Philadelphia restaurants began reopening with ingenuity and creativity, debuting new and reimagined spaces and adapting to guidelines that change daily. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) invited several partners to take part in a discussion offering advice on reinventing, keeping up with guest expectations, and adjusting to the “next normal.”
Panelists include Ben Fileccia, Director of Operations and Strategy with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA), Sean McGranaghan, General Manager at Chickie’s & Pete’s South Philadelphia Stadium District, Meg Gray, Director of Events at Yards Brewing Company, and Evan Chizik, Director of Restaurant Operations at Peddler’s Village.
4 KEY TAKEAWAYS ON REOPENING RESTAURANTS:
1. Manage expectations
“We’ve been engaging customers to be on our team and explaining things. It starts at the front with host stands – they know all the rules,” says Meg. “We are strict in our contract that we are following guidelines. We want our guests to feel safe.”
Signage is key, assures Evan, for patrons to see that their safety is top of mind. “Seeing, knowing and understanding what we are doing. Seeing someone wiping door handles, doors, tables. It shows up in reviews that you are taking the necessary steps.” He says it is “all about managing expectations.”
Sean proposes not just doing the bare minimum but whatever creates a safe environment and heightened level of service. “If they didn’t feel safe the first time, they won’t feel safe the second time.” Ben introduced the idea of “clean teams” he has seen in place with multiple members whose job is to sanitize, and contact trace. “Guest expectations now are a lot different than six months ago.”
2. Be creative and innovative
“Find a hole and fill it,” says Evan, “try to figure out a way to accommodate people who have a fear of dining out.” He recommends seeing what others are doing by way of example and enlist others on your team to come up with a plan. “Your hours of operation may change. You have to be ready for business at different times – it may not be the weekend. And you may need to stay open later if that helps.”
For Sean, his team also took a collaborative atmosphere and worked with vendors to get the right pricing and be creative to maximize revenue. “It’s made us sharpen our pencils a lot and go out of our way. Thinking not what you’ve always done but what you can do.” Instead of questioning patrons who arrive without masks, Chickie’s and Pete’s provides them in order to avoid that discussion and “take it one step further.”
At Yards Brewing Company, Meg adds that takeout was a new concept for them. “We started curbside beer delivery and created an e-commerce site over a weekend and built a tent in our parking lot for outdoor dining.”
3. Remember we are all in this together
“Chickie’s and Pete’s didn’t have outdoor dining and now we do. We had to engage others in the shopping center to work together to make it happen,” asserts Sean. At Yards, Meg handles events and is flexible with clients and maintains that she has even been “a therapist for many. We do whatever is necessary. With the extra engagement with clients, good things will come out of it. We’re all in this together.”
Evan advises contacting the city, municipality, and health department directly to ask, confer and get feedback. “Involve them from the beginning and they understand if you have a good plan and communication, they will be supportive. You just have to make them aware of what you’re doing.”
4. PRLA is a one-stop shop for questions and guidance
Sean, Evan and Meg cite PRLA as a real leader with essential guidance on how to navigate the changing recommendations for the industry. “Running a restaurant has always been difficult even on a good day,” says Ben. “Our team focuses on providing comprehensive, correct guidance with everything you need in daily updates via email.” Each week his organization hosts an open chat webinar with the latest local, state and federal updates.
Ben says he’s “inspired every day in Philadelphia. We’re surviving – not thriving – but we will come out of it and keep things moving forward and keep options open.” He is on a winterization task force with the City to figure out how to continue to be outside when the weather changes.
To stay informed, visit the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association’s website.
Join Yards Brewing Company, Chickie’s and Pete’s, Peddler’s Village and many more PHLCVB members who have signed the Hospitality Health Pledge and show your commitment to your customers and staff in upholding social distancing protocols and increased standards for cleanliness and safety.
Cover photo courtesy of Peddler’s Village.