10 Tips To Mitigating Construction Impacts
QUESTION From: Kaila in SD
"Good evening! Any restaurant owners deal with insane construction in front of your place? We will have extreme construction that started today thru August, right in front of [our] Bistro 😩 Summer is already a slow time for us so topping it off with lane closures will be no bueno! Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated!!"
The quick, easy and popular answer to this question is to spend your down time on re-programming staff and deep cleaning the facility. While re-training and capital improvements are a good use of your time, there’s no reason why these things can’t generally occur simultaneously with the running of day-to-day operations or after hours. In fact, if they can’t you’re probably understaffed and/or undercapitalized.
But it’s your dollar every day on the line and if you want to see a return on that dollar you need to get a little creative and see the opportunities through these obstacles.
Not knowing whether you Lease or Own the building, I have a few ideas to address both scenarios:
1. If you Lease, check your Lease as this is not an uncommon occurrence and, If the broker representing you was experienced, they likely wrote in provisions to protect you in the event of your business being interrupted by visual or physical obstructions that occur through no fault of your own.
2. If you own the building or have no such protections written into your Lease Agreement, consider speaking with the team doing the construction directly. Oftentimes an owner can negotiate the placement of signage on scaffolding or sidewalk closures that don’t interfere with workers or the public's ability to navigate around these structures.
For example, lots of balloons and a vinyl sign that reads “WE’RE STILL OPEN. COME AROUND THE BACK” or "WE'RE STILL OPEN. PLEASE USE SIDE DOOR" can answer a lot of questions for any potential guests passing by.
3. If you haven’t already read the Developing A Catering Program post, now might be the perfect time to do so.
Boxed lunch drop offs and walking the local market to promote your restaurant and it’s catering services is probably the most productive use of your (and your staff’s) time when egress or ingress is significantly impeded for a limited period of time (the City should be able to provide an idea of how long the project blocking or obscuring your business should take).
4. If you have little to no control over the situation and expect the inconvenience to last more than a couple of weeks, you might also want to consider: signage, social media posts, web page banners and even postcard mailers throughout the surrounding area that read something like:
“Let us bring our incredible food to you: Daily Grill & Bar Announces: DELIVERY DURING CONSTRUCTION! We would like to apologize for any inconvenience the recent construction may be causing you. Please accept this 20% coupon good for your first delivery order.”
5. Don’t have a delivery system in place? Don’t worry - there are plenty of services out there that will do it for you - albeit for a significant cost but if it’s “during construction only”, it’s a limited time expense that you can write off as marketing or R&D. Who knows, you may just discover an ancillary market for your business that justifies some restructuring an investment in your own delivery program. (Check out these folks in South Dakota: Food Dudes)
6. Work around it. I had a client whose main egress was shut down for an entire summer. Although some suggested he take a long vacation, we decided to build (with the city’s permission of course) a “dock” & foot bridge that went from a neighboring street to a new side door. Total cost was almost $9k (including the cost to turn a window into a set of glass french doors) but the cost was covered and people still talk about how much they miss “the dock” which was strung with lights and little chalkboard signs that detailed the daily specials along the way.
7. Outside seating is another way to “advertise“ The fact that you are still open. If it’s the summertime, tall flower-box dividers on wheels, candles, strung lights, potted trees and outdoor fans and/or misters (heat umbrellas, chimneas and evergreens in winter) can provide an affordable & attractive buffer to the construction - provided you have the space.
8. Partner-Up: Try visiting a local business incubators, schools, churches, charities or even the local SBA and let them know that due to the slow down in business, you have plenty of space available to host a fundraiser, networking event, orientation or speaker series. They’ll likely expect a little more incentive than sufficient space so you should offer to offer a discount commensurate with your ability as well as a gift card for them to raffle off.
9. Lots of big box stores like Walmart - and mainstream supermarkets like HyVee and Wegmans are creating partnerships with meal kit companies (e.g., Walmart & Blue Apron). Contact a local private label company or strategist in your area to inquire about packaging design & costs then speak to a local Co-Op or smaller market that has not yet capitalized on this trend. After all, when a situation like this occurs - sales are sales...who cares they're coming from your seats or supermarket aisles?
10. Looking like the obstacle is in an immovable one that’s going to last six months or more? Consider subletting the space out as a private commissary/test kitchen to a local catering facility, growing restaurant group or aspiring restaurant owning entrepreneurs (check your local SBA or Chamber of Commerce for leads).
If you lease the building, consider approaching your Landlord with a mutually beneficial deal such as: offering you an unused restaurant space nearby with the understanding that you will continue to pay your existing Lease (with some modest abatement) in exchange for 5 to 8% percentage rent on the borrowed/temp location. Any sales done in this location only highlight the availability of the available space property to prospective tenants and display its value as a working restaurant. If this scenario isn't possible or appealing - try asking your Landlord for ideas. You might be surprised to learn they they don't are willing to help since your suffering doesn't benefit them - especially if it results in your needing to close up shop. (A Lease is an Agreement that can always be re-negotiated if both parties are willing).
One additional suggestion:
Consider using a heavily compromised location with an inflexible Landlord as your own commissary to provide a limited menu and deli table/steam table for a thriving local business that doesn’t have one of their own and would see an increase of sales if they did. (i.e., one of the many local breweries, department store, swim club, park/landmark or museum (the local butterfly house is a great example of a local amenity in our area that would benefit greatly by keeping children/families there over the lunch hour). While negotiating an agreement like this can be time-consuming, it can be well worth your while if the business is interested in testing out the value that an F&B component might bring.… and you might, inadvertently, discover a great additional outlet/location or strategic alliance.
Hope you find one of these ideas worth exploring,