Serving Sports Fans During the Pandemic
Sports bars and restaurants can generate business whether or not the game is on.
With NASCAR’s season running, Major League Baseball now back on the field, and other sports leagues planning to restart their seasons soon, sports bar and restaurant operators are hoping to return to doing what they do best — serving customers their favorite beers, good food and a chance to watch the big game or event.
But to get back to business amid COVID-19 restrictions and consumers’ continued fears, operators are going to have to come up with innovative solutions to serve their customers.

Game On Strategy

While patrons are as excited to get back to restaurants as operators are to have them return, game days will need to look a whole lot different. For starters, the dining experience must evolve to take into consideration a variety of factors related to the coronavirus, including:

Reduced bar and restaurant capacity levels. Operators will need to check the restrictions in the states in which they operate as capacity limits vary.

  • Increasing the need for cleanliness to reduce the spread of germs, including regular disinfecting and cleaning of workspaces and equipment and of high-touch surfaces.
  • Social distancing recommendations, such as keeping tables — and people — six-feet apart.
  • Providing all staff with Personal Protection Equipment, including face coverings or masks, gloves.
  • Staff training in new safety protocols, such as how to properly wash hands and change gloves after handling food or disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
  • Changing menus for safety and consumer confidence, such as eliminating buffets, removing shareable appetizers and emphasizing branded food products consumers know and trust.
To assist with these changes, operators should consult not only the considerations for restaurants and bars set out by guidance from the CDC, but also by their state and local municipalities. It is also critical that operators remain connected to their customers to keep their brand top of mind, get them excited to return and reassure them about what is being done to keep them safe.

Once customers perceive a restaurant as being safe, operators will need to find a way to entice them back again. Below are a few suggestions:

  • Serve up special menu deals. Welcome back customers with limited time offers for unique menu items, such as a burger or BBQ pork ribs inspired by the home team, or buy-one-get-one deals.
  • Offer food-focused theme nights. Serve up dollar (hot) dogs during baseball season, Philly-style cheesesteaks for football season, or a “concessions” menu of bite-sized soft pretzels, tater tots and pulled pork sliders for just about any other season.
  • Go interactive. Design promotions based on what happens in the game, such as discounted drinks during halftime or the seventh inning stretch.
  • Present rerun parties. No game scheduled or game got cancelled? Tune TVs to reruns of epic sporting events, and offer food and drink specials just as if it were a game night.
  • Host eat, drink and donate nights. Show customers you care about their community by hosting a “food and drinks that do good” night. A special menu item, such as loaded premium beef burger paired with a signature cocktail or craft beer, is offered and for every order of it a portion of the proceeds are donated to a local charity.

Courting Concerned Customers

While the return of live sports coupled with the implementation of safety measures and enticing promotions could draw people back to restaurants, operators need to understand that the increase in crowds might also drive some people away.

According to a recent survey from market research firm The NPD Group, 67% of consumers say that going out for lunch, dinner or drinks is the activity they miss most. However, NPD advises that consumers will return to restaurants at their own pace with their own desires and expectations. All of which reiterates the need for operators to implement and effectively communicate best safety practices to concerned customers.

Going On Despite Game Delays and Cancellations

Some operators might be wondering what will happen if they reopen and then these sporting events get cancelled. In the event that sporting events are cancelled and bars and restaurants remain open, operators can still, with a little creativity, rally sports-loving customers. Here are a few suggestions for thriving through a cancelled scenario:

  • Host throwback nights. Replay classic sporting events such as the 2016 Olympics in Rio featuring Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps; or Wimbledon 2000, the year Venus Williams became the first black female champion since Althea Gibson won in 1957 and 1958.
  • Organize sport tournaments. Think contactless activities such as darts, cornhole or sports trivia.
  • Screen sports films. Align favorite films with the season of a particular sport. Show serious classics like “The Natural,” “Hoop Dreams” or “Rocky,” or comedies such as “Dodgeball,” “Talledega Nights” or “Happy Gilmore.”
Since the pandemic is continually evolving, operators should remain aware of sports association news in an effort to keep track of whether live events move forward with fans, without fans or not at all. But no matter what, with a little creativity and planning, savvy sports bar and restaurant operators are sure to make like their favorite athletes and pivot under pressure to realize a winning outcome.

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