Business and Operations
From the Editor: We’re all in this together
By Colleen Cross
In February, this industry’s top challenge was finding and keeping good, reliable staff. That was before COVID-19. Then the seriousness of the pandemic became steadily (and sickeningly) obvious, restaurants were declared non-essential, except for those doing takeout and delivery, and dining rooms across Canada were shut down temporarily. Things quickly turned upside-down as every operator faced tough decisions about laying off staff.
Many pizzerias were built on delivery and takeout and are able to serve customers that way. These are a lifeline – but not a long-term rescue – and they are barely keeping some places afloat. For every extra takeout order, there is a reduction in hours – and staff. For every Friday night order from a stir-crazy family, there is a large order for a sports team or birthday party that disappeared. Restaurants that run events or do catering lost that income stream in the blink of an eye. The government has offered financial help. Operators are trying to be strong and positive. But it’s grim.
Every business in Canada is figuring out how to keep employees and customers safe. The restaurant industry is no different, but it is under special scrutiny because it involves handling people’s food. And it is under incredible strain due to its slim profit margins.
Communication is so important right now: talking with your team and talking with your customers. Restaurants can’t take for granted that customers know they’re open. They can’t take for granted that customers know and trust their standards of cleanliness. I’ve heard members of the public say they won’t return to a restaurant that doesn’t have specific cleaning and social distancing measures in place. If you don’t have this information posted clearly – on the front door, at the cash register and in any high-traffic area – how will they know? Customers, employees, suppliers all need to know what your pizzeria is doing to keep them safe and stop the spread of COVID-19.
In the March/April edition of Canadian Pizza, the owners of Maria’s Original Pizza share how they rebuilt after a devastating fire and discuss measures they are taking to help flatten the curve. Michelle Brisebois has solid tips on writing a press release that will get your pizzeria noticed. Much of that advice can be used in other forms of marketing or advertising you do. It’s time to be safe. It’s time to be responsible. And it’s time to sell yourself.
To inspire you, here are a few strategies we saw pizzerias adopt:
- Cross-training staff so they can switch between jobs, including and, especially, delivery.
- Reaching out to their community to offer food to those in need.
- Selling pizza kits for families to assemble and cook at home.
- Posting smartphone videos on social media: teaching a technique, describing the inspiration for a signature pizza, talking about their team. Anyone can do this. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect – in this time of self-isolation, your fans will love to see you.
- Marketing alcohol (for restaurants that are licensed and allowed to deliver or sell alcohol curbside). Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco has a friendly competition going between pizzerias over who makes the best cocktail, legendary restaurateur Tony Gemignani shared in a panel during the Virtual Pizza Expo (held in place of the International Pizza Expo).
- Getting creative and learning to, in Tony G’s words, “Borrow or steal ideas – you don’t need to ask permission.”
Although it’s difficult to look ahead right now, think of this: All the thought and effort you’re putting into your business now – increasing marketing and communications, updating your best practices and putting long-term plans in place, being a better leader – will serve you well in the long run. The impact of social distancing will be with us for months, if not years.
At this most stressful time, be well, be hopeful, be good to others and be good to yourselves. #pizzastrong.
How is COVID-19 affecting your pizza business?
Canadian Pizza would like to continue its coverage of the novel coronavirus and the impact on your business. This information will be used for internal purposes only for the magazine to better understand the current challenge facing the pizzeria industry and how you are adapting. Please fill out this brief form to let us know how your business is coping with pandemic challenges.