The impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry has been severe. Unfortunately, many states have experienced a roller coaster with constantly changing restrictions and shutdowns, and restaurants have been forced to change the way they’ve always done business. Many sought survival through curbside and delivery orders instead of dine-in services.
Old Thousand, a neighborhood Chinese-inspired restaurant located in Austin, TX, fully embraced the pivot to delivery and to-go and capitalized on this new era of dining. Fortunately, serving Chinese food, they already had the structure in place to dive headfirst into to-go. Before the pandemic, Old Thousand typically received about 15%-20% of their weekly sales through to-go orders; once restrictions hit, they were able to transition their structure to pivot almost immediately into 100% to-go. Learn how Brett Bettin, GM of Old Thousand, has adapted his restaurant to curbside and delivery and how the concept has changed since Coronavirus started nearly a year ago.
How restaurants are pivoting from indoor dining to to-go & curbside delivery
In the past two months, like most restaurants across the nation, Old Thousand has opened its original location’s dining room at a hugely restricted capacity. Brett and his team can currently seat about 25% capacity. While it may seem dismal, Brett has taken the positives from each experience that COVID has placed upon his restaurant; the positive here? Diners are eager to get out of their homes and enjoy dining experiences again, even if it’s limited. They want to fill seats and support locally in whatever means they can, making the future bright.
As restaurants have continued to find ways to accommodate guests safely indoors, they’ve also pivoted their business models to find growth in other ways. Old Thousand had plans in motion for a second location prior to the pandemic, signing into a lease around the new year in 2020. Brett expected to have time to build out the restaurant to open in early spring, and as we all know, that’s when our world took a sharp turn. Investors pulled out, and Old Thousand had to sit on the space. For some, that would sink a ship, but not for Brett.
As a proactive operator, Brett would not shake. He and his team began to prove that operating, even at limited capacity and shifting to heavily rely on takeout services, they were still a viable, functional restaurant. They were able to keep their staff and pay their bills. As investors saw this shift, they returned and were willing to help get the second location up and running as a to-go-only restaurant.
How Old Thousand created curiosity surrounding their newly opened location during the pandemic
One of Old Thousand’s first actions for their second location was to create signage showing that they had arrived in the neighborhood. They started to spark interest with the signage that took creativity to a new level; Instead of popping up any old “coming soon” notation, they instead took a more significant, more in-your-face route; and it worked. The second location’s sign is unique, reading “Dope Chinese” in neon lights atop the building, which Brett believes led to a copious amount of initial curiosity. Patrons would drive by inquiring about the sign. With the additional help of a press release announcing that Old Thousand was opening a second location in a new area, excitement about the restaurant started to stir amongst the locals.
In addition to creative signage creating a buzz, Old Thousand ran a soft-opening with three days of influencers and media. Friends and family joined, and as with any soft-opening, they utilized that time to verify that they had the systems in place necessary to run their operation as intended. Mixing traditional advertising methods with the creativity and spunk to stand out amongst a crowd helped them to officially open their doors on October 4th, and this Dope Chinese hot-spot has been a revenue-generating machine ever since.
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The future of restaurants has changed
Brett wholeheartedly believes that the future of dining has changed. He acknowledges that the majority of Chef-driven restaurants and dining experiences or restaurants with costly indoor dining in beautiful spaces may dwindle due to the shift of dining and consumer habits. People have been dining in their homes throughout the past year, getting used to takeout rhythms, and planning food that they can bring home. Brett thinks that those habits, as established, will be harder to shift back to what it was before. That said, Brett still believes that people are hungry to get out and experience eat-in dining rooms again. It may be more casual, and both restaurants and patrons will continue to adjust to the new realities of life after this pandemic.
As far as the restaurant industry being in trouble for the long haul? Not a chance. Brett quotes, “as long as the industry remains as creative and flexible as it has proven that it can be, then it will have a great future of serving exciting food that people want to try. People need food, they love food, and there are many things that restaurants provide people that are a necessity that the pandemic can’t ever change.”
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