In this series, we learn from small businesses across the country how they are adapting in the world of COVID-19.
BJ’s Restaurant & Bar in Mingus, TX got creative in the face of the coronavirus crisis - they turned their parking lot into a mobile drive-in theater every Friday and Saturday night.
What is the first thing you did when you realized this situation was about to affect your business or daily life?
We started brainstorming. As a couple, and as business owners the unknown and constantly changing situation definitely made us stop and say “we need to do something, what can we do?” We started thinking and bouncing ideas off of each other.
What made you think of the idea of turning your restaurant parking lot into a drive-in movie theater?
Brainstorming on the way home from our spring break with our kids, we tried to think of ways to not only boost our business, but what we would do if we couldn’t open our business at all. Our restaurant is in a small Texas community of about 200 people. Everyone is like family. We tried to think about how we could help our community, and then it clicked. People are going to want to get out of their house, they’re going to need a break from being stuck inside. A drive-in movie theater was perfect. You were safe, contained in your car, but there was some sort of socialization. A glimpse of interaction.
Do you think you will continue to show movies past COVID-19?
We would like to. Our parking lot is small, so the logistics of serving our dine-in customers and maintaining spacing for movie parking will be our challenge.
How are you taking care of and keeping your customers engaged?
Social media is our biggest avenue of keeping in touch with our customers. To pick the movies being shown, we typically put out a poll at the beginning of the week and let everyone vote!
Being in a small community, you really get to know everyone. You learn about their life and their families and that’s probably the thing we miss the most. We get a few minutes to chat at their car windows when we are delivering food and we are looking forward to opening back up our doors completely.
How are you taking care of your employees?
We had a staff meeting early on and expressed our desire to keep everyone working as long as we were able to. We are grateful for employees, they work hard for us. Once you have a good team, who work well together, you want to keep that for as long as you can. We did have to reduce everyone’s hours, but have been able to keep everyone working. We have also had several “family dinners” where we have cooked for our employees or grilled outside and then ate together.
What precautions are you taking to reopen your business?
We are following all the guidelines provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services regarding extra precautions to help make sure employees and customers are safe.
As of this past Friday we are able to open up to 25% capacity for dine-in. We have a separate area for to-go orders and are still offering curbside delivery for those who are not comfortable yet coming inside.
How are you communicating changes about your business to your customers?
Besides posting online, we are personally visiting with each customer by phone or in person and explaining how we are trying to navigate this new phase. We are asking our customers to be patient with us as we are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe and follow the guidelines given.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
One challenge is deciding how to schedule our employees. It’s always a balancing act trying to schedule staff in a restaurant, but with the added limitations as well as the unknown of whether people will come out to eat or not, plus servicing the movie customers and take-outs adds additional layers of complexity to our labor and costs. Also, our business model has shifted over the past six weeks due to being closed, so there’s been a slight shift in re-training on how to incorporate dine-in orders back in the picture.
What other opportunities do you see coming out of this situation?
I think there’s always good that comes from change, you just have to be willing to look for it. Hopefully this will help us to think about how we can be more efficient in our business practices and how we can serve our customers better.
What advice or tips do you have for other small businesses navigating this situation?
Keep an open mind and a positive attitude. As a leader, you set the tone and the example for others to follow. If you look at the glass half empty so will your staff and those around you. Sometimes you have step back and look at the big picture. Also, keep some close mentors, vendors, friends, etc. that you can vent to, talk to, and bounce ideas off of.