how popular Happy Meals are) plus a more sophisticated entrée for parents. Breakfast for Dinner meals are also popular: shaped pancakes for the kiddies and hearty omelets for mom and dad.

For bars

Reduced seating in bars is taking a toll. If outdoor seating is an option, it may have provided some relief, but as we go into the wintry seasons across the company it may not take you into the new year. The challenge, again, will be to optimize the capacity you have with events that drive sales, even with limited seating.

Offer delivery 

Can you deliver in your community? In most areas, driving with open liquor in the vehicle is illegal, but you may be able to request local leaders allow delivery of mixed drinks. Beer and wine, unopened, are typically always allowed — but does your community know you can save them the trip to the store? Create party packages to send out to those who can’t get to you or are too busy to shop. If you offer any bar food, make sure to include those options as well.

Create events

Trivia nights always boost sales, and they help other entrepreneurs keep their business  afloat. With limited seating, cover charges help offset the smaller crowd, and you’ll likely see traffic increase.

Spread the wealth

Could you offer a local vendor a chance to place a pop-up in your bar? If there’s a local shop, or artists in the community you can feature, create a shopping event around them. You may even want to work with other bars in your area to create a shopping/bar hopping night.

If there’s a local shop, or artists in the community you can feature, create a shopping event around them.

Fundraisers are a great way to help your community and your business — look local for opportunities to help yourself and others with a smaller event that raises money for a good cause.

Is there a restaurant nearby? You might be able to work together to create a movable feast: drinks for an hour at your establishment, then move on for dinner next door. You could create several events per night to boost sales for both venues.

Pop culture events

Watch parties are always a great way to fill seats, but don’t limit yourself to the big game. Whatever the newest must-watch show is in your area, create an event around it. To boost traffic even more, create more than 1 watch party per night — DVR more than 1 program and rotate viewing parties throughout the evening or afternoon.

Can you host a midnight showing — maybe at noon instead? How about a “worst movie of all time” showing? Have customers vote on their favorite flops and create an event around the winner.

Talent nights

Open mic nights may not be your specialty, but offering locals a chance to ad lib, karaoke, or slam their poetry might be a fun way to boost traffic and add a bit of fun. If capacity restrictions are in place, you could offer several events per evening, rotating customers throughout.

Tasting parties 

Working with your distributor might be another way to create an event. Reserved seating for a wine or spirits tasting may assure the evening’s revenue. You may even  be able to create multiple seatings throughout the afternoon and evening. Make sure to offer full bottles for sale, as well at the end of the event.

Theme nights

Why wait until Halloween to get dressed up? Create an event that allows the grown-ups to play dress-up for a bit of fun and offer prizes in a variety of categories. Come as your favorite TV, movie, or fictional character.

For retailers and hospitality providers, slowdowns and restrictions on capacity can be devastating. The challenge will be to get creative. Work with your community and respond to their needs (and need for a bit of fun) to ride out this economic downturn.

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