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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Swedek

Restaurant Reopenings: Pay-in-Advance Reservations, Appeal of Exclusivity

Right now, your favorite restaurant in struggling to stay afloat. The sad reality is that more than 15 million restaurant workers are now unemployed and the government’s PPP program is killing our beloved independent and neighborhood f&b venues.

Results from a recent survey conducted by The James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition found that 80% of independent restaurant owners don’t believe the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program has any remote chance in saving them.

Wm. Mulherin's Sons, Philadelphia

As patrons, it’s our responsibility to support our neighborhood bars, restaurants and coffee shops. They bring us joy. They bring us comfort. We must show love through ordering take-out, buying gift cards, donating to Funds.

I’d also like to show support by looking at a strategy for the future. With so much uncertainty, it’s important to inspire some hope in the future. Here are my predictions for a recovering industry:

  • (Continue to) Leverage Digital Creatively

  • Be Transparent

  • Implement Pay-in-Advance Reservations & Prix Fixe Menus

  • Bank on the Appeal of Exclusivity


During this time, restaurants need to get creative with digital marketing. Get your cocktail expert involved and offer cocktail making classes on Instagram Live. Turn the camera on Chef to share a recipe for a weekly special and offer pre-orders of the ingredients for customers to follow along. Run campaigns for gift cards. Don’t go Black.

Re-Opening Slowly, Safely

Depending on your State, restrictions will require you to cut how many patrons you can hold per square footage. Upon re-opening, this can hurt a lot of restaurants. The health and safety of your employees and customers should come first, however. Be transparent about actions you’re implementing. Restaurateurs are looking into UV Light cleaning methods, introducing copper counter-tops, engaging in new conversations with commercial cleaning service providers. Start those conversations now.

Reservations / Prix Fixe Menus

Upon re-opening, accept reservations ONLY. Afraid of no-shows? Have them pay in advance.

Even before the COVID 19 crisis, restaurants were struggling with tight margins, staffing issues, outdated technology.

There’s one Seattle restaurant that has been implementing a pay-in-advance method and banking on technology for a while. Chef Eric Rivera changed the game with his Seattle tech-savvy restaurant Addo. Everything from ordering kitchen supplies through Instacart, targeted social media ads, reservations, is done online.

I found out about Addo in a 2019 Wired article last November:

“….and for most meals customers must reserve – and often pay – in advance, essentially buying tickets through a service called Tock that’s mostly used only by high-end restaurants. This means no host manning a podium, no reservation or PR teams, no extra staff on a slow night, almost no food waste, and better guest communications. It also allowed them to go from 20 employees to four full-time and three part-time workers.”

Today, Addo is seamlessly implementing take-out, delivery and a plethora of 'at home experiences,' including 'Spa Day' packages where customers can pre-order for pick-up or delivery. This comes with non- food items and a video playlist to relax to. Addo is also getting creative with curated wine club orders to make the boozey bucks, as well.

While we want to bring all of our staff back as soon as possible, it’s just not realistic. Leverage technology when reopening to the public. There are tons of free solutions out there. Work with your margins, create weekly prix fixe menus, offer your customers a unique and safe experience.

The Appeal of Exclusivity

Whenever someone says "it's impossible to get a reservation there," you immediately want one. In 2018, the brilliant Oobah Butler created a restaurant which became the number 1 restaurant in London on TripAdvisor. However, the reviews were fake and the restaurant didn't even exist. Oobah got dozens of calls a day from people looking for a reservation. How did this happen? He banked on the appeal of exclusivity. It's a great story. Watch below.

Dining out is no longer the norm. Even once we’re able to patronize restaurants and bars again, people will be going out MUCH less than before. The positive? They’ll spend more. Dining out will once again become a special and exclusive experience instead of the everyday norm. I cannot emphasize this enough: have patrons pay ahead. They’ll be hungry for an exclusive experience. I promise.

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