On episode 11 of the Your SocialChef Show, I talked to Marie Meek, co-owner of Bird’s Nest and discussed how things look like when COVID-19 restrictions kicked in, and how they bounced & progressed in just 7 days.
0:20 – 2:39 The Effects of Covid-19 Restrictions on Restaurants
2:40 – 6:19 – Transitioning to Takeaway and Phone Ordering System
6:20 – 9:32 – The Challenges of Phone Ordering System
9:35 – 13:35 – From Phone Orders to Online Ordering System
13:36 – 21:30 – Advice for Restaurant Owners
Mark: Marie, how are you?
Marie: Good, Mark, how are you?
Mark: Very good, thank you for getting on the call today.
Marie: No, my pleasure.
The Effects of Covid-19 Restrictions on Restaurants
Mark: So, we both know where we were a few weeks ago and where we were at today, and we would love to share your story and Emi’s story. How did we go from zero to heroes, you know? So let’s talk about, how did things look like when COVID-19 restrictions kicked in? How did it look like at your restaurant?
Marie: So, it was pretty bad to be honest, to start with, you know, everyone obviously was in the same boat slowly with the social distancing rules coming in and getting stricter and stricter, you know, it was a pretty slow and painful death, drawn-out death there for us.
But I guess the real changing point was obviously when the government brought in the restrictions about going from dine-in and was no longer allowed to then take away. And, you know, for want of a better phrase, that’s when sort of shit really hit the fan, and I think, I really went into panic mode then. For a couple of days, I really, I really couldn’t think of a plan, and I really couldn’t think about how to move forward. And I remember waking up one morning, and I think it was about 5:00 am and giving you a call, I said, “Mark, what are we gonna do ?”
Because you know, I’ve got so many, look, especially with restaurants like that are international cuisines like myself, you know, we sponsor a fair number of international chefs and managers to give that authenticity of our restaurant, and unfortunately, the government isn’t supporting them. So we had no choice, but to do something. And I gave, I remember giving you that phone call and said, “Mark, help. What are we gonna do?” What are we gonna do?
Mark: That’s right. So, as soon as the restrictions kicked in, there was no business at all. Pretty much killed the business.
Marie: Pretty much killed the business. I mean, look, we had a few people coming down to the restaurant just to order tavke away or giving us a phone call and saying, you know, “Do you have, what have you got available?” And so on, but I’m talking like, you know, two or $300 a day, nothing, you know and nothing significant.
Transitioning to Takeaway and Phone Ordering System
Mark: That’s right. And then yes, we got on this phone call, 5:00 am in the morning.
Marie: 5:00 am in the morning; I was taking the dog for a walk if my memory is right.
Mark: Yes. And then we spoke about some stuff, we agreed to do a takeaway menu and a frozen menu, maybe a few days later. However, you weren’t that sure if people were going to support this model.
Marie: No, I was pretty negative.
Mark: Yeah, but you still wanted to give it a try. You still wanted it.
Marie: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Well, as I said, we support, you know, about seven 457 visa staff and then on tvop of that, we have another ten permanent full-time staff and, you know, we have to, we have to do something to make it through.
Mark: That’s right. And then, what we wanna mention, Emi, your business partner, she was in this too and pretty much everybody was trying to put in their energy and efforts and ideas to make sure that we make this work.
Marie: That’s exactly right. So I said to you, I remember saying to you, you know, “what was, what do we need to do first?” And I remember you saying,” You need to, we need to make a menu and a streamlined menu.” And you gave me all sorts of ideas, like frozen uncooked skewers, prepacked food, you know, what are we gonna do for delivery? And we had this whole conversation while I was walking the dog about what we were gonna do. And, you know, I was very negative at the time, but as I said, you know, I was happy to give anything a try.
Mark: That’s right. And then you went back, you put the menu together, a streamlined menu or was it a takeaway menu? And then we kind of, we went back to marketing, we put it up in social media.
Marie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.v
Mark: And then how were the results? How long it took for this, for you to get a feeling that this is working?
Marie: Well, yeah, so the first step, I guess, was we looked it all up before we got to how long it took to get it working, we looked at all our stock. Our first plan was to get rid of any stock that we had, make a menu with the stock that we had. So that we didn’t chuck all that stock to waste. And then after we got rid of that, I remember talking to you and saying, “So Mark, I’m gonna get rid of that stuff that we have first and then I’m gonna adjust the me nu every day as we go, to see what’s selling and then make it a more streamlined menu for products that were good, delivered or take away, because you have to remember as well, like, you know, some products don’t really carry.
