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Preparing your restaurant for COVID-19 changes

The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is drastically changing the restaurant industry like never before. Numerous restaurant chains and corporations are changing their entire business models to try and survive in this quickly moving economic scenario. Many will not survive.

Dine-in traffic is imploding as more Americans wake up to the fact that COVID-19 is very contagious and that social norms of dining out just won’t work for the forseeable future. A vaccine could be at least 14-18 months away according to some experts.

How can you prepare your restaurant for this new reality? Here are a few tips:

Pivot to delivery and take-out

Delivery was already rapidly growing before COVID-19 entered the mix. The number of people ordering on Uber EATS, DoorDash, and the like has been growing rapidly over the last few years even though those business models have yet to become profitable.

You should explore each delivery platform to see which one works best and think about how you can make the numbers add-up to make your business succeed on the platform. If you can provide your own delivery, consider that as well.

Consumers will be spending more time at home and no doubt many will not want to cook 24-7, which is an opportunity for your business to sell to customers directly in their homes.

To be successful you will need to make your list of products available to be as competitive as every chain on earth and local businesses trying to stick around all go online. You may need to simplify your menu to more profitable items and adjust with to online habits.

Make sure to calculate and ensure that there is an operational way to move forward during this time if you choose to do delivery – you will most likely need to scale labor to how much traffic you can pull. Several restaurants in Oregon recently realized that their business models were not built for delivery.

Most delivery services will claim anything from 10%-30% on delivery fees. Consider offering a discount for take-out service to convince customers to pick-up their own orders.

This won’t be easy in the least and your business will no doubt still suffer from the lack of dine-in traffic, but if you want to survive this may be the only path forward.

Prioritize safety and cleanliness

During a pandemic virus, people are going to be very nervous about cleanliness and whether their food is being handled with care, whether it is for delivery or pick-up. Safety and cleanliness for both customers and employees will be key.

The last thing you want is for an investigation to be done into your restaurant for making people work sick and for negative press to accumulate.

At the high stress levels people are experiencing right now, the chances of this happening may actually be quite high. Consider paid sick leave and absolutely do not allow sick workers to come to work and find a way to compensate them.

Institute plans for how you will verify that your workers are healthy and able to serve and be transparent with your customers about how you are protecting their safety.

It goes far beyond just an e-mail and will need to be done regularly as cases come up in the news about outbreaks in restaurants.

Consumer confidence is the key during this time. Any indication that customers should not eat at your business may lead them running to another one or instead to the grocery stores.

Marketing + Social Media could give an advantage

Social Media will be an important way to maintain your brand and still reach customers who will be either working from home, going to school at home, or just home – depending on how economic forces change in the next few months.

Don’t forget that many platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer targeted advertising so you can reach your ideal customers. While it’s true that your budget is certainly strained, if you use it wisely it will pay off.

Remember to think about what people want to click and not just what you want to say.

Consider other ways to reach customers like e-mails and text message outreach. Most customers will have be spending more time online and you need to reach them there.

Brainstorm daily deals or packages that customers can draw on like family deals, couple deals, or themed deals.

Even if your business does end up closing during this economic time, maintaining your online presence may keep your brand alive for the future when everyone eventually gets back on their feet and outside. Come up with a marketing plan that reflects this.

If you’re a known chef or restaurant consider making videos at home with cooking tips, advice for people on grocery shopping decisions, use Facebook LIVE and Instagram LIVE, there are tools out there that you can use to try and keep your brand going in this time of uncertainty. Stay in front of the face of your customers.

Reach out to influencers and media

Influencers have already-built channels as does the media that may be locally tied to your business. Many influencer events, cross-promotions, and advertisements have been canceled as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark.

If your restaurant is going to continue fighting to stay in business, consider reaching out to influencers and to the media. Consider how you can position your business in a way that is relevant to their audience during this difficult time.

Influencers have an interest in maintaining their outreach during this time and no doubt probably have some extra time on their hands. Consider how you can reach out to them in a way that is beneficial for your business…after all you want people to reach out to your business for takeout and delivery right?

As for the media, this may become more tricky as many media companies are experiencing an exodus of advertisers due to COVID-19 which is straining their staff. As with any other time period, the key is relevance for the media. Subscribe to all media sites and channels and watch what they are talking about. Follow journalists on Twitter.

When you see something relevant to your business, reach out. There is a public interest in helping both local businesses and restaurants during this time, but first you have to reach out to get your story out there. How are you coping? What are your plans for your staff? How can they help you? Messaging is the key.

