Impact of Pandemic on SMBs: In Conversation with an Upscale Restaurant Manager


BuzzBoard is launching Categories & Conversations, a specialized sub-blog within our main blog. This new stream focuses on how specific SMB categories are being impacted by the pandemic and the many currents it has unleashed. In periodic posts, Categories & Conversations will provide insights about the behavior and needs of different SMB categories, with an emphasis on their use and needs for digital technologies. The content will come from multiple sources, including:

  • Informal conversations with SMBs in diverse categories, such as restaurants, personal services, and retail. (This will be a kind of “reality programming”.)
  • BuzzBoard’s experiences with our own partners—agencies and enterprises that provide technology and cloud-based services to SMBs. For example, we’ll report on the SMB categories currently most active in modifying their websites and adding additional digital capabilities.
  • Reports and analysis by third-parties, like the post we recently published about new research on SMB category longevity from the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge program.

We’ll be covering several aspects of the turbulent landscape for SMB categories, from their current needs, through recovery, and then longer-term as the new normal takes shape. Overall, this information and its key learnings will help our agency and enterprise partners to better identify their prospects and serve their customers more effectively. Below is my conversation with Tom, the general manager of a popular, well-established, upscale “white tablecloth” restaurant on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.

Q:How is your restaurant doing in the lockdown?

Because we acted aggressively, [in providing take-out service, and in selling food and beverage items] our revenues are down only about 60%—although that’s in a good week.

Q:Are you taking orders online?

No, we take orders by phone. We couldn’t handle the volume that would come from online ordering, since we have a reduced staff I have more control over the volume and timing of orders when I take them by phone. I don’t even get to all the phone orders. Yesterday, I only got about half the phone orders. The rest went into voicemail and we couldn’t fill them.We try to not use the delivery services. They take too large a share of the order. We want people to come and pick up their order in person. We also handle walk-up take-out in person, on a limited basis.

Q: What’s happening with your workers?

We’re now down to two chefs (normally four), a dishwasher, and no waitstaff or bartender. I take the incoming orders myself. I have no idea how much of our waitstaff we’ll get back,- assuming we get back to normal. Many of them were doing this as part-time so they could pursue other things. I think some of them will leave the [San Francisco Bay] area.

Q: How is your financial situation?

Our landlord has agreed to cut our rent by 50% for two months. We put our cleaning service and recycling service on hold; we do that work ourselves now.

Q: Do you expect to apply for a government-guaranteed emergency loan, such as the Paycheck Protection Program?

We already have. We’re currently in discussions with three different banks for loans.

Q: Do you expect to use more digital technology (e.g. for online ordering) once things return to normal?

Probably, although right now we’re not thinking about it. We’re totally focused on surviving the next few months. One of our biggest concerns for the future is the possibility that we’ll have to lower our prices, if people have less money to spend on dining out.
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