Turning the Tables: Restaurants coping amid coronavirus

How Israeli restaurants have managed to reinvest during the pandemic.

Israelis wearing face masks and gloves, walk outside an open restaurant proposing take aways and deliveries  takes away on May 06, 2020 in Jerusalem. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israelis wearing face masks and gloves, walk outside an open restaurant proposing take aways and deliveries takes away on May 06, 2020 in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Lior Naim
Revisiting the Menu
“We’re five brothers, and between us we manage an event venue and a restaurant, Nina Bianca, which we opened about a year and a half ago. What really sets the restaurant apart is the kosher (dairy and fish) menu and the attention to detail in the design. When the pandemic began, we were at our peak – by which I mean full capacity (over 150 people) even in midweek – and with a team of 22-24 extensively trained and experienced staff members who knew what was expected of them and were familiar with our menu.
There were rumors going around about closing down restaurants. It was hard to believe, but in the week before it happened, we already saw fewer patrons and an increase in people calling to ask us a lot of questions and cancel bookings.
“The moment we closed, we immediately furloughed all of our staff, but not before we had gathered them together and explained the situation to them. We promised that we would restore their employment the moment we were able to do so.
We held meetings and conversations with them over Zoom throughout the lockdown period to maintain the team spirit and cohesion, and we even ran through menu ideas with them to keep them in the loop. On a personal level, I didn’t leave my house for almost two months. It hurts to see businesses with six-figure turnovers lying dormant. Nothing is more concerning to business owners than uncertainty, and at no stage has the government provided us with clear answers as to what we should expect.
“We reopened on June 1, after a week of preparation to ensure compliance with the ‘purple badge’ standards. We made a few changes to help us bring in more customers, including opening the terrace that previously hadn’t been in use and installing a cover, lighting, ceiling fans and partitions to provide a feeling of intimacy and personal security. So far, we’ve reached 50% of our pre-coronavirus turnover.
We’re working hard to set the ball rolling and to enable us to maintain our staff and the place. From a marketing perspective, we’re essentially starting from scratch. We’re investing tens of thousands of shekels in the short-term to bring back our diners, who are hesitant but want to return. At the same time, we revisited our menu and reduced prices wherever we could.”
The writer is the owner and manager of the dairy kosher restaurant Nina Bianca.
Bilu Junction, 050-5624104
Ovadia Saba
Waiting for the Skies to Open
“After the harsh winter we had here, by the end of February our restaurant was running very nicely, with a full team of 43 salaried staff. Fifty percent of our customers are tourists, and the rest are Israelis and traders and people from the Palestinian territories who appreciate our hospitality and our kitchen. When the Ministry of Health declared that restaurants had to shut down as of March 15, I thought it would be for a matter of a few days. To start with, we kept our goods in the fridge – fish, seafood and a small amount of meat, but after a week we had to give away or dispose of everything.
“As soon as we closed our doors, I furloughed the staff and met with our accountant to attempt some damage limitation. Every so often I would head to the closed restaurant to keep it clean and organized and ready for reopening. At the same time, I had to sit with suppliers, who were concerned about the financial situation. I even took out loans from the state and from the bank. I paid off almost all the outstanding payments we had, knowing that those who had disappointed us with their conduct would not see our money again in the future.
“We reopened the restaurant on May 27, 75 days after we closed. In the two and a half weeks since, we have been operating with a skeleton staff of 21-22 people, half the pre-coronavirus levels. A lot of people come to visit the renovated port area, but very few of them go into the restaurants. As the skies are still closed and there are no incoming tourists, we are at 30-40% of our pre-corona capacity.
Under normal circumstances, those kinds of numbers would mean closing the business. The port management worked with us and waived over two months of rental payments, but the situation isn’t looking good. I’m afraid that if there is a second wave, it may well deliver the knock-out blow. There’s nothing left to do except hope the virus disappears from our lives and that things return to normal, for our sake and the sake of the country.”
The writer is the founder and owner of The White Pergola. Tel Aviv Port, 053-8223230
Shlomi Lahana
Customers Expect Hygiene Safety
“The restaurant industry is slowly picking up again, with one area of focus that has unquestionably embedded itself in customers’ minds – sanitation and hygiene. Customers emerging from the crisis are hesitant, cautious and sensitive to their surroundings, and they need you to prove that you’re in control of the issue. To bring them back and retain them, you have to reach your customers – they have to see and hear you on these issues.
The customer doesn’t know that you sanitized the restaurant at the start of the day, but they do want to see hand-sanitizer stations and clean bathrooms and sinks. They also want to hear you reminding customers who are not wearing masks to put them on, and to see you and your staff maintaining the sanitary standards of the food surfaces. I recommend using your digital channels to inform them about what you’ve been up to. For example, packaging products that, before today, you had sold individually or without packaging. Remember – clients will rate you based on this aspect of their experience, so it’s worth really focusing on it.”
The writer is a business strategy consultant and lecturer in marketing at the College of Management
Eliaz Ben-Shoham

Distinction – A Recipe for Success
“Successful restaurants are those that manage to set themselves apart from their competitors, creating a stronger sense of brand loyalty among their clients. This might be reflected in the restaurant’s ambience, its approach to kashrut, its culinary style or its choice of target audience. Another way of making a restaurant distinct in the current climate is to think outside the box and make changes accordingly. The crisis has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and businesses have been able to reinvent themselves in order to make themselves more competitive. At Nina Bianca, for example, they used the enforced downtime resulting from coronavirus to renovate their terrace, provide shade and create a warm and pleasant design language that appeals to customers. Some restaurants chose to offer delivery services with specially-branded packaging or to make changes to their menus.
 There is no question that the crisis, as well as the resulting need for reinvention, will require identifying new sources of fundraising potential. So be creative, involve your managers and staff in the process, and once you have an idea – bring your banker on board with the proposed changes.”
The writer is the manager of a Bank Hapoalim branch in Mazkeret Batya.