How is the Shared Kitchen Industry Pivoting to Cope with COVID-19?

The closure of farmer’s markets is badly affecting tenants, especially producers like bakers who rely on this source of revenue. Many also report that event caterers and food trucks have been hit due to mass cancellations of events and restrictions on mass gatherings. 

Other operators tell us that having lost many clients to the pandemic, they are also unable to give tours to new clients due to social distancing measures and concerns over keeping staff safe. 

Despite these huge challenges, there are also plenty of stories from our network that can be a source of hope and inspiration for those struggling. One shared kitchen owner said that most of their clients changed location and customer base and are thriving as a result: “My distillery is producing and packaging hand sanitizer at a volume of 6000 gallons per day. Some of our food trucks have helped with distribution. People and businesses there to buy one item are buying both.” 

Another operator said, “This is tough, no doubt, but there are opportunities out there and we are determined to weather the storm. We have a caterer who is supplying lunches to a daycare that has remained open for first responders and some bakers with wholesale accounts are doing ok as folks are buying up treats to munch on while they shelter.” 

We hope these stories of triumph over adversity will inspire you to take action and do your best to take positives from the situation. The key takeaway is you must adapt to survive. 

How Hard Have Shared Kitchens Been Hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Undoubtedly shared kitchens have been badly hit nationwide, along with the food industry as a whole. In the worst cases, shared kitchen operators are reporting that they have lost all their tenants and are facing closure, while others have already managed to pivot to try and make the best of the situation. Many others are hanging on and surviving, but worrying about the longer-term consequences and the economic fallout.

To that end, we’ve been racking our brains to think of ways we can help. We’ve been populating a growing and evolving post with resources and crowdsourced ideas to help you cope with the consequences of social distancing and the on-going pandemic. 

We are also conducting a survey of our extensive network of shared, community and commissary kitchen owners asking how they are coping with COVID-19 – how the situation has affected their tenants’ operations, what they are doing to try and make the best of the situation, and what resources would be most useful to them. 

The results collected to date have informed this post, which we hope will act as a source of inspiration and encouragement to many of you, offering ideas for surviving and perhaps even thriving during this difficult and uncertain time. In order that you come out the other side intact and stronger than ever. 

At this difficult time, many shared kitchen operators are looking for opportunities to pivot in order to support their tenants, help those most in need, or simply stay in business. In such uncertain times though, it’s not always obvious what to do to be of the most use. The tendency is to shut down and wallow in fear and doubt. But this urge must be overcome. 

Out of tough times comes innovation. This is when heroes show their true colors. What is needed right now is positive action. 

What Are Shared Kitchen Operators and Their Tenants Doing to Pivot?

The way to make the best of this tough situation is to look at the opportunities to help people. Think about what people need right now, and how you can use the facilities you have to supply the unique demands of the current situation. This past post about how to deal with seasonality in your kitchen may have some additional opportunites.

Below is a more in-depth look at how shared kitchen operators and their tenants can pivot to find success or at least help others in this period of uncertainty.

Take Care of the Basics

The first thing many businesses are doing is tightening the purse strings and cutting any unnecessary costs. The importance of supporting your tenants also can’t be stressed enough. Even if it’s in small ways this can make all the difference, from checking in with a phone call to hosting a webinar on a relevant topic, to pointing them in the direction of online resources. Many businesses are looking for guidance applying for emergency and payroll loans. Connect them with experts in your community to support these efforts. A little encouragement and understanding can go a long way at times of crisis. As one of our survey respondents put it, highlighting the importance of human contact that we’re all craving: “A significant other/snuggle buddy would be nice.”

Another fundamental aspect to take care of upfront is to implement strict cleaning and sanitization measures. Send out a message to your tenants and members of the public assuring them that you are taking hygiene especially seriously.  Extra measures like regular deep-cleaning, wiping down door handles and light switches daily and offering sanitizer and personal protective equipment to staff and tenants all help to assuage fears.

So once you’ve trimmed down the outgoings and made sure your tenants feel supported, what can be done in a more proactive and positive way?