We’re not a carry shop, and we’re not, you know, we’re not something that’s easy to reheat at home. So we needed to streamline the menu down into items that were gonna be easy, but still had a good result at the end, at the person’s house when they took it away and ate it at home.
So we did that, and I think, you know, you put the stuff up on Facebook, we went hard on Instagram, and we decided that the method we were going to, I mean, you did suggest, I mean, at that time, an online ordering platform, but I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, can’t do that. Too much, too much.” And, you know, and we didn’t wanna spend any money as well. So, we just went with Facebook, and we went through Instagram and that, literally, once we put the menu up there, that was within 24 hours, we saw an instant turnaround in our sales actually. So we went, you know, once we had that presence online, we had the phone number, you know, the hours, the streamlined menu.
Mark: The menu.
Marie: Yeah, and then it was, it was pretty much instant, 24 hours, we saw a good result and a good turnaround.
The Challenges of Phone Ordering System
Mark: That’s excellent. And then you had a problem. People would call, all of them would call all at the same time and obviously around dinner time. And then that’s when you clicked, “Hey, let’s try the online ordering now”.
Marie: Yeah, so I think, how long was it? I think we did a week of on the phone, trying to do the on-the-phone orders and Emi was actually pretty much the master of being on the phone every day. And I remember calling you up once and saying, “Mark, people are saying they can’t get through. What should I do? Should I get a second phone line? Should I put my mobile number up on the site?” Because one order was taken around, once you think about getting credit card numbers, delivery address, phone number, what time they want, what their order is, one order takes about 10 to 15 minutes. So, you know, sometimes the restaurant is noisy as well, so it means, they’re saying, “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.” Yeah. You know, “Was that four-five, four-five? Where am I going? You know, and you know, you get people of different ethnicities calling on the phone, so it’s hard to understand them on the phone as well, you know?
Mark: It’s hard.
Marie: Yeah, it’s tricky. Four five, four five-five, you know and 10 to 15 minutes for one order. It’s hard to upsell over the phone as well because you know, you’re just, I remember you saying to me, “Marie, you’re just trying to, you’re not doing any upselling because you want to hang up that phone as soon as possible to try and get the next caller in.”
Mark: That’s right.
Marie: So, not only is the phone call super long, but you can’t upsell because you’re trying to get rid of them to get onto the next one. So 10 minutes, one order. So at six o’clock on a Friday night, 10 minutes, that’s six orders an hour. That’s, not very many orders that you can take.
Mark: That’s not being productive, and you’re not trying to get rid of them.
Mark: You’re trying to service, you have to service the second customer, before they may miss out, or they don’t get through the line and then, you know, then both of you miss out. You miss out on order, and they miss out on their dinner.
Marie: Exactly, and people like to chat as well. Like, you know, everyone’s stuck at home. They’re like, “Oh, hi Emi, how are you? This is so and so. I come to your restaurant all the time,” and you’re like,” Ah, I wanna talk to you, but I need my next order,” you know?
So then I think I called, you’d actually sent me a few emails with different online ordering system platforms that I’d sort of, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve read that,” and then I was like, “Mark, we need an online ordering system platform.” And you were like. I sent you that email. Didn’t you read it? And I was like, “Oh, no .” And then I think that’s when we decided, you had actually done a lot of research for us, with the different platforms that were available for us and I guess, you know, to be honest, the biggest factor for us was money. You know, our cashflow was pretty tight. We needed something that was gonna be super low cost for us to be able to enter.
Mark: That’s right.
Marie: Yeah, yeah yeah and that was, you know, and I think you really did search hard for us to try and find a platform that was a low-cost entry and that’s when, you know, yeah, Bopple came along.
Mark: Bopple and Chewy.
Marie: Bopple and Chewy Choo!
From Phone Orders to Online Ordering System
Mark: Yes. So let’s talk about that. So when you moved from phone orders to online orders, what happened to the number of orders and what happened to the transaction size?
Marie: Yeah, so first of all, what I noticed was that, so Emi is there doing one order and then another order and another order. So we’ll get one order every 10 minutes. But with Bopple, because everyone can order at the same time, six o’clock hits and ding, ding, ding! The machine’s going off because you’ve got like four people that have just placed their order or simultaneously. And you know what I think people do. Look, I don’t do a lot of online ordering myself, but I think what people do is they have this, they’ll think at lunchtime, “Oh, I’m gonna order Bird’s Nest tonight,” and their family’s all at home, then everyone has a look at the menu, “Who wants Miso soup or who wants this? And, “Oh, mom, I’m having one of the, oh yeah, I’ll have one of those too,” and they spend their time putting the order together at lunchtime and then when six o’clock comes, they just hit the button. So that order has been, they’ve thought about that order all day. And it really gave us the opportunity to increase the average spend per customer.
