Restaurants and bars have always represented a significant thread in the economic tapestry of the United States. They are where we congregate with our neighbors, celebrate with our friends, unwind with our co-workers and bond with our families.
In fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The National Restaurant Association forecasted 2020 restaurant sales at $899 billion. That estimate, however, will be presumably adjusted downward as restaurants and bars across the U.S. feel the paralyzing effect of this global pandemic.
As patrons hunker down in their homes for safety, restaurants and bars scramble to change course and adjust to these sudden new conditions. No one is feeling this more than Richie Reese, owner of all four locations of The Hooley House in the Cleveland, Ohio area.
“The moment I realized we had to make some drastic business decisions was when the reports started coming out about how serious this virus was,” states Reese.
Like thousands of other restaurant and bar owners in the U.S., Reese found himself facing a crisis of increasing magnitude as the breadth and scope of the virus was poised to deliver a crippling blow to his business.
Not one to sit idly by when a crisis arises, Reese, who recently began advertising with TEGNA/WKYC, decided to pivot. Instead of panic, The Hooley House viewed this potential calamity as an opportunity to live up to brand expectations and show the communities that they serve not only food but their heart, commitment and sense of fun.
While some business owners braced for a loss of customers, Reese and company made a play to further deepen the relationship with their customers, while hopefully picking up some new ones and keeping their staff busy at the same time.
With the consultation of WKYC Account Executive, Mary Alice Dreis, Reese and The Hooley House developed the Bottoms Up campaign, which gets basic essentials that have been in short supply, such as toilet paper, paper towels and bottled water, into the hands of their customers.
The Bottoms Up campaign hit the airwaves in the greater Cleveland area beginning in March. “You (WKYC) knew we liked to have fun and you brought that to the table with the whole Bottoms Up campaign … we got a barrage of laughter when the spots hit the air.”
To further community outreach, Reese decided to honor local frontline healthcare workers risking their lives in the face of this global crisis by creating Thankful Thursdays. This recognition program allows patrons to use the restaurant’s social media to nominate a local nurse, with one being selected each week to receive a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant.
Better yet, Hooley House isn’t alone. Many restaurants, from local chains to Michelin-rated establishments are participating in similar initiatives to connect to their customers and communities struggling to make their way through uncharted territory. They are turning to innovation and fresh ideas to help weather the storm. Services like curbside pick-up and local deliveries have become the norm as restaurants look to keep environments clean and limit person-to-person interactions.
Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, when paraphrasing Charles Darwin once stated:
It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
There have rarely been moments in the history of American commerce where this statement is more fitting than in the environment in which we currently find ourselves today. As we watch American restaurants like The Hooley House adapt and adjust to a shifting environment, we are seeing the importance of brand, trust, community and the overall message of “we’re all in this together.”