Restaurant reservation platform Seated rolled out an advice hotline for restaurateurs. We spoke to Co-founder Bo Peabody about what the best advice for restaurants is right now.
Peabody is Co-founder of restaurant reservation platform Seated which rewards diners for reservations at top restaurants, but he is also a restaurateur. So when the Coronavirus crisis struck New York, he had to close his restaurant, Boqueria.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Peabody on the phone from New York.
“We had to lay off a lot of staff and we’ve got about 8 people still on the payroll and we’re going to keep them on the payroll as long as we can, but it was terrible.
“One of the things I’ve learned is, forget the money for just a second, hospitality people, they like to work. They like to be around people and serving and around food and drink. To take them out of that, it’s their environment, they don’t want to be at home alone. You can see their faces.
Luckily, Bo was able to rely on some good business advice when it came to closing down.
“I closed my restaurant maybe two weeks ago,” he says. “I’m an operator of a single location, we have an events business as well, but basically it’s a small business.
“Just because of my position in other parts of my life, I happen to really good access to great advice and I found that advice to be super valuable.”
“I know from being on the board of Boqueria, that other operators at scale, also have great access to good advice, but smaller operator don’t.
“Seeing as 80% of the restaurant business is made up of small operators, so I wanted to make sure that they could have access to that same advice as the bigger operators. So I spoke to CohnReznick and I talked to Golenbock and they said “absolutely, we’re in”. I knew I needed accounting and legal, but the conversations I had with them were about 30 seconds long, they were all in.”
So the hotline gives free legal and accounting advice to restauranteurs during the Cornaovirus but will be a resource as much in the recovery when restaurants are reopening as in the dar days of coronavirus.
“We [Seated} offer our partner restaurants, which is about 1500 across the city, a one-hour phone consultation and that, we pay for, but the question submission which is free to every restaurateur in America, we’ve had some involvement from Canada and answered questions from the UK believe it or not, that is donated time from CohnReznick and Golenbock.”
Despite the dark times and the desperation of the millions of hospitality workers right now, Peabody, says that restaurateurs must look beyond the crisis. But first, they have some cold, hard decisions to make right now.
“If you can do a real takeout or delivery business then that’s fine but be very analytical about whether that’s going to be profitable for you or just going to dig the hole deeper. If it’s going to dig the hole deeper then don’t do it,” he says.
“The bill that’s been passed, by the House is going to have a lot of relief for workers, It will have some relief for businesses but more for workers, So take advantage of that. Take advantage of that, get your employees the best possible assistance they can and just hunker down and start to plan for the reopening.”
Peabody sees the relationship between restaurant and landlord as the vector for the most change when things all get back to normal, he explains.
“What we’d started to see in New York, even prior to the crisis, was that landlords were thinking differently about the rents they charge restaurants. Restaurants are occupying ground floor spaces of bigger buildings which allow the owner to think of the restaurant as an asset that impacts and strengthens the rest of the building.
“When planning for your reopening, talk to your landlord. Tell them it’s going to hard and take the opportunity to develop a different relationship with your landlord, because if you can do that, then your business is going to be fundamentally stronger when all this gets back to normal.
“A restaurant has three fixed costs. It has labour, it has food and it has rent. You’re not going to change the price or food or labour, but you can fundamentally alter the price of your lease and that’s what you need to focus on right now. Landlords are going to be open to having these conversations right now so use that window.”