As concerns about COVID-19 continue to reshape life as we know it, many of you as truckstop and travel plaza owners and operators are facing local or state regulations requiring you to shut down full-service restaurants or dining rooms for your quick-service offerings. That means that you must adapt so you can continue to serve your customers and generate revenue.
Let me start by saying, tough times call for tough people to survive, and I am certain that you are tough or else you would not be in the travel center business. You are also innovative and creative and provide crucial goods and services to your communities. Truckstops have been designated as essential businesses by The United States Department of Homeland Security.
I’ve compiled several ideas for ways you can adapt your typical offerings to meet the changing needs of customers and your communities.
(Please be sure to also check our COVID-19 news and resources page at www.natso.com/covid19. We will update this page frequently each day.)
We have received several comments from trucking companies that their drivers are having difficulty accessing QSR’s where the dining rooms are closed. Obviously professional drivers can’t pull a Class 8 truck through a drive through, and most locations have policies not to serve pedestrian traffic thru the drive thru window as cars in close proximity to pedestrians is hazardous!
To ensure professional drivers can still order and get meals, I would suggest providing direction on how to place telephone or online orders on every bit of outdoor and digital communication you have available, such as your menu, digital boards, Snap Locks, Facebook, Google, website, pump toppers, billboards, etc. I suggest encouraging drivers to call you on the phone to place their order and then walking the order to the door or to the truck.
You may need to also provide paper menus for them to look at so they know what they want to order.
If your dining room has been ordered shut down, how do you continue to provide meals to your customers? First, for walk-in customers identify a “Order Here” location for you to process the order into the kitchen. The importance of proper signage cannot be emphasized enough. Something as simple as “Meals-to-Go Order Here” can provide guidance to customers and ease frustration.
Posting your hours is another good idea. You should also consider creating disposable paper menus for their use.
I would also encourage you to take a page from QSR’s and repeat the order back to your customers to eliminate any errors or omissions and ensure customers receive exactly what they order, which leads to happy customers. Another good practice would be to let them know what their wait time is likely going to be.
Taking advantage of carry-out opportunities will take some advertising and marketing, and you have several options.
Let’s start with any digital advertising that you have available. This includes your app, reader boards, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or good old e-mail. No matter what you use, you must get the message out into your community that you have meals to go available.
You also have to think about how you are going to take the order. If it is by phone, do you have a dedicated line, roll over for more than one call at a time, payment processing, ways to capture contact information, etc. I would encourage you to consider either processing the order directly into your POS or producing an order sheet for your staff to utilize. Don’t forget the simple things, such as do your need condiments, table service, napkins, etc., as they will likely take the food for home consumption and there is no sense in throwing things into the sack that will likely be thrown away. A careful review will help streamline this process.
Let’s talk about your menu. You may want to consider family-style offerings for two, six or eight people. Make it a simple process to offer, say, fried chicken with potatoes, gravy and coleslaw. Perhaps another option would be a chef’s salad for two or four people with their choice of proteins to top it off with in to go containers. If you can market these offerings with pictures posted to your website or social media, it should help them sell!
Curbside delivery has become a popular offering. You can make this easy for customers by letting them know just to call you when they arrive and you will bring out the food. The difficult part is processing payments curbside, so if you have a portable processing ability it would work here or simply ask for payment when taking the delivery. Extra time for manual processing will slow you down.
There are several options for delivering meals. You could either tap into companies providing delivery services or create your own delivery program.
There are companies such as Door Dash, Uber Eats and Grub Hub that are likely operating in your community already. The chart below gives you an idea of who might have a stronger market share in your area. Partnering with one of these companies requires that you spend some time and few dollars to sign up.
Another opportunity would be to have one of your staff deliver for you. In doing so, one must take insurance into consideration and encourage you to have them deliver with a company vehicle. There should be some training involved but a few thoughts would be to have the customer pre-pay to limit the time spent at the door and also offer some simple training, such as never go inside someone’s residence, carry some pepper spray for animals, etc.
Data provided from Second Measure.com
One of your biggest challenges could likely be how to let consumers know you are open for business. You could do this in several ways. Don’t be shy about posting on social media and encouraging others to share your posts to spread the word in the community.
I would encourage you to reach out to your local news source and encourage them to help the local restaurant community in your area by publishing or posting the names of the restaurants that are open, the hours of operation and a phone number and or website. When making your pitch, you could remind them that you are doing your best to keep your staff employed and these employees need to continue to have an income. Also let them know that you are trying to serve not only the needs of the community but also the critical needs the transportation industry. If you advertise with the news source, you can present another element for them to consider.
One must put extraordinary sanitation measures in place such as offering hand sanitizer, ensuring proper hand washing, disinfecting surfaces frequently, offering masks to employees, wearing gloves that are changed frequently, etc. Showing your staff that you are engaged in their well-being is paramount right now!
NATSO is here and committed to assisting you through these “tough” times and please reach out to us to ask questions, share information or simply to let us know how you are doing. Through the work of NATSO and our relationships with other industry associations, such as the American Trucking Association, we are continuing to represent you in Washington, D.C., during these unprecedented times to ensure you’re able to continue serving the traveling public, your community and your employees.
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