August is over and with it, the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Eat Out to Help Out, which, throughout August, allowed customers to access discounts of up to £10 off their bill for a sit-down meal in a restaurant, Monday to Wednesday, has helped many restaurants get back on their feet after a truly difficult Spring.
Now, with Winter looming which is likely to be even more difficult, many food businesses are struggling to find a way to stay upright.
It will be tough. To survive, businesses will have to find a way to adapt to an extremely volatile marketplace.
Which means that it is more important than ever for food business owners to know their customers.
Because those customers know what they want.
The last six months have seen a full lockdown imposed - which kept many at home, craving three course meals at their favourite restaurant - followed by a summer over which customers were slowly encouraged back out and, eventually, in through the doors of eateries.
Food businesses have already had to be quick on their feet, adapting to ever-changing circumstances. We've seen pubs introduce takeaway pints, restaurants branch out into faster-food options and, more recently, businesses try to tailor their premises to meet social distancing requirements. All to entice customers in and to keep them feeling comfortable.
As Autumn moves into Winter, we will likely see the industry shift and strain to meet whole new sets of requirements - and those food businesses who are the fastest to adapt will cash in on their advantage.
To be the fastest, you'll also need to be the most receptive to new ideas, to be sensitive to the ever-so-slight fluctuations in the tastes of your regular audience and to know if the type of people coming in through your doors is changing.
That might mean realising your customers now tend to be younger, rather than older: after all, young people have been told from the beginning of the pandemic that COVID-19 poses lower risk to them - making their decision to leave the house a little less frightening. As a result, you may just find that your pub, bar or restaurant has been discovered, over the past month in particular, by discount-hunting under-40s.
Or it might mean recognising that your customer base still tends to be people who, more concerned about COVID, need to be made to feel more comfortable with more visible health and safety measures.
Knowing who is buying your food, and how to please them, is the first step towards keeping your current customers coming back.
What's more, while taking the risk of buying in ingredients for a dish which might turn out to be unpopular is not a choice which many food businesses will want to take lightly under current circumstances, knowing what is bound to sound attractive to your customers may just open up the door for the kind of experimentation which never fails to entice newbies.
Get to know your customer base and you'll be sure to reap the rewards.
How Do You Get To Know Your Customers?
Easy: ask your staff.
Now is not the time for running your business from the stock room - simply ordering in whatever your customers have lapped up last.
During these difficult times, you'll want to get a better idea of what your customers like - to get ahead of the curve, and to find out what they'll want before they want it.
Your staff may just hold the answers.
Your staff, whether they're waiting on customers, chatting over the tills or in the kitchen preparing or clearing up after meals, come into contact with your customers on a daily basis.
Your staff are the ones who will have the opportunity to talk to the people who come through your doors, and to get an idea of what has drawn them in - and what further menu-offerings might draw in others like them.
Your staff have never been more valuable than at the present time, not only for delivering a quality service and a great dining experience but also to relay the general mood and atmosphere of guests. It is they who have the greatest opportunity to gauge how comfortable customers are feeling - noticing, for instance, if they seem to be looking for missing-sanitiser-stations or yearning for tables as far away from others as possible. No one has closer contact with diners than your waiting staff, so listen to what they have to say.
Your staff may just be quicker to spot the ways in which your restaurant could run that bit more smoothly in the present climate - offering insights on anything from layout (how easy it is to move around the room while following corona-restrictions) to how kitchen appliances have been handling their loads.
Your staff may well have a wealth of knowledge about your customer base just waiting to be put to use.
So, talk to them. With their insight, and your business expertise, you'll be sparking off commerce-generating ideas in no time.
Put Ideas Into Action
Seize the moment to invest in your business - to get it growing again.
If you're looking to make your customers feel safer, now is certainly the time to sort out those sanitising stations.
If you're looking to cater to your customers' cravings for new tastes by expanding your menu - now is the time to introduce yourself to a few new appliances, consider branching out to deliver a small takeaway menu and maybe seek out a new local supplier that can get you the freshest seasonal ingredients.
If you're looking to create a new section to your menu or just cut down on your food wastage - there is no time like the present to expand your catering fridge and freezer capability so that you can pre-freeze pre-prepared meals or keep more of your stock fresher for longer.
One place to start may just be our blast chiller buying guide. Blast chillers not only offer superior food safety pulling down temperatures of cooked foods quickly through the food danger zone but they're also a great way to safely preserve and store any leftover dishes until the next service that would otherwise find their way to the bin. Alternatively consider a versatile refrigerated drawer with blast chiller functionality designed to give the perfect combination of food safety and storage.
Whatever you do, now is the time to rediscover the joy of running your restaurant, cafe, pub, bar or bistro and with a little input from staff and making sure you have the right commercial refrigeration in place you'll be able to draw in the customers and keep them coming back during the new season.