Article contributed by Claudia del Castillo, Chipie Design
In early March 2020, when a global pandemic and impending recession loomed, I looked at my husband and said: “That’s it. My business is gone. I have to start closing invoices and think of a plan B.”
As a branding designer who specializes in restaurant design, I was concerned about the well being of my clients in the food industry, as well as my own. Work dried out for a couple of weeks as expected. But, as soon as takeout opened up, the phone started ringing and the email pinging.
New rules were in place, and with those came new problems for restaurateurs to solve, and fast. My clients were in triage mode, with frequently shifting messages to communicate, new measures to abide by, operational changes to incorporate, and evolving business models to consider.
Suddenly, I found myself problem solving on the daily, creating unique solutions for my clients, and becoming a knowledge source for them about how others in the industry were tackling similar challenges. While the restaurant business can be competitive, it is also a tight-knit community. Most of my business comes from word-of-mouth, so when I figured out a good solution for one restaurant owner, they were happy to let others know.
Needless to say, we’ve all learned and adapted during these trying times. Our restaurant experiences will be forever changed as a result. Now it’s time to further refine what’s working and what’s not with your restaurant design, so that your business is pandemic-proof for the future.
1. Double down on takeout
Now that food delivery services like GrubHub and Doordash have become a mainstay, you’re only as good as your takeout – so put some extra love into it.
Spend extra on the right containers for your product. If it doesn’t travel well, don’t offer it. Pizza and fast foods might have crushed it during the pandemic, but upscale restaurants have had to completely reinvent their menus for takeout. Fine dining often relies on an elevated ambience and service to create an on-brand mood. Replicating that experience to-go means including special, personalized touches like branded, well-designed instructions for how to assemble and perfectly garnish a meal.
Food safety comes first, and delivery systems like DoorDash can’t always be trusted. Create on-brand labels to seal takeout. There is a good reason why taco boxes boomed during the pandemic and deli paper was in shortage. Takeout is king!
To-go cocktails descended upon us from the heavens in 2020, and we’re all crossing our fingers that they are here to stay. Bottling them (with tamper-proof seals, of course) with cleverly branded labels is another opportunity to go the extra mile to deliver a takeout experience that highlights your brand’s voice.
2. Get a POS that is geared for takeout
If your POS isn’t ideal for takeout, the time to change it was yesterday.
Invest in a newer POS system that is built for online ordering. Be sure that the look is consistent with the face of your brand and allows you to customize a well-designed user experience for mobile purchases. Yes, it will come at an additional cost. But it’s a lifesaver for some restaurants.
3. Overhaul your website for mobile
If you haven’t updated your website design in five years or more, you’re way overdue. Website design trends change quickly as they evolve with our general interaction with technology.
Your website and social media are the portal for your takeout. Make your takeout button easy to locate and secure that sale.
Today, most sales are happening on customers’ phones and your online experience should reflect that. Ask your website designer for a responsive site that adjusts well between desktop and mobile.
4. Adopt the super menu combo: contactless + responsive + disposable
Responsive websites are key, but so is having a responsive menu within it. Put away the PDFs – you’ll lose customers by asking them to pinch in and out of their little phone screens.
Table tents or table stickers with QR codes linking to restaurants’ websites quickly became a necessity during the pandemic, and they’re likely here to stay. That’s why you need to be sure your website features an easily updated and responsive menu..
Disposable menus are also expected, but they’re also expected to look great! Just because they’re disposable doesn’t mean that they can’t be beautiful. And, they can double as takeout menus for customers to bring home if you communicate that clearly.
These three solutions work hand-in-hand and cover the tech-savvy to the technophobe. They need to have a cohesive look, make sure your fonts and color palettes match across the board.
5. Clean up your branding and marketing
Any and all of the above will be far more effective if you start with some soul searching. Revisit your brand values, mission, character and voice to make sure you’re staying current and true to yourself. Make sure that everything that your brand does and says matches those values.
You’ll notice that these five steps are related and intertwined – and they share a foundation of solid branding.
You need to brand and design every detail of your customers’ experience – whether in person or to-go – with thought, care and a signature style. Now is the time to design the restaurants of the future.
Claudia del Castillo is a branding designer and creative consultant. Her studio Chipie Design specializes in restaurant design out of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she is an active community advocate. Learn more at her website.