COVID, Cold Weather and Restaurants: Preparing Your Space for Fall and Winter

Now that restaurants have reopened and are learning to co-exist with Covid-19, there’s yet another threat looming on the horizon: cold weather. 

Many restaurants have restricted indoor seating to somewhere between 25% to 50% capacity. To make up for that reduced capacity, wherever possible, they’ve expanded outdoor seating options. That’s worked out well amid balmy spring and summer temps, and even as we head into crisp autumn days, patios mostly remain open.

But the clock is ticking. Winter will be here soon (and in some cases, it’s already arrived — we’re looking at you, Denver). And this year, it’s coming with a side of impending doom for many restaurant owners, especially in states that experience regular snowfall and freezing temperatures.

In a recent Chicago Tribune story, Michael Roper, owner of the HopLeaf Bar, says, “We’re in terror of it. The patio represents most of our business right now.”

In Massachusetts, one in five restaurants have permanently closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March, according to the Boston Herald. And though most restaurants that are still open can stretch their outdoor seating into the early fall, the state will ban that option in November due to extreme temperatures. 

Suffice it to say: for a lot of establishments across the country, everything’s about to change all over again. The good news is that you can anticipate and manage the circumstances. If you’re operating a restaurant in an area where seasonal change is going to impact your current setup: here are three things you should be doing right now.

1. Make a (new) plan

We get it: you probably feel like you’re finally getting the hang of this whole operating-a-restaurant-in-a-pandemic thing. Just when you’ve perfected your Covid-19 contingency plan, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that restaurants must be nimble to survive. By and large, the industry has risen to that challenge — quite admirably! — over the past seven months. And fortunately, seasonal change is less of a curveball because we know it’s coming, and we can prepare for it. Here are a few ways to shore up and “winterize” your current Covid-19 setup.

  • Evaluate everything. Take a step back and review the policies and procedures that you’ve put in place since March. Are they still necessary? Are your employees adhering to them? How will the winter months impact their feasibility or effectiveness?
  • Ask for feedback. Hopefully you’ve been in constant communication with your team all along, but now is a great time to solicit input from your team. Talk to them: ask them what they believe has been going well in terms of the changes you’ve made, and what has been challenging or confusing. (If you’re worried about putting people on the spot, you can also gather feedback through a simple survey with anonymous responses.) 
  • Do your research. As we mentioned above, some states are already putting new rules in place regarding seasonal change. Be sure you’re tuned in to any upcoming regulatory shifts by following legitimate, credible news outlets and industry publications at both a local and national level. 
  • Assess your physical space. Outdoor seating has been a lifesaver for restaurants, but it’s going to be a whole lot trickier if temps start to fall in your area. Be realistic about the safety and comfort level of your patrons, and plan accordingly. Your course of action depends on the climate you’re in, the layout of your restaurant, and your budget. It may make sense to invest in outdoor heaters or to explore ways to partially enclose patios and porches. If outdoor dining really isn’t an option, think through ways to maximize indoor dining capacity — like installing plexiglass dividers between booths and tables. 

Don’t get complacent with your cleaning and sanitation procedures. While it’s best to avoid over-the-top stockpiling, make sure you’ve got a “responsible” surplus of soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other items that may be susceptible to shortages. 

2. Tighten your purse strings

Whether your bottom line is hurting or business is booming, the reality is that no one is out of the woods yet. 

When it comes to managing expenses and budgeting, savvy restaurateurs are continuing to be very discerning as we move into the colder months. In addition to the impact cold weather could have on your operations (e.g., further reducing seating capacity), it’s also more conducive to the spread of germs. Not only do we still have Covid to worry about; we’re now coming up on flu and cold season, and no one really knows how bad it could get. Unfortunately, that means we can’t rule out another shutdown. 

So for most restaurants, now isn’t the time for risk taking. Instead, it’s prudent to remove as many variables as possible. That may mean putting off scheduled expansions or renovations, or temporarily cutting back your operating hours.

Many restaurants have uncovered savings and efficiencies by streamlining their menu. For example, Boston-area HIghland Kitchen reduced its offerings and changed its focus to fried-chicken tenders and sandwiches, along with tiki cocktails — all to-go. (They also cut back on the days and hours they’re open.) Making strategic menu changes gives you the opportunity to focus on higher-margin items, reduce supply/inventory costs, and/or to make your back-of-house more efficient. 

3. Get creative

If there was ever a time to think outside the box, now is it. Here are a few ideas to manage the “winter edition” of Covid-19.

  • Offer cold-weather items (think: blankets, gloves, beanies) for guests to use while dining outside. You could tap into your marketing budget and brand these items, making them a giveaway. Or you can allow guests to borrow them — but you’ll need to ensure you’ve got proper cleaning procedures in place (and be sure you’ve communicated those to your guests).
  • Invest in outdoor heaters, igloos or winterized tents. (Remember, you’ll still need to adhere to social distancing between parties, especially if you’re creating enclosed spaces.)
  • Create a large outdoor fire pit surrounded by (socially distanced) seating.
  • Take advantage of your parking lot by converting a portion of it into a covered/heated patio space.
  • Reimagine your layout. Eating a full meal in chilly temperatures isn’t ideal, but your patrons may be open to enjoying a pre-meal cocktail outside. Consider setting up a (heated) outdoor bar area — even better if you can make it feel festive with fall or holiday decor. You’ll free up indoor dining space at your regular bar area, and you’ll provide extra (safe) space for diners to hang out while they’re waiting to be seated.

Change is here to stay

No one has a crystal ball, but we’re confident this Q4 will be unlike any other. (Let’s be honest: that’s pretty much been the theme of 2020.)

The silver lining here is that we’ve got a little time, and a lot of fresh experience, on our side. The hospitality industry has already been blindsided by a pandemic and upended by an unforeseeable shutdown; we can prepare for the worst because — well, we know what the “worst” looks like. 

So as you look ahead to the coming months, keep doing what you’ve been doing: stay nimble. Anticipate every outcome. Collaborate with your peers and, yes, your competitors.

And most importantly, continue to put the health and safety of your people and your patrons ahead of everything else. 

You might also be interested in

We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!