Support other businesses and organizations

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on a wide range of businesses including many local ones and organizations that are involved in helping our communities. Consider how your business can help those other groups out.

Your business will be stronger by working with others and supporting each other. Restaurants have always played a big role in the communities around them, but during COVID-19 you may need some out of the box ideas to help your fellow community partners out. They will be sure to return the favor if you do.

The “social distancing” required during COVID-19 will make people feel isolated, but if your business is proactive and tries to bring people together for a group or cause it could make a difference. Share posts from other partners in related community fields on your feed or important government updates. We are all in this together!

Questions or looking for more advice? Reach out at CarlosEats[at]gmail[dot]com or fill out my contact form.

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Articles News

NEWS: 2 presumptive positive coronavirus cases in Hillsborough County and Manatee County

There are now 2 presumptive positive coronavirus cases in Florida now in Hillsborough County and Manatee County.

Here are some links to news articles about it:

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Articles Events News

NEWS: National Pancake Day at IHOP February 25th

Who is ready for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes at IHOP? Maybe 2020 isn’t all bad after all. Celebrate National Pancake Day on Tuesday, February 25th, 2020 at IHOP locations around the United States from 7AM to 7PM (10PM in select locations).

IHOP is adding a giveaway this year with barcodes at tables that guests can scan for a chance to win up to 250,0000 instant win prizes. Prizes include limited-edition pancake-themed merchandise such as bicycles, scooters, customizable jackets, handmade berets and more. In addition to the “Pancakes for Life” grand prize, ten lucky winners will also score $500 in IHOP gift cards.

Guests are asked to make a donation for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Other Charities on their way out of the restaurant. Since 2006, IHOP has raised more than $30 million for its charity partners.

“The communities where IHOP and our franchisees operate is at the core of everything we do, and National Pancake Day serves as a great example of our commitment to helping the kids and families who are our guests, neighbors, friends and family,” said Stephanie Peterson, Executive Director of Communications.

Find more information at ihop.com.

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Articles Events Food Events Food News News

NEWS: 6th Annual Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival kicks off February 29th

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is launching their 6th Annual Food and Wine Festival earlier this year on Saturday, February 29th, 2020. The festival will run every weekend from February 29th to April 26th and included with park admission to the theme park.

This year will feature 25 new food items in addition to fan-favorite dishes and 80 wines, beers, and cocktails, to choose from. Some new additions include:

  • Chef’s Corner Cabin: Features 3 signature dishes carefully crafted by the park’s head chefs such as arroz con pollo, a pork belly taco with kimchi slaw, and pork tenderloin with champagne watercress sauce
  • Coaster Cocktails: Iron Gwazi Gimlet, Falcon’s Fury Lemon Drop, and Tigris Tea
  • Pick-A-Barrel Tastings: create your own flight of liquors and wines from around the world
  • Some other new food items include Kung Pao Ribs, Maple Bacon Cinnamon Rolls, “Boujee” Bacon, Fried Clams, Pork Tamales, Grilled Shrimp Elotes, and Strawberry Shortcake Sundaes

Guests can purchase a 5, 8, or 12-item sampler lanyard to use at each festival cabin to explore sample-sized dishes and drink offerings and they start at $32. Pass Members can purchase an exclusive 15-item sampler for the same price as a 12-item sampler and save 20% off.

Pass Members can get a sneak peak on February 28th that will include an all new menu of sips and samples and Eaglemania: The World’s Greatest Eagles Tribute Band.

Busch Gardens plans to launch Iron Gwazi this spring, North America’s tallest hybrid coaster and the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world.

The 6th Annual Food and Wine Festival concert schedule:

Feb 29:                 Collective Soul
March 1:              The Commodores

March 7:              Chase Bryant & Danielle Bradbery

March 8:              Rachel Platten

March 14:            Ezra Ray Hart
March 15:            THREE DOG NIGHT

March 21:            LOCASH 
March 22:            Fitz & The Tantrums

March 28:            Home Free
March 29:            Taking Back Sunday

April 4:                 Third Eye Blind
April 5:                 KC & The Sunshine Band

April 11:               38 Special 
April 12:               Micah Tyler & Austin French 

April 18:               Lee Brice
April 19:               Clint Black

April 25:               El Gran Combo
April 26:               Toad the Wet Sprocket & The Verve Pipe

Find more information on the 6th Annual Food & Wine Festival at http://buschgardens.com/tampa/events/food-and-wine-festival/

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Articles Restaurant News

NEWS: PDQ launches breakfast menu at Carrollwood location

PDQ, a popular and growing chicken chain from Florida, launched a breakfast menu on Tuesday at their Carrollwood location located at 12650 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The menu is also available at their test kitchen located at 4343 Anchor Plaza Parkway in Tampa. Those are the only 2 locations serving breakfast for now.

