A Pizzeria Survival Guide
We’re on day 7 of this incredibly unprecedented event known as COVID-19. Circumstances now will radically change the industry as well as society forever. I imagine a future with social distancing sections of restaurants and no contact delivery as standard practice. That will be our norm unless there is a massive sea-change in our ability to fight viruses that allows the general public to feel a sense of safety they do not currently feel. Future life is speculation; today, I am concerned with the hustle and the wisest move to choose hour by hour.
The resiliency of the average pizzeria operator is having the test of a lifetime. Nothing in the history of the restaurant industry is comparable to this cataclysmic event we are currently living out. Those who are out and seeking the smartest, wisest decision are the ones who will survive. The owners who are only working their make line, while keeping their heads in the sand, are in real jeopardy of not bouncing back from this.
The Stationary Seated Hustle
A lot of the survival guide is rooted in being on a computer, filling out loan documents, payment deferments, and every available grant you can find. The people who do this are the ones who will still make payroll and pay their taxes and survive this financially.
It’s like we’re all on a delayed plane flight on the tarmac, and we just found out that none of us are going to make our connecting flight. We’re all in this together, but everyone should want to get off that flight as fast as possible to get to the ticketing counter first or, in this case, to have their loan documents submitted first. Everyone will theoretically have a chance to find their connecting flight, but you don’t want to be the last one to do so. It takes advantageously going after funding now, especially considering that, more likely than not, funding will run out and not be available for everyone.
To know what’s out there, you can only do so much, and your reach and voice will only get so far. In Tulsa, we formed a restaurant-owner group text thread that got so large we needed to use the GroupMe app. We have people advantageously reaching out to every elected official we know, translating our struggle, and getting up to the minute advice on where to fill out forms online and updates from Capitol Hill. There is power in numbers, and now is the time to get friendly with your fellow restauranteurs. If no one local to you is organizing this, then you’re going to have to do it, you need to be that leader. It’s the only way you’ll be heard. No one in DC cares about one restaurant in Anytown USA; they do care about 50 restaurants demanding answers, and so do their Mayors, Senators, Congressmen, and Governors.
The other half of the hustle is what you do onsite with ingenuity to connect with the customer via social media messaging. No one is going to your website during this crisis because it’s not a source of updated information. They’re checking out your Facebook page, your Instagram, and Twitter. To anyone who ever doubted the power of social media, observe the length of curbside pick-up lines of restaurants who are on social daily vs. those who rarely post. It’s a stark contrast. Your customer’s priorities and propensity to view content have shifted this week, and it’s an opportunity for survival to those who take it. Quarantined families have an abundance of time and are looking to their phones for information on what’s happening locally. Their cell phone, i.e., pocket television, is begging you to feed them content.
Pizza at home kits became a trending item on day 3 of this crisis, and the businesses doing it are getting thousands of shares and likes. To this day, I’ve sold over 600 kits in a matter of 4 days at 25 bucks each. I only informed the public via Instagram and Facebook with no paid posts. It trended instantly. That’s money that will help ensure I make payroll and survive. Additionally, spaghetti and salad catering kits, along with tamper-free packaging stickers for third-party delivery, are all getting a lot of social media traction, which translates into sales. It’s an opportunity to outwardly show the customer what we’re doing to be hygienic and thoughtful, and that’s how we stay top of mind. It’s like the used car sale ads in the 80s that filled up every commercial break. Right now, you want to be in the customer’s face nonstop because, like in the ’80s, their viewing options are limited. I’m filming daily and being relentless about social media because it’s crunch time, and lives depend on it.
The social media best practice rules to not post more than once or twice a week are out the window. It’s multiple times a day or you’re dying. The message should be upbeat, but with a purpose, a real human element as well as a call to action or CTA. These are essential to connecting with the viewer. When this all ends, I’m hopeful there will be a celebration like no other. I’m also optimistic that we’ll take lessons from it that will make us not only better but more thoughtful operators as well as more durable for the future and not more afraid, disconnected, or cold.
Having a network of national pizzeria operators that I can rely on to throw ideas around with, along with my local group of business owners, has made this horrible situation palatable, and, dare I say, even at times, hopeful. The words furlough and layoff have never been in my professional vocabulary until this week. I have absolute disdain for these words but look forward to pounding through this virus’s effects on society, getting our customer base healthy and thriving once more, better for it.
My brother and I joke about all the struggles we’ve endured that, “A good beating never hurt anyone.” Here’s to the belief and hope that this joke of ours continues to remain true.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.