Bingo livestream screenshot

Canlis, a Seattle restaurant, began livestreaming bingo games earlier this year. Customers who ordered meal delivery would receive two bingo cards to play along at home.

When the pandemic arrived, restaurant owners had to swing into action in order to keep cash coming in. It wasn’t easy given the burden of lockdowns in several states that prevented in-person dining. Nevertheless, many restaurants found clever ways to continue making money and putting employees to good use.

Here are seven real-life examples of things restaurant owners did during the pandemic to keep their businesses afloat. Some may inspire you to try something similar — even if there’s no pandemic.

1. Popeye’s gave away its Netflix password
The fried chicken chain in March pushed a social media marketing campaign aimed at customers who were quarantining at home and perhaps lacked entertainment options. The first 1,000 customers to go onto Twitter and post a picture of themselves eating Popeye’s food with the hashtag #ThatPasswordFromPopeyes were eligible to receive a message from the brand containing the username and password for its Netflix account.

A cursory search for that hashtag on Twitter appears to show that the campaign was fairly successful.

2. Virtual prom with Chipotle
Chipotle hosted a virtual prom afterparty online back in May while many students were still in virtual school due to the pandemic. The brand invited students to add their names to an afterparty guest list by requesting access to a private Instagram account. The event featured 10,000 free entree giveaways, new product unveilings and a special Instagram and Snapchat lens that allowed attendees to take a photo with the host, David Dobrik (of YouTube fame).

3. Selling restaurant ‘bonds’
A Milwaukee restauranteur, Lazy Susan owner A.J. Dixon, came up with an idea early in the pandemic to help keep cash flowing by selling restaurant ‘bonds.’ These are not real bonds per se but they act similarly in that customers could buy a gift card ‘bond’ for $25 in March of this year and it would be worth $30 in June, $35 in July and then $40 in August and beyond.

4. Using PPP for self-delivery
The owners of two Texas-based chains used part of their PPP money to launch self-delivery programs (in other words, delivery without using third-party services). It’s probably safe to assume that cutting out the fees for the third-party delivery companies probably allowed the chains to keep a lot more profit from their food sales. Plus, the new delivery service gave employees something to do at a time when in-person service was almost non-existent.

5. Posting recipes of dishes
Last April, the Cowboy Chicken chain decided to start posting recipes as part of its ‘Cooking at Home with Cowboy Chicken’ initiative. The chain posted recipes on social media and encouraged customers to take photos and videos of themselves preparing the food to be shared online. Naturally, the chain asked the customers to tag Cowboy Chicken in the pictures and videos.

6. Barbecue vending machines
The two sisters behind Jones Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, Kansas set up a vending machine outside their restaurant and stocked it with their best-selling sandwiches, sides and sauces. Customers who missed the restaurant’s carry-out service between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. could stop by any time of the day or night to purchase food from the vending machine, which was refrigerated and restocked daily.

7. Pivoting to Bingo and then to … community college?
The owners of the Seattle restaurant Canlis, Mark and Brian Canlis, have pivoted a few times during the pandemic. One of the more intriguing pivots was to start a livestream bingo game for customers. The way it worked was this: customers who ordered a Canlis meal delivery, cocktail kit or community-supported agriculture (CSA) kit received a pair of bingo cards along with their order. Every Friday night, the owners would livestream a bingo game and give away prizes to the winners. Since then, the restaurant owners have pivoted once more, this time starting a Canlis community college where customers can pay tuition to enroll in a variety of classes (cooking, wine selection, Seattle art history and more) and even play intramural sports.

We’re not sure how much the degree will be worth but you’ll likely learn something about restaurant and brand marketing just by observing what the owners do next.

Want to know how a point of sale system can help with your restaurant’s marketing and promotions? Contact us today for a demonstration.