How Ready is Your Team to Pivot to Success? Lessons From the Restaurant Industry

By: Andrew T. Gardener, CFP®

The American economy is dynamic, which means that it’s always changing. Contractions follow expansions; inflation follows disinflation. We know these cycles exist, but don’t know how long they will last nor how deep they will be. Sometimes there are exigent events that affect the cycles — war, societal changes, health crises and/or external supply and demand.

The pandemic in 2020 was certainly one of those exigent events that deeply affected the American economy. Every business leader and entrepreneur had to decide how to react to these unprecedented changes. Rather than blame events out of their control, successful business leaders and entrepreneurs did what they always do: they looked for creative solutions and acted fast.

Case in point: It would be hard to imagine a worse scenario for the restaurant business than when much of the economy shut down during the Covid pandemic. People who previously frequented restaurants were either not allowed to enter or were too scared to enter their favorite restaurants. Restaurant owners faced a difficult problem: How do you operate a business that is location-specific if no one can enter your place of business?

Restaurants are not just a place to eat. They are where we relax, share stories, enjoy the company of others, watch sports and are entertained.

In a recent conversation with David Bennett, CEO of Mirus Restaurant Solutions, I learned some fascinating insights about how different elements of this industry weathered the pandemic. Dave brought up a point I hadn’t considered: that while 2020 was a devastating year for many restaurants, others had a near-record amount of success. And the difference between failure and success was the ability to adjust to the current circumstances and pivot to creative solutions.

Dave divided the restaurant biz into two main categories: low tech/low touch (fast food, fast casual and drive-thru) and table service (high touch, personal service.) The first category was naturally positioned to benefit from the pandemic. The second was not.

The table service restaurants who survived, and even thrived, were those that quickly recognized the risk and pivoted their offering and processes. They embraced technology by partnering with food delivery companies and upgrading or creating online ordering for curbside pickup and delivery.

Sports restaurants faced particular risks in this environment since so much of their revenue comes from alcohol. In those locales that loosened liquor laws, creative owners and managers embraced the change that allowed patrons to pick up or deliver alcohol with their meals. This often doubled or tripled the bill for curbside pickups and deliveries. People were now able to order a gallon of margaritas to go with their nachos, pizza and wings to watch a ball game at home.

Fast-casual restaurants, those in which you might typically order at a counter and be given a pick up number or have your meals served to your table, created “value packs” and “family meals,” so while fewer patrons may have ordered than before the pandemic, the average order size increased — sometimes substantially.

This is but one example of how successful entrepreneurs and business leaders creatively pivot to take advantage of new exigent circumstances.

It’s always time to ask yourself: Are you and your team ready to pivot?