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63% of consumers would rather spend on an experience than purchase an item. This is just one of the many changing trends that altered the restaurant industry in a span of just one year. By embracing change, showing compassion to their communities, and prioritizing the safety of their staff, restaurateurs showed how pivots can give way to major innovations in 2021. Here are the qualities and strategies these restaurateurs believe played a large role in their successes: 

Becoming the Rocket Ship

Although COVID-19 has caused an overcast on the restaurant industry, inspiring stories continue to emerge from the shadows. We’ve seen this continuous resiliency of restaurateurs who found ways to maintain their team’s and customers’ safety, while simultaneously coming up with new, creative ways to stay open and attract customers. 

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These challenges inspired restaurateurs to shift the way they run their businesses. Michaela Pontiki, the Founder and CEO of Arapina Bakery, says that one of her greatest lessons in 2020 was to “embrace change”, whatever the cause might be, and handle it with understanding, compassion, and flexibility — qualities she believes have played a large role in her success. She advises breaking down situations into actionable steps, that can then be taken to make sense of your organization as a whole.

Breaking down the situation at hand will allow you to identify gaps in your business and look for alternative ways to improve. Since 63% of consumers would rather spend on an experience than purchase an item, many restaurants in 2020 pivoted towards more market-driven restaurant trends. In New York City alone, a growing list of restaurants adopted creative outdoor dining structures including igloos, yurts, and cabins to welcome their guests.


Igloo Yurt Cabin Outdoor Dining

Pictured: Left Marcus at NoHu Rooftop, Center Winter Garden at The Standard, Right The Greens at Pier 17

With new ideas comes the inevitable risk of trial and error. Responding to these errors and areas of improvement in a timely manner, therefore, is just as key as introducing the original ideas. 

Justin Giuffrida, CEO of Citizens says, “we transitioned our attitude to unrelenting optimism and began focusing on being nimble and agile with quick pivots into new opportunities (even if some of them failed, we focused on failing fast and learning). Ultimately this resulted in fundamental innovations to our business model, and new ways to engage our customer base that we never would have found without such adversity.”

David Rev Ciancio Quote Card

David “Rev” Ciancio, a hospitality marketing consultant, says the secret to success can be found in the way rocket ships head toward the moon. They may veer off course once in a while, but as long as they know where they want to land, they can make small changes and adjustments during the journey to get back on course.  

Building Your Team

59% of restaurateurs recognize that staffing is the biggest challenge they face, yet it is one of the most crucial aspects of running a restaurant. When speaking with restaurateurs, the importance of having an inspired team working towards a common goal was frequently mentioned.

Cary Mosier, Owner of Cafe Gratitude, says that focusing on hiring the right people, empowering them, and creating an inspiring environment, will create a type of company culture that will ultimately set you apart. Restaurant managers will inevitably spend a lot of time out of their busy schedules focusing on the hiring process, especially since turnover rates can be as high as 70% in the restaurant industry. 

Although training and hiring staff is no walk in the park, you can use these initial steps to make it an enjoyable and rewarding process and get the most out of hiring the right people:

  1. Take note of the company culture you have/want
  2. Have clear expectations and requirements
  3. Outline precise needs and qualifications in the job postings

Training Your Staff

Ensure you’re prepared to provide proper staff training once you’ve hired the right people by sharing the restaurant’s goals, best practices, philosophies, and safety guidelines. 

Reinforce regular employee training with ServSafe’s free course offering COVID-19 training and resources. Enact safety protocols by observing employee health, using effective safety signage, setting up hand sanitizer stations, and increasing the frequency of cleaning procedures.

Creating a Collaborative Environment

Giuffrida says that creating an open environment with no egos is one key lesson his team endeavors to build into their management culture. He says that this “allows management to be flexible to new ideas and creates an environment that talented upcoming team members thrive and feel ownership in.” 

The combination of hiring talented people and allowing them to excel in their own unique ways will not only create a welcoming environment but also a productive one. Get your team invested in the company’s goals and their own professional development by being transparent. 

Fostering transparency with your employees by admitting to failures and celebrating successes will make your staff feel more a part of your team, and motivated to achieve the overall goals of the company. 

Kari Crowe Seher, Owner of Melt Ice Creams says, “It takes a great team in order to pull off a pivot, if you are not unified in the end goal it is hard to get things accomplished!” Building your team around honesty and collaboration will prepare your staff to take on larger challenges down the road and solve problems with more ease.

The Change in Consumer Behavior

COVID-19 inevitably brought a change to consumer behavior as an effect of uncertain circumstances. What was once a reality before the pandemic was flipped on its head, altering the way consumers interact with restaurants. In a study by bluedot, it was found that more than half of Gen Z was willing to try a new restaurant if it offered curbside pickup, while overall demand for online delivery surged.

Restaurateurs had to quickly recognize this shift in behavior and adapt their businesses in order to create a safe space for their customers and keep their doors open. Giuffrida made sure to continuously meet the needs of the community by keeping the safety of their guests a top priority. 

This included building weather-proof outdoor infrastructure to allow for outdoor dining, installing perspex dividers, offering contactless pick-up, and adapting quickly to any new or altered guidelines set by the New York state. 

Ciancio also emphasizes the importance of communicating with customers. “[If you] communicate with [customers] on a regular basis, they’d be happy to order from you directly and continue to order from you. And through that communication, you’ll both increase frequency and your average order value.” 

Prioritizing your customers and serving your community’s needs creates a trust between consumer and business that’s priceless. Create an enjoyable customer journey by implementing an easy ordering system, offering discounts to regulars, and optimizing your menu with the most popular items.

Boosting Profits with Technology

Restaurant managers and operators who recognize that the hospitality industry is shifting to a more digital environment and implement technology into their own businesses will witness the rise of new opportunities. In a survey conducted by Appetize, it was found that more than 74% of Americans used their phone at least once a week to order and pay for food and merchandise.

This change in the way restaurants operate gives rise to the use of ghost kitchens, enabling “restaurants and businesses to generate additional, potentially incremental, revenue for their business”, says Ciancio. Mosier also agrees that “like it or not, it’s all going online.” 

Ghost kitchens are an effective way to keep up with delivery orders with 3rd party apps, maintain low overhead costs, and cut costs that typically go into the upkeep of a physical restaurant. Those that identify this opportunity of shifting to a delivery-only restaurant and mobile ordering will profit on the gained need of digital ordering, require less space for food output, and optimize food costs and margins.


Restaurateurs that are flexible, agile, and empathetic are more resilient to uncertain times. Recognizing gaps of growth is not a sign of failure, but rather an opportunity for improvement and change. In our new ebook, “6 Laws of a Resilient Restaurant”, we interviewed 10+ industry experts on what it takes to build a resilient restaurant. Get your free copy today and read about a fruitful future filled with innovative strategies, collaborative team members, loyal customers, and a profitable tomorrow. 

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