Dining out provides a sense of community for many restaurant-goers and the COVID-19 pandemic has halted a lot of that within the restaurant industry. With many restaurants only open at a fraction of their capacity and restaurant patrons opting for carry-out or delivery, restaurant managers are forced to come up with creative ways to stay connected with customers.
The Southern Inn is a charming 90-year old mainstay for fine southern dining based in Lexington, Virginia. Decades of satisfied customers far and near have enjoyed their contemporary menu of New American fare and southern comfort food. Co-owners and husband and wife team, George and Sue-Ann Huger, took over the restaurant in 1998. The restaurant is a rich tapestry of community, history, and perseverance in the face of unimaginable challenges. For years, guests at The Southern Inn have been delighted to find menu options that range from casual to fine dining.
“Comfort foods have always been our most popular items,” says George. “We also wanted to be sophisticated enough that…the local business community could feel good about bringing clients in from out of town.” The menu features popular southern comfort items such as meatloaf and fried chicken, alongside more elevated dishes such as roasted duck and ribeye steak.
The decor at Southern Inn is peppered with an eclectic collection of art displayed throughout the restaurant. “We enjoy art and being part of the local art community,” says George. The art and warm lighting create a charming ambiance that draws university students, tourists, and dedicated patrons alike.
Adding to the character of the restaurant is its nearly 90-year history in the community. George explains, “The history of the establishment makes it memorable. We have gotten so much community support over the years. It has really kept us in business.”
This year, The Southern Inn, like many restaurants across the country, have found themselves facing the unprecedented challenge of serving customers during a global pandemic. George and Sue-Ann turned to Sysco, their foodservice supplier, for ideas and support. Sysco had recently launched a series of Foodie Solutions Toolkits aimed at helping restaurant operators generate additional revenue through concepts such as grab and go meals, takeout and delivery, patio and outdoor dining, virtual kitchens and more.
Sysco’s Holiday Toolkit includes recipes and ideas for memorable virtual experiences to offer guests, as well as creative takeaway solutions to provide restaurant-quality gift giving or easy holiday meal solutions. For example, prepared charcuterie and cheese boards provide on-trend appetizers without all the work, cocktail kits provide a fun way for guests to enjoy signature holiday drinks at home, and a Pies-To-Go offering provides customers fresh-baked flavors without extra time in the kitchen.
“I think that [Sysco] solidly nailed it,” George says when describing the Holiday Toolkit. “I think for us as operators to be successful and really make the most out of this holiday season, we need to be presenting ideas to offices and groups of people that typically get together,” explains George. “I think at this point we are back at another crossroads because we’ve gotten comfortable with where we are,” says George. “We’ve had outside dining…but we’re getting to a point where winter is going to change a lot of [things].
Sysco’s Holiday Toolkit also includes recommendations for serving guests safely at holiday gatherings. Space planning that provides appropriate social distancing and safety best practices can help guests feel safe celebrating while dining out.
Prior to COVID, the Southern Inn did very little carryout. As George explains, “[by] March 17th, we were a carryout restaurant. Probably 70-80% of our business was coming [from] online ordering.” An earlier update to the Southern Inn’s POS system was fundamental to being able to manage the shift to online ordering.
In addition, using the right takeout supplies ensured the restaurant’s menu offerings traveled well and continued to delight guests. George and Sue-Ann worked with their Sysco Sales Consultant, Tammie Sadonis, to give the to-go program a new look using all Eco-Friendly Products. “We have gotten lot of compliments on our packaging,” George said.
Besides the Foodie Solutions Toolkits, which are available to all operators, Sysco customers also have exclusive access to:
- Free Sysco iCARE webinars designed to provide an in-depth look at ways operators can grow and support their business, and
- Free Marketing Services Concierge that offers value added services, such as the creation of carryout and delivery menus, creation of QR codes for touchless menus and much more.
- Exclusive, chef-tested products through Sysco’s Cutting Edge Solutions platform that help foodservice operators easily update their menus with on-trend dining options while also enabling streamlined back-of-house operations.
No matter the challenges, Sysco has been proud to serve and support its customers and will always be there for them. “I would describe my experience as a Sysco customer as a long and winding road,” George describes. “Despite the occasional bump in the road, they have helped support us in so many ways. We’ve been great partners, and I hope that Sysco feels the same.”
To learn more about Sysco’s Foodie Solutions Toolkits, visit their website.