How Technology Helped Pittsburgh’s Dive Bar & Grille Address COVID-19 Challenges

By | Managed Services News

May 17

Bars and restaurants were among the hardest hit by COVID-19 challenges.

Before opening his own restaurant, Clint Kuskie had worked in just about every position in the industry you can imagine. From bussing tables and bar backing to working in the kitchen and eventually running training programs and serving as a manager in the corporate restaurant world, he had seen it all. So, when he and his partner, Gordon Judge (who boasted similar experience) opened Pittsburgh’s Dive Bar & Grille 10 years ago, they were starting their foray into small-business ownership on solid footing.

In the ensuing decade, the restaurant developed a reputation for great food, destination-worthy cocktails, a welcoming, upscale atmosphere, and, perhaps most importantly, top-notch customer service. Their initial success allowed them to grow their business, expanding their footprint to five locations in the Pittsburgh area.

Dive Bar & Grille was firing on all cylinders: The kitchens were busy, the tables were full. Then, just a couple weeks after their fifth restaurant opened in Indiana Township, the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt across the United States. Almost overnight, business as usual ceased for small businesses of all stripes. Bars and restaurants were among the hardest hit by COVID-19 challenges.

Since then, Dive Bar & Grille has been navigating a quick succession of changes in state regulations and guidance, testing out new business models, keeping customers and employees safe, and holding on to as many staff members as possible. At nearly every stage of the process, technology has played a key role.

Creating a Hybrid Ordering Model

When the pandemic began, the five restaurants were limited to take-out orders only. Kuskie said they had always accommodated take out, but it was a small part of their business, and a host was traditionally able to handle the volume of orders that came in over the phone. During the pandemic, that changed.

“Our phone was just getting hammered. We couldn’t keep up with the volume of calls,” says Kuskie. “We’d get one phone call, then another, and then a third. We never had an elaborate phone system because we never needed it. Now, people were getting a busy signal.”

Dive Bar & Grille was able to quickly stand up an online ordering platform, which solved the problem almost immediately. Kuskie estimates that 75% of the order volume that was coming in over the phone shifted to online ordering, making the phone lines available for those who still preferred to call in and place orders, while further streamlining the ordering process for the vast majority of takeout orders.

The shift to online ordering also allowed the restaurants to handle peak hours better and allocate resources effectively. Through online ordering, as well as third-party food delivery apps, managers have visibility into demand and can even set limits on how many orders are taken at specific times, so the kitchen won’t get flooded with orders all at once.

Expanding Outdoor Dining and Going Digital

Eventually the full ban of on-site dining was lifted and restaurants in Pennsylvania were able to host guests at limited capacity. However, as the impact of the virus continued to evolve, so did the restrictions, shifting between 25% and 50% for indoor and outdoor dining.

To accommodate for the restrictions, Kuskie says, Dive Bar & Grille undertook some key steps. First, they

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