Breakfast is available 7 days a week from 6:30AM to 10:30AM. It is available for dine-in, to-go, and for catering.

The breakfast menu includes: “sandwiches, wraps, a breakfast bowl and more. The sandwich options feature two biscuit sandwiches: a Honey Butter Chicken and a Pimento Brunch item. Guests can also order the new French Toaster sandwich, which contains sausage, fresh egg, cheddar cheese, and maple butter on PDQ’s own french toast bun.”

Signature menu offerings include “King’s Hawaiian chicken bites, a breakfast bowl with crispy honey butter chicken, fresh egg and cheddar jack cheese over tots, and 3 fresh whole wheat wraps: Maple Butter Bacon, Sriracha Sunrise and the Grilled Chicken Mornin’ wrap. Beverage choices include Joffrey’s Peruvian medium blend, and two different Cold Brew options”.

Breakfast has been a winning category for chains in the restaurant industry lately with McDonald’s pivoting to breakfast and Wendy’s dropping a breakfast menu.

Jonathan Maze, Executive Editor at Restaurant Business, shared some professional insight into this growth:

“It is very much a growing segment.

There are a number of fast-growth fast-casual breakfast-and-lunch places. Cracker Barrel’s purchase of Maple Street Biscuit Co. last year was a pretty serious indication of the growth in that particular sector. And there are a lot of such chains that have emerged in recent years. Chains like IHOP (Flip’d) are even starting their own versions. And then a number fast casuals like Modern Market offer breakfast.

It’s been a growth daypart for fast casual for some time. Breakfast is the fastest growing daypart so you’re always going to find development as a result. And much of the development in the restaurant business period remains in fast casual. Ergo, breakfast fast casual continues to grow.”

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Articles Events Food Events

NEWS: Cuban Sandwich Festival coming to Kissimmee Saturday March 7th

The 5th Annual Cuban Sandwich Festival is coming March 7th to Kissimeee on Saturday, March 7th, 2020 from 11AM to 6PM. The event is presented by FORD. The event is free and family-friendly.

The festival will occur at Xentury City Center located at 2925 International Drive in Kissimmee, Florida 34747 (East of I-4, off of 192 and International Drive).

Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla, Co-Founder of the International Cuban Sandwich Festival, shares:

“The Biggest Cuban Sandwich in the World will be made, 190 feet of deliciousness and the BEST Cuban Sandwiches in Central Florida will compete for the chance to make it to the FINALS where they will have a chance to win the GOLDEN TICKET to compete in the WORLD FOOD Championships”.

Event organizers will attempt to make the “Biggest Cuban Sandwich in the World” with a goal of 190 feet. The sandwich will be distributed to help feed the homeless.

Participants will include businesses from Metro Orlando, Kissimmee and Central Florida. Restaurants will compete for the title of “Best Cuban Sandwich” in Central Florida.

Live music will include Johnnie Rivera -Vaya DJ, Revelacion Salsera, and Orchestra FUEGO.

I will be a judge at the event, I have been judging the Cuban Sandwich Festival since it began years ago in Tampa’s historic Ybor City.

The Tampa fest will occur on March 29th, 2020. Tampa created the iconic Cuban Sandwich and no amount of bickering from Miami changes the fact that Miami was a swamp when it was created.

Other judges include Osceola County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry, City Commissioner Olga Gonzalez, Executive Director of Downtown Kissimmee Diana Marrerro-Pinto, Publisher of Osceola Star Guillermo “Bill” Hansen, Marytza Sanz, President/CEO/Founder of Latino Leadership, Carlos Guzman of the Puerto Rican Leadership Council.

Find more information online at thecubansandwichfestival.com.

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Articles Restaurant review Reviews

Chuan Lu Garden in Orlando offers dim sum worth paying for

We live in strange times. Chinese eateries are seeing a decline in business due to Coronavirus fears spreading throughout the United States and arguably the planet. Some Chinese restaurants in Orlando are reporting a 20-30% drop in business despite that fact that there isn’t a single case of coronavirus in Florida.

