We continue with part 2 of 2 of the Ghost Kitchen Masterminds interview with Chef Rosana Rivera of R2 Provisions where she shared how operations changed during the COVID pandemic, about her ghost kitchen’s growth, and what to expect when restaurants are ready to open their doors.
OPERATING A GHOST KITCHEN DURING COVID
Rivera and Castro took a look at what was necessary to keep the business profitable. Along with many restaurateurs adjusting to operating during COVID, they modified service hours, staff, and menu items. She said, “We’re currently operating three days a week with a reduced staff, and that works for us right now.” While it was tempting to bring all of the Xilo bestsellers, the two chefs combined the short and long term goals of the business by offering items that provided utility for the consumer.
Rivera went on, “We also looked at what could be the most affordable for our customers. We’re trying to stay in business but we understand that financial constraints are impacting everyone right now. In the marketplace, R2 Provisions offers a classic taco pack that can feed 6-8 people for $40. With a ghost kitchen you have less overhead so you may be able to offer your menu items at a lower price point for your customers.”
In a recent article discussing current restaurant industry challenges, Rivera shared, “We’re moving from farm-to-table to kitchen-to-table”, referencing her recent investment in her ghost kitchen and the way she sees the market moving. She added, “I think our business is going to continue to grow, especially with e-commerce and prepared meals. The demand for convenience will only increase, as consumers acclimate to everything being brought to them.”
“We’re moving from farm-to-table to kitchen-to-table“ – Chef Rosana
When asked what key takeaways she’d share with an independent restaurant owner facing similar challenges, she said:
- Safety first. “Make sure you’re able to offer a safe environment for staff, and they are able to safely interact with customers. We all wear masks and gloves 100% of the time.”
- Look at your menu. lower your prices, and find discounts. “Stick to the core of your product,” Rivera emphasized. Restaurateurs leave a lot on the table when they over-expand their offerings to try and cater to everyone.
CONTROLLING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
With little to no face-to-face interaction these days, we have to find new ways to connect. For the service industry, it means looking at new ways to communicate and reach guests.
Rivera noted, “You’re communicating with the customer through a platform, and through the product, but your day-to-day interactions are primarily with your delivery drivers.” For Rivera, communications have to be consistent no matter where the customer is in their purchasing process. Third party delivery apps provide updates on order status, price changes and potential delays. “Brands like Chownow and UberEats are offering free services for small businesses right now. Take time to figure out who is a good partner, who can cater to your audience, and help get your message out there,” she explained.
The team behind R2 Provisions is dedicated to serving their customer, and sometimes, that means operating outside of posted delivery windows or modifying a menu item. Rivera feels that simple changes like these leave a big impact on the customer. With less overhead operating a ghost kitchen, Rivera is able to enhance the customer experience in other ways. She said, “While we’re not worried right now about what lamp we put in the restaurant or what tile we lay on the ground, we are revisiting our labels because we want to deliver a great product.”
The duo want customers to feel an exchange of goodwill with every purchase they make from R2 Provisions. “They are helping us stay in business and we feel we are helping them by providing good tasting food and basic provisions safely at the most affordable price we can offer. Each sale helps us get to our goal of bringing our displaced staff back to work,” she said.
“Each sale helps us get to our goal of bringing our displaced staff back to work,” said Rivera
THE ROAD BACK TO IN-STORE DINING
An insurmountable amount of prep work must happen before restaurants open their doors and begin to welcome guests. As Rivera and Castro consider their own opening task list for Xilo and Kofe, the team behind it comes first to mind. Rivera has consistently engaged with her displaced team members from the food hall concepts, adding that as part of the reopening prepwork, ensuring their health and safety is a top priority. A result of the regular check-ins also gives Rivera a chance to gauge hiring necessities as they update her on their employment status at other companies.
She hopes to bring her entire team back. She said, “If we open with no restrictions on distancing, we’ll need a few days to get everything in order. For the team not currently working, there’s a process in identifying if they need to fill out new paperwork, and if they do, what does that look like?” Then, as soon as they open, there will need to be a big push of messages to the community. “Social media, newsletters, text messaging – we’ll be doing every method of communication to let our customers know we’re ready to welcome them back safely,” Rivera said.
There is air of uncertainty though, as Rivera contemplates the idea of getting back to ‘business as usual’. “A lot is going to change in terms of expectations of food service businesses,” she concluded. ”We’ll all have to adapt to survive.”
Chef Rosana Rivera
Chef Rosana Rivera has been a successful entrepreneur and Chef in the Tampa Bay area for over 14 years. She is best known as one half of the successful team behind Piquant, a French–inspired bakery & cafe, which operated from 2006 to 2018 in West Tampa. In July 2018, Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro opened Xilo Mexican at the Hall on Franklin in Tampa Heights. Currently, Chef Rosana is operating their first ghost and catering kitchen in Clearwater, as well as working on other brick and mortar concepts.
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