By Tom Poland
The Bistro’s Before & During Tale
Restaurants Close First
A lot of moving parts make up a restaurant. Operating a restaurant is complex. Bistro On The Boulevard Manager Steve Price and Owner Susan Crosby talked with me about social restrictions’ impact on the Bistro’s operation.
“March 17, 2020,” said Price, “we all sat in front of the television anticipating that our governor would put restrictions on capacity and spacing in restaurants. We were prepared to accommodate restrictions in order to remain open for our dine-in guests. Unfortunately, his order was to discontinue dine-in business. That meant take-out orders only. We were not prepared for that,” said Price. “In our restaurant, our guests are the heartbeat. The social interaction is vibrant and vital. How are we supposed to continue if the main component of our success is removed?”
Restricted to curbside and carryout dining, revenue fell. Spending had to be reduced. Price and Crosby quickly suspended linen services, paper product delivery, advertising, and other non-essential services.
“Take-out was less than 2 percent of our total business,” said Price. “We simply were not set up for that. We had no idea if we could make it work. Staffing had to be addressed as did procuring the necessary containers and implements for to-go food.”
Said Crosby, “We had to use delivery services that charge high fees to restaurants.” They also had to determine menu items that could perform as takeout food and how to economically market them. And what about employees? “During this time, we did not lay off any employees,” said Crosby. “We paid them to clean, sanitize, paint, complete repairs and update the interior. We paid them normal pay plus 18 percent tips from our pocket.” They also purchased facemasks, no-touch thermometers, and sanitizers. Extra expenses included printing disposable menus, buying disposable dinnerware, and other supplies.
Bistro staff pitched in but broken supply chains and unavailable food items created problems. Price said they operated in a constant state of evolution, but then something happened. It started to work. “A small taste of normal” is how Price put it. Even so, the restaurant was generating just 20 percent of its normal revenue.
“We had already made the commitment to our staff that we would employ them as much and long as we could,” said Price. “The 20 percent wouldn’t cover labor, let alone costs of the food.” The time to get creative had arrived.
“We opened the wine storage and found a healthy inventory,” said Price. “We had to liquidate that, pulling a few cases each day for a fire sale. We decided that the most effective, and free, marketing would be social media. We developed a series of wine tasting videos and put them out.”
Loyal customers recognized deals and began to buy bottle after bottle. “Some put cases together to take home,” said Price. “The wine sales increased to as much as 35 percent of our normal, a great relief. With these marginal processes working, along with adapting to an ever-changing environment, we realized our customers were eager to have some normalcy back into their lives.”
The Bistro is known for its live music. If that could be continued it would further support a feeling of normalcy. “We decided to continue live music performances,” said Price. “We weren’t allowed to have guests sit and listen, but when they picked up their take-out, one of their favorite musicians would be playing. Some of the musicians play for a living, and their livelihood was gone in one day. Though they were not getting paid at previous levels, we provided them some income. As with our staff, our guests were very generous with the musicians as well.”
Tom Poland’s website is www.tompoland.net
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