How (some) restaurants and food shops are thriving during the pandemic

In this 6-minute read:

  • Why COVID-19 has been an unexpected blessing for some restaurants and food shops
  • How restaurants can adapt and benefit from the pandemic
  • New sales and delivery avenues allow some businesses to thrive

We all know that restaurants, bars, and retail shops were among the first businesses to be locked down due to the COVID-19 outbreak in early March, 2020. Unfortunately, many of those businesses have failed to reopen

However, as the pandemic drags on, many restaurants and specialty food shops have discovered that if they are quick to innovate and adapt, the COVID-19 pandemic can become a blessing in disguise, driving huge consumer demand and record sales.

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Whether people simply are starving (pun intended) for the experience of getting a great restaurant meal, or they are simply worried about having enough food on hand during uncertain times, it’s clear that many food shops and restaurants are seeing demand they couldn’t have predicted prior to the pandemic.

Despite CDC reports that restaurant and bar patrons are more likely to contract COVID-19, the pandemic has definitely created space and opportunity for innovators to not just survive, but thrive. In fact, a PYMNTS’ survey on small business confidence found restaurants the most optimistic businesses regarding whether they would survive the pandemic.

Let’s look at some examples of businesses that have seen explosive growth due to COVID-19.

Specialty food shops are showing record sales due to COVID-19

The initial weeks of the pandemic drove all-time record sales at grocery stores across the country, and that demand trickled down to smaller grocers and specialty food shops when people couldn’t get everything they wanted at bigger stores. (Click to see Womply’s data dashboard showing the impact of COVID-19 on various business types.)

Eater reports that at The Meat Hook, a small, whole-animal butcher shop in Brooklyn, sales have nearly tripled since COVID-19, and “keeping up with demand has been nearly impossible.” 

Brent Young, co-owner, says that during the first weeks of the pandemic “it felt like the holidays, where everyone is just frantically buying things… because that was what was available.” Brent says they had to figure out ways to keep up with consumer demand. “Everyone’s office job went out the window immediately, and we just needed all hands on deck in the butcher shop, either cutting meat or selling meat, all the time.”

Young points out that the huge increase in demand has created problems not just in staffing and fulfilment at the store, but in potentially depleting the supply chain. “At the height of the purchasing madness, we were getting beef and pork deliveries every single day, which is way different than the pre-COVID way of doing business… we never had to worry about a short supply.”

Supply chain issues have been hitting restaurants across the country, not just due to huge increases in customer demands for staples like beef and chicken (both of which have been unavailable in many parts of the country during the pandemic due to panic buying), but PPE and sanitation equipment, other restaurant supplies, and naturally, toilet paper.

One restaurant local to Womply’s offices made headlines by offering for sale “essentials” kits containing a bag of flour, a bag of potatoes, a bag of sugar, and a pack of toilet paper. They made a small profit by selling these essentials when they were unavailable at local markets, but more importantly they made a lot of good impressions with customers and created great marketing to help them survive when restaurants were in lockdown, and thrive once they opened back up.

Demand for online ordering and delivery has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic

Ben Turley, co-owner of The Meat Hook, says, “One of the numerous ways that our business has been altered… probably forever, is online ordering.” 

Young adds, “Delivery and pickup platforms have become a major part of our business, whereas [before COVID-19] we never put any emphasis on it whatsoever, because our entire business was built around customer interaction. So we never really took delivery very seriously.” 

Now, customer demand for restaurant and food shop services like online ordering, delivery, curbside service, and take-out has skyrocketed, and restaurants and shops have been scrambling to keep up with the demand.

Turley says, “[Delivery] was becoming, like, 40% of our business. And we realized we actually have to design a team with managers and have shifts that are dedicated to making sure this works, because it’s very important…. we had no idea what we were starting, and it turned out to be incredibly crucial.”

Restaurants and shops have had to not only adapt to the new demands, but adapt quickly. 

Those who have been slow to react have been either badly damaged by the economic impacts of the pandemic, or put out of business altogether. Turley says, “It would normally be 6 months we would take to come up with this system and implement it. We did it in about 6 days.”

Young points out another way the shop has had to adapt: “As soon as all of this happened, people [started] buying everything from us. We came a full grocery store incredibly quickly.”

Pizza joints are thriving during COVID-19

Some of those who have adapted to the new way of doing things have been surprised and overjoyed to find that customer demand has been more than they could have hoped for prior to the pandemic.

One such finder of unbelievable success is a small pop-up pizza shop in Miami called Old Greg’s. Food Insider reports, “After being forced to shut down his original pop-up in March, the owner of Old Greg’s Pizza began making his sourdough pies at home to share with friends, family, and chefs he knew…. Once word spread, thousands of people began requesting a taste of Old Greg’s pies. So in July, owner Greg Tetzner partnered with Miami chef Brad Kilgore and opened a pop-up for takeout. On Wednesdays, the pop-up hosts ‘pizza drops’ through its website where customers can sign up to get a pie. With so much demand, many have to wait weeks for a taste.”

Jackie Richie, cofounder of Old Greg’s Pizza, manages their online ordering system and says, “This is insane. We’ve sold out within… 12 minutes or so.”

Old Greg’s is selling over 500 pies a week, and there’s a huge backlog of current and future customers posting and celebrating the business on social media. Of course the huge demand means more than just huge sales… it means huge amounts of work, particularly for smaller shops trying to keep the hordes of new customers happy. Greg Tetzner, chef and co-founder of Old Greg’s Pizza, says “My day typically starts at 5:30-6 a.m., and I leave here about 8:30-9 o’clock at night. It still feels surreal. It hasn’t hit me yet.”

And Old Greg’s isn’t the only pizza joint that’s thriving during the pandemic. As PYMNTS reports, “pizza has in large measure become the pandemic’s official food.” This is partly because the nature of the crisis creates huge demand for delivery services, and, as the report says, “while other restaurants scrambled to get pick-up and delivery options online, pizza [restaurants] were already able to deliver — both metaphorically and literally….Pizza parlors came into the crisis ready to roll on delivery and fulfill carryout orders because they’ve already been offering those services for decades.”

Go deeper:

Meal box and other direct-to-consumer delivery subscription services are exploding

In addition to (some) restaurants thriving, a related effect of the pandemic is that “meal box” subscriptions have been skyrocketing. According to PYMNTS’ report, “Consumers who are staying at home during the pandemic and looking to make their lives a bit easier are turning to meal kits en masse. Companies are seeing new enrollments ramp up and existing customers upgrade their plans to order larger meals and with more frequency.” 

According to the survey, customer demand for direct-to-consumer (D2C) subscription services overall has increased 43% year over year.

It’s clear that despite the serious economic challenges faced by many businesses, restaurants with the right online presence, marketing efforts, and ability to adapt are seeing growth that few could have foreseen.

Strengthen your business’s online presence and drive growth with Womply

As more local businesses see the importance of a solid online footprint, it’s a good time to beef up your online reputation. When new customers search for your business online, will they like what they find? Are you taking time to engage with current customers online via review sites?

Womply Reputation makes it easy to keep up to speed with your online reviews on multiple sites at once. Our dashboard allows you to read and respond to all your reviews on all the popular platforms, all in one place with one login. Plus, you can set up automatic replies if you so choose, to help build customer engagement and loyalty, and improve your local SEO.

Womply also offers email marketing to keep the momentum going with your customers as your build and maintain those relationships. 

Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!


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