While there is nothing wrong with being prepared and conscious of what’s happening around the globe, there’s a simple fact that this virus is not in Florida at this time. I decided to eat at my one of my favorite Chinese spots in Orlando during my last visit in Mills 50 District called Chuan Lu Garden.

I have checked out a few dim sum spots nearby such as Peter’s Kitchen and Ming’s Bistro, but neither were as good as Chuan Lu Garden despite being more popular and busier establishments. Most people visit because Chuan Lu is open until 2AM and is a reliable late-night option, but for me it’s all about dim sum for breakfast.

It’s hard to find a good dim sum spot in Florida, nothing really compares to all the great spots in San Francisco. Lord knows that Yummy House in Tampa doesn’t even come close to any of the places in Orlando. I have long hoped for more dim sum options in Tampa, but that doesn’t seem to be materializing and it remains to see what kind of effect this drop in business will have on Chinese businesses.

One of my favorite dim sum choices is the egg tart. It seems simple enough, but the crust is really the key and so many places get it wrong. Some places also have terrible egg inside. It’s delicate, but delicious. Chuan Lu does it right. My only regret was not saving it for the end so I could savor the flavor in mouth for a little longer.

Salt and Pepper Squid. This is one of my favorite dishes. It was one of the only reasons I frequented Yummy House before they were closed numerous times for health code violations and slid in quality. This one was crispy and I especially enjoyed the peppers and onions. It reminded me of a breakfast hash without the potato. Not bad for a breakfast at all.

Sesame balls with red bean inside. I love red bean. It has to have just the right mix though because the flavor can be a little overwhelming for those not accustomed to regularly eating. These balls were just right for me. It was a satisfying dish that I would order again and again.

A look inside the sesame ball with red bean.

This is a must any time I grab dim sum. Shrimp and Pork Shumai. The dumplings with a mix of the two inside is savory and satisfied my craving for some meat without being just pork or beef. I personally can’t eat too much meat early on in the day.

These shrimp dumplings were probably the only disappointing part of my meal. I’ve had it before at Chuan Lu and it was much better in the past, but this time it had an aftertaste to it, probably something to do with the batter they were mixing since the other shrimp dishes were fine. It’s still one of my favorite dim sum choices so I would probably order it again in the future.

Steamed egg custard bun. This dish was tasty and a good end to our meal. It hit all the right flavors and was a nice sweeter ending to the meal. I don’t order as many buns normally because I get extremely full when I eat them.

So there you have it. Everything was mostly great and we enjoyed all this food and tea for around $30 total which is quite affordable. Dim sum in Orlando is great at many places and I hope everyone will consider supporting Chinese restaurants during this time.

Chuan Lu Garden. 1101 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (407) 868-8709.

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Articles Restaurant review Reviews

Birria tacos arrive in Tampa at Jimmy’s Tacos Ybor City

Birria. Oh sweet birria. The tacos from Jalisco have arrived in Tampa at Jimmy’s Tacos. These tacos have taken San Francisco by storm with the Quesabirria, a cheesy birria taco creation. These tacos have legs on social media.

Birria taco at Jimmy's Tacos.

What is birria? It is essentially a stew usually made with goat meat but sometimes made with chicken or beef. It essentially means savory and boy is it savory. The stew makes for a great dip or flavor enhancer. Birria tacos are soaked in the sauce and loaded with the meat. Jimmy’s Tacos serves a pretty tasty one. Quesabirria is still in the works though.

Jimmy’s Tacos opened recently across from El Puerto in Ybor City in a part of Ybor City that was left for dead after the 2008 financial crisis, but has been getting steam lately with a new brewery BarrieHaus, a new cafe called Ybor Beverage Co., and a number of other small businesses that previously would not have crossed so far off 7th or 8th Avenue.

Jimmy’s Tacos is one of the closes things I have experienced to Mexican food from California in Florida. There are taquerias now all over Tampa, but most of them are just average to me, nothing like what I’m used to or expect in Mexican food.

Carne Asada burrito at Jimmy's Tacos

When you taste the carne asada at Jimmy’s Tacos, it has that zest, that spice that you rarely ever taste in so-called carne asada at other restaurants in Tampa, but I know this flavor too well from spending time on Mission Street in San Francisco. All the tacos I have tasted thus far have been delicious and the burrito is actually excellent as well. Well-balanced, not too much rice and plenty of meat.

You’ll spend about $3 per taco but guacamole is included, their burrito will run you about $10 so I would budget about $10-12 for a visit. Their horchata is actually pretty flavorful.