Mark: And how far it went, from maybe up to 60% from memory?
Marie: Oh yeah. Like, are we talking about real size?
Marie: Oh, like yeah, like at least double or sometimes in some cases, even triple. We had previously been on the menu, but no one had bought, because they just, you know when you’re on the phone, you don’t have the time to, you know, think about your order properly. Yeah.
Mark: That’s right. That’s right; this is amazing.
Marie: You’re amazing.
Mark: Thank you. So what would you tell people that, business owners that are going through the exact same thing that you guys went through?
Marie: Am I allowed to talk about the price, of how much Bopple is to set up?
Marie: Am I allowed to talk about the price of how much Boople is to set up or would Chewy kill me?
Mark: No, you can. It’s all, and it’s up to you, your number, it’s up to you. Depends if the special price is still available.
Marie: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, it was so cheap because it was a special price of, I think 275. Look, we didn’t have an iPad, so we had to buy the iPad as well. So it’s like 529 bucks or something. So altogether, but I mean, if you had the iPad, it’s 275 to get started, and it’s so easy to like, I don’t want to sound like I’m, you know, I’m here putting an ad up, like selling Bopple, but it really, that application really has changed our life. But because before that, when I wanted to make a change to the menu at the end of every night, do you remember? I was sending you the Google doc, and with all of the changes “Oh, that doesn’t sell, this doesn’t work. We need to change the price of that.” And then you’d come back in the morning and say, “Oh, so here’s the changes made.” And then I’d have to go to my system, and I’d have to implement all the changes. Then I’d have to call or text all my staff, “Oh, we’ve made all these changes, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
But now it’s so good because I just instantly, like, I’m literally like, “Oh, we ran out of, say, for example, chicken tenderloin.” I just click pip, on the thing, it’s gone for the day, oh, but we’ve got chicken tails instead. So, they go poong, and they go on straight away. All my staff can look at it, you know, we can put just like, we just take a quick photo, like of, you know, oh, before it was like, “Mark, can you search through our database and see if there’s this photo? And then can you send it to me?” And then I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s the wrong size and no, that’s the wrong one, Mark. That’s chicken, that’s not chicken butt. That’s chicken soft cartilage, Mark.” Right?
Mark: Yeah, yes.
Marie: And then, but now it’s just, we get out our phone, we take a photo, we put the item up, stick it on there, and it’s poof, instant there. And you get people ordering it straight away, like literally straight away, which is crazy.
Mark: That’s amazing.
Marie: Yeah, it’s really, it’s really it’s life-changing, that application.
Advice for Restaurant Owners
Mark: So let’s start moving away from the application now, is there any other stuff that you would like to advise business owners about stuff that you guys went through and how you’ve progressed? Anything else that you would like to add that you believe it will add value to this Facebook live today?
Marie: Ah, I just, you know, I’m pretty pessimistic, Emi and I both, I shouldn’t say I. We’re a bit, in the beginning, we were pretty pessimistic about, you know, the power of Facebook or the power of Instagram or the power of this online ordering tools. And we’re pretty sceptical about whether anything is gonna work and, you know, you were there every day, you know, “Give it a go, give it a go, give it a go.” And I know there are lots of people out there that are, you know, I’ve been talking to my suppliers, and they’re just saying, you know, that there are heaps of restaurant owners that haven’t gone online and they’re just waiting for the customers to come to them or that they, you know, they’ve got Uber Eats, like, and I don’t want to bag out Uber Eats, but at the end of the day, everyone knows they take 35%. And you know, if you’ve just joined Uber Eats, you’re gonna be down very low on the, on the, what’s it called? Like, the screen when people order.
Mark: That’s right. That’s right.
Marie: It’s hard to find you, you know, but whereas with when you get your own online platform that people would like, “Oh, I want to have say something something sushi tonight,” they just go to your Facebook page, and they can just click instantly, and they’re there, and they’re at your shop.
Mark: And they can order.
Marie: And then, I remember Chewy, I think. I’m sure it was Chewy or was it you? I’ve had so many phone calls with the both of you over the last couple of days, but he said, “Marie,” or you said, “It’s like having your EFTPOS machine in everybody’s house.” Is that you?
Mark: Yeah, yes.
Marie: Yeah, yeah and I was like, I remembered that’s when the light bulb just went off in my head, like, “Oh my God, like that they don’t have to every day, when they call up now, you know, give their credit card number. They just press a button on the online app and boom! That’s money in our account straight away. And once that, I remember you said “Marie, once they get in the habit of ordering with you, what, because their details are in there, their address is in there, it’s just gonna be easy.