Transition to a Delivery Model

As shared kitchens and their tenants try to pivot to provide new services like food delivery or quickly providing meals to those in need, they are increasingly realizing the utility and effectiveness of technology. One consequence of this pandemic may be that it accelerates the adoption of new technologies that help shared kitchens run and more efficiently and reach more people in need of their services. 

As one member of the community says, “Even before COVID-19, I had been strongly encouraging ALL businesses to develop a segment of their business that is on-line ordering with a delivery or grab-n-go pick-up. Those that had an online order system set in place have been able to adapt quickly to our temporary, new normal.”

Of those shared kitchen operators doing the best to help their tenants, many are helping them pivot into offering delivery to house-bound customers. There has definitely been a spike in demand for prepared meals that customers can collect with minimal contact, or order for delivery.

Another key area where convenient, nutritious meals are desperately needed is at hospitals and healthcare facilities. Many operators are looking for opportunities to partner with local hospitals to provide meals to the heroes working on the frontlines to save lives and help the most vulnerable. Frontline Foods provides healthy meals for healthcare workers from local kitchens. 

For more on how to start a delivery-only virtual kitchen, check out our guide.

A common theme we’ve seen is that those who had already incorporated tech platforms – like delivery partners, online sales platforms, and meal prep subscription providers – into their operations are ahead of the game, while those scrambling to implement these solutions now are being left behind.

Turn Your Kitchen into a Grocery Store for Pick-up or Delivery

Stats show that grocery and alcohol sales are up during COVID-19. As shops and restaurants have closed, people have turned to online grocery delivery and let’s face it, many of us have been attempting to drown our sorrows. 

This is another area where technology has been invaluable in connecting producers with demand, ie. consumers who are stuck at home and getting tired of home-cooked meals. Can you turn your kitchen into a curbside pick-up hub or use tenants with food trucks and other vehicles to help with deliveries? Remember the importance of providing options for contactless delivery and pick-up.

Look for online farmer’s markets in your area that your clients can leverage to sell products. One of our survey respondents highlights Kitsap Fresh and Fresh Food Revolution. These online farmer’s markets have helped their tenants actually increase sales during the pandemic as customers turn to online shopping while they are confined at home.

Feed At-risk Populations

One of the most heart-warming aspects of this situation has been seeing communities come together with many people, despite being in a crisis situation themselves, looking to help others in whatever way they can.

Shared kitchens can play a vital role in producing and distributing food to those who need it most in times of disaster. With restaurants, institutional kitchens, and other catering facilities finding themselves with excess food they are unable to sell, shared kitchens finding themselves with unused kitchens, and restaurant staff out of work, there is an opportunity to bring these factors together to do some good. 

To help you figure out what you can do, we’ve partnered with Galley to produce a Disaster Relief And Commissary Kitchens Playbook, a comprehensive guide which walks you through the key steps and offers practical advice and strategies on how to use your space to create a food distribution center to help those in need. Here’s a summary of the key steps:

  • Prepare your kitchen space
  • Create calls for funding
  • Source food donations
  • Find experienced workers and volunteers
  • Plan recipes that maximize donations
  • Produce and package food
  • Partner with organizations that can distribute

We urge you to read through and consider helping others as a way to pivot. And make sure you head to The Kitchen Door and make your efforts known so that displaced food service workers can find you!

Offer Online Cooking Classes and Demos

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people are cooking more at home and in need of entertainment, which highlights an opportunity for tenants to utilize their expertise and empty kitchen space to offer online cooking classes. Not only can this help people make the most of being stuck indoors, but it can also drive sales of groceries, drive traffic to your website and social channels and improve awareness of your kitchen in the community.

There’s also an opportunity here for you to offer more value to your tenants. Consider giving ServSafe classes on Zoom or producing video guides on how to overcome the obstacles posed by COVID-19.

Stay Positive and Take Action

This is a time when your decisions make a huge impact. One of the most important aspects of coping with a crisis is to keep a cool head so that you can make the right decisions. Then you can be strategic, plan well and take positive action.

We’d love to hear from the community about your struggles, how you are overcoming them, and your stories of triumph over adversity. And check out our list of crowdsourced ideas and resources for a handy guide to get you through these tough times.

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