It almost seems too good to be true to have something like Jimmy’s Tacos in Tampa. All I can hope is that they’ll succeed and maintain the commitment to true flavors and food. The owners are originally from Los Angeles and have experience in restaurants there.

I highly recommend Jimmy’s Tacos.

Jimmy’s Tacos. 1604 N 17th St, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 242-0242.

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Articles Food Events

Guide: Valentine’s Day 2020 in Tampa Bay

Looking for Valentine’s Day 2020 plans in Tampa Bay? Here are some suggestions:

  • Valentine’s Day Friday Flight: Tampa International Airport is having a free concert at the airport for Valentine’s Day on February 14th with The DeLeon Band in the Main Terminal Space from 4:30PM to 6:30PM. The airport gates are available for dining as well for those who enjoy a travel backdrop with their new TPA All-Access Program: tpaallaccess.com 4100 George J. Bean Pkwy, Tampa, FL 33607.
  • Anti-Valentine’s Day Cocktail Release Party: Head on over to URBAN Brew and BBQ in St. Petersburg for an Anti-Valentine’s Day event on February 14th from 5PM to 10PM. Four Roses will headline the event with two featured cocktails. 2601 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33713.
  • Valentine’s Day Speed Friend-ing: The Lowry Parcade in Seminole Heights is hosting a speed friend-ing event on February 14th from 7:30PM to 10:30PM where the object is to get to know new people instead of just dating and it’s absolutely free. Match with anyone at the event and Lowry Parcade will provide you with tokens to play some games together. 1213 W. Waters Ave., Tampa, FL 33604.
  • Hello Kitty Cafe Food Truck Pop-up: The popular Sanrio character from Japan comes to WestShore Plaza on Saturday, February 15th from 10AM to 8PM. Snacks and merchandise are available. Great to pencil into your weekend plans. 250 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, FL 33609.
  • D&B Family Valentine’s Day Party: Dave & Buster’s in Brandon has a special promotion for Valentine’s Day from 6PM to 9PM. A special buffet for $21.56 with appetizers, desserts, and soft drinks with an option to upgrade to a $20 power card and unlimited game play for $10 more. There will be a live DJ, games, and prizes. Tickets available on Eventbrite. 10209 Estuary Lakes Dr., Tampa, FL 33619.
  • Punk Rock Valentine – Prom Night with The Ramones: The Independent Bar and Cafe in Seminole Heights is having a special throwback party on Valentine’s Day from 8PM to Midnight. It will celebrate the looks, hairstyles and music of the 1980’s with a special concert. They will have a prom photobooth, name the prom king and queen (for the best dressed), and have spiked punch (of course!). 5016 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33603.
  • Valentine’s Day Party: Byblos Tampa on Macdill is throwing a party on Saturday, February 15th in honor of Valentine’s Day. The event will feature singer Mohanad, DJ Khalil, and Belly Dancer Gypsi. Tickets are $60 and will include cold and hot lebanese meza, soft drinks, main grill course, and a welcoming champagne toast. Reservation can be made at 727-687-2466. 2832 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, FL 33629.
  • Love’s Revenge – Haunted Trail: Head over to Plant City for a spooky haunted trail this Valentine’s Day weekend from 7PM to 11PM at Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online. 2837 South Frontage Road, Plant City, FL 33566.
  • Shuffletine’s Day: Shuffle in Tampa Heights will have a special celebration on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, from 4PM to Midnight. For $30 you can play Shuffleboard, drink a bottle of champagne, eat a heart-shaped pretzel, and enjoy a dessert. You will also be entered into a contest to win a $50 gift card. 2612 N Tampa St, Tampa, FL 33602
  • “Love Reimagined” Dining Pop-Up: Rooster & The Till and Ichicoro have joined forces for a special dining pop-up event. If you’re willing to spend, it could be a great time. Tickets start at $160. 1910 North Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33602.
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Articles Restaurant News

NEWS: New World Brewery re-opens in Tampa February 12th 2020

New World Brewery, a popular live-music spot with great craft beer and food that first opening in 1994 and closed in Ybor City a few years ago, is re-opening on February 12th, 2020 at 6PM with a new location near Sulphur Springs at 810 East Skagway Tampa, Florida 33604.

They will kick off their opening party with all-you-can-eat pizza and two drafts of beer for $35. Tickets are required to attend.

Tickets can be purchased at newworldtampa.com/store.

Here is a look at their menu via their website:

You can visit New World Brewery online at newworldtampa.com.