Mark: That’s right.
Marie: Exactly, I remember you saying that “It’s just gonna increase,” like, it’s just gonna be this, like, you know, the ball rolling, that’s just gonna get bigger and bigger, and I truly believe that’s the effect that it’s also gonna have. And then the other that thing I remember you saying to me, there are so many things and I do take them all in, Mark, is that you also, you said that, you know, “When things go back to normal because they will go back to normal and I will have my restaurants back again, that this whole online ordering thing is now gonna be an extra side business that we can have, you know?”
And I remember you saying, you know, “On a rainy day or something, you know, in the past, people don’t want to come out to the restaurant. Now, if you have, you just run this concurrently with your restaurant, oh, they’re gonna be like, “Oh, it’s raining, don’t feel like going outside.” They’ll be like, “Oh, just log onto Bopple and get delivery to home.” So now we’re gonna have covered ourselves or in the, of course, in the terrible instance, there’s another thing like this ever happen again, we’ve now got insurance, and we’ve protected ourselves, for any future events that could ever happen like this, God forbid they do.
Mark: Very good, very good. I love this Marie, well done. Then the other question that I had before we logged off is a lot of places, and they’re not sure if they should offer their own delivery. They’re too scared to offer their own delivery. How are you currently managing that from, you know?
Marie: Okay, so, I mean, I guess that in the beginning, you know, we were doing free delivery because I was so paranoid about it. I just needed, wanted customers, but now after doing a couple of weeks of this, I realise, you know, Uber charges $6 or $7 or whatever and they only do a two-kilometre radius, and we’re doing 20-kilometre radius, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that people, we’re charging the same prices that we do at the restaurant. Our frozen products are cheaper. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to pay $5 for that delivery and I don’t think it’s unfair in any way. And we’re gonna use that $5 to try to, you know, we have our full-time staff, that hopefully some of them will be getting their JobKeeper soon, and then anyone, any of the casuals if they wanna come and help for a couple of hours, we pass on that $5 for the delivery fee.
So we’re using that delivery money, not as a profit to our own business, but as a tool to save the staff who are, who are here, that are either, A: can’t get the JobKeeper scheme or B: yeah, that are casuals, also that don’t fall under that scheme as well.
Mark: And then the next and most important question, what’s the size of your delivery orders versus pickup orders?
Marie: Yeah, so we logged on in and had a look at that last night and what I’ve noticed is that pickup orders are much smaller and delivery orders are obviously much larger.
Mark: Would you be able to say 70 30?
Marie: Yeah, 70, 30. And now that we’ve got, you know, one thing I really think that I would recommend to other people to do is what we’ve done, is the frozen line. So, say if I don’t know, we did, we backpacked and froze our skewers and did a whole other, you know, rice balls or whatever, but you could, if you develop a line where people, so I don’t know if you’re a lasagna, Italian, you could have like frozen lasagna or something. I don’t, I don’t know, but if you have a line that you freeze when people order their dinner for tonight, they also order a few extra things for tomorrow, and you’ll instantly see your orders say, grow from 50, $60 for a couple who were just ordering tonight to all of a sudden they’ve added 20 or $30, for their next meal and your average check has gone from 50, all of a sudden to 100.
Mark: That’s right, even the reports we’re getting from other clients, the cold meals option, frozen option and it’s people are ordering and ordering bulk, and they’re saving it, fridging it, freezing it. A very very smart option for the restaurant to be offering today.
Marie: I think so. I think in this environment, I think you have to try, I think… thing from every angle because you don’t know what’s gonna work, you know, and you’ve just gotta be flexible and listen to Mark Khoder.
Mark: Listen to Mark Khoder. I remember saying let’s test both of them. Let’s test the frozen option and let’s test the takeaway option and then let’s see what works. The good thing, both of them worked.
Marie: Yeah, we’re very, very lucky. Very lucky. Yeah and, but you know, it’s, I’m saying all this now with a big smile on my face, but it’s still pretty hard. And you know, I think you just have to adapt every day. And if something doesn’t work, don’t let it get you down because, you know, because there’s always, there’s always tomorrow, and you can always try something new.
Mark: Try something new; that’s right. Marie, thank you so much for your time tonight.
Marie: Sorry, Emi couldn’t be here.
Mark: It’s all good. I know, I’m sure Emi is watching us.
Marie: Laughing her head off, but thanks very much for having me. Yeah and hopefully our business grows from now on as well.
Mark: Absolutely, absolutely. And it will. With your energy and Emi’s energy, absolutely, it will.
Marie: Thank you so much, Mark.
Mark: Marie, thank you.