How To Pivot Your Restaurant To Find Success During Covid

Esters Neighborhood Pub logo
When the global pandemic hit the US in March and our world shut down, businesses were left wondering how to survive. As restrictions have been lifted in some regions and re-enforced in others, the resiliency of the hospitality industry has proven a force to be reckoned with. Chefs, Owners, and Restaurant Operators have taken to a careful mix of creativity and industry expertise in order to find the perfect blend of ingredients for success throughout this roller-coaster crisis we’re finding ourselves in. During this week’s episode of The Tip Share, RASI Senior Client Advisor, Brian McCaig sits down with Paul Sullivan, Owner, and Robbie Hyre, Executive Chef, of Esters Neighborhood Pub, to discuss how the pandemic has affected their restaurant and how they’ve been able to stay true to their brand while pivoting their business model to remain successful.
Nested in the suburbs of Denver, CO, Esters OG (Virginia Village) opened in June 2015 and Esters OP (Oneida Park), opened in December 2018. They focus on serving their local community while offering up rotating craft beers (most of which are from Colorado) and high-quality American pub food in a variety of rooms catered to catching a game, catching up with family, or enjoying the Colorado sunshine on their expansive (heated year-round) patios.

Esters restaurant locations

Paul and his family are long-time residents of the Virginia Village neighborhood, which is where his idea of Esters came to fruition. He loved the neighborhood with its local charm tucked just outside the city but realized it didn’t have many great bars or restaurants for the families that lived there. As a former beer rep who’d sold to bars and restaurants, he’d been involved in the industry and subsequently met Robbie, now Esters’ Executive Chef. Paul pitched the idea of his restaurant vision: what he wanted it to look like, how he wanted it to feel, and how he felt the service should run, but he didn’t quite know food; Robbie however, knew exactly how to create and execute the menu that would fit Paul’s vision – and as such, the dynamic duo set off and Esters came to life, and then expanded.
The OG location in Virginia Village was running smoothly and the OP location was hitting some learning curves as every new restaurant does, and fast forward 1+ years, right around March Madness when business is typically booming; and Covid hits.


Like all restaurants (and businesses), when Covid hit every business owner had to take a deep look within their own operation to analyze where efficiencies could be improved and where changes needed to be made in order to stay afloat. The key here? Utilizing meaningful data to create actionable insights to ensure you’re making educated decisions to propel your business in the right direction. At Esters, they immediately ran into difficulties and issues with food distributors not being able to provide them with their anticipated orders on a consistent basis; The global impacts of Covid created a massive ripple effect within volatile product pricing and availability. So, for the first order of business, Paul and Robbie tackled the following:


After reviewing every angle and all of their numbers and costs, with the food being huge aspects of those costs, they knew they had to adjust and streamline the menu. For example, Esters has a sandwich that’s well-liked by their patrons, but the costs are high, the margins are low, and the labor alone that went into prepping that item was expansive – the end result? For now, that sandwich had to hit the road. When evaluating your menu to determine what changes need to made, ask yourself the following:

  • Does it make sense prep wise?
  • Are we spending a ton of Labor on this one item?
  • Are we able to get the product in-house on a consistent basis?

Take into consideration that you don’t want to be 86’ing menu items every few days because you’re having issues getting the product from the distributor; it’s a poor reflection on your brand. It’s important to leverage the relationships with your vendors to understand what’s available and what pricing you can receive right now. A major point of emphasis is to really focus on what you can do better, so even if there are fewer items for your guests to choose from, you can come up with interesting changes so your guests truly don’t notice much of a difference. Because Paul and Robbie knew their numbers and used that data to inform their decision making, they were able to put together a menu that still had some fan favorites on there but also made sense for them to power through the pandemic.


Among the many challenges that Covid brought, Robbie and Paul had to learn about their new reality where the kitchen was getting intensely busy for a few hours during the day, and then on the flip-side, sitting quite stagnant at times. They made the tough choice to pick out their best staff members in order to keep their top players around and then they considered the labor execution of the items they were cutting as well as the items they kept or changed. This is something that Esters did especially well; so well in fact that they’re now in a unique position where they improved their labor efficiency in the back of house with significantly less revenue. Robbie’s top tip on improving labor efficiencies in prep?

  • Maximize your shelf lives 
    • Write really good prep lists so that you know if you have a 3-day shelf life, you’re getting the 3 days out of it
      • Prep that item on Monday and then prep it on Thursday
    • Once you’ve got your solid prep lists, be diligent about your follow-through 


To-Go revenue became a major part of every restaurant’s business during the limited shutdowns, and it’s going to continue to remain a major facet of restaurants moving forward. Esters has learned how to execute on a high-level for takeout for one simple reason – they have no other choice. When deciding how your restaurant will offer to-go, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you provide the same feeling of hospitality for takeout, that an in-house diner would receive?
  • Are you double-checking orders to ensure it arrives at your guests accurately, in-tact, and how you intend?
  • Does your menu lend itself to delivery and do you have the packaging to protect product quality?

Robbie says it best: “We want to be proud of the product that people are getting at their homes and we want them to enjoy it as if they were dining-in.”
For Esters, that meant not offering brunch as part of their to-go menu items. Brunch food simply doesn’t travel for them and as part of quality control they made the decision to leave it in-house. By doing this Esters is protecting their brand and they’re able to proudly stand behind all of their to-go options.



Social media is massively important for restaurants and it’s something Paul has always believed in from Day 1. Staying engaged with your customers, even if they’re not able to actively come into your restaurant, is more important than ever and it’s essential to remind people that you’re part of the fabric of their community. As a restaurant, you’re trying to survive and pay your people, and you can’t forget about the fundamental aspects of the business when it comes to needing support from your community, but you have to remember it’s a two-way street.

  • Be authentic – stay true to your brand and what you represent
  • Be supportive of your community – this is a tough situation for everybody, not just restaurants
  • Stay engaged – interact with your customers and community online on a consistent basis

Learn more about how your restaurant media strategy can help you engage with customers and stay relevant.

Esters restaurant social media


FB: @estersdenver  |   IG: @estersdenver


As we mentioned earlier, delivery and to-go was not a huge part of Esters’ business plan pre-Covid, but that obviously shifted and they were able to determine how exactly to pivot their business model to support the new service. Their ultimate discovery may surprise you. Initially, Paul shifted heavily to a third-party service that they were already using, and he and Robbie took it upon themselves to learn more about the logistics that go behind it. Things like making sure your menus are accurate and making sure orders are coming in accurately; they quickly realized that once you start down that rabbit hole it was like opening a can of worms.
Esters restaurant website
After delving into the pros and cons of a third-party delivery service, Esters ended up investing deeply into their own website. They launched a new site that has many more capabilities in terms seamlessly offering to-go online; Their digital presence has expanded greatly since the launch of the new site. The team at Esters focuses strongly on directing their customers to use their website to pay online, and then they even have to-go tents set up at both restaurants where people can drive up and grab the food that they ordered through their own website, eliminating the third-party. Investing in their restaurant website has helped them not only now, but it’s setting their future up for growth and expansion in a modern and digital arena, where they have better control over their costs and the guest experience.


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