The impacts of COVID-19

Before Coronavirus (COVID-19) struck, family-operated restaurant Entrata was on track for its fourth year of growth. So, as the pandemic started to dominate world headlines, owner Tony Pagano was already thinking of ways to remain afloat if NSW went into lockdown.

“We were determined to keep Entrata’s doors open and retain our employees,” he says. And, with NAB’s funding assistance, Pagano put his survival plan into action – expanding the restaurant’s existing digital marketing and introducing new marketing techniques and business marketing strategies.

Better web design

“We completely changed the website by making it interactive,” Pagano says. “Our inhouse marketing manager redesigned the site within a week of lockdown – people could order meals, fresh food, wine and cocktails online for delivery or pick-up. And we fine-tuned our services as lockdown continued.”

Thanks to the improved user experience and design, customers could place their orders via the website, the Skip app or by phone for contact-free service.

It was a proactive approach that also put customer safety at the forefront.

“We were probably one of the first restaurants to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place,” Pagano says. “The Restaurant and Catering Association advised their members to register their businesses as COVID Safe with the NSW Government so we did that right away, well before it became compulsory. We also chose to do the voluntary COVID-19 Infection Training Course at the start of lockdown.”

"Our inhouse marketing manager redesigned the site within a week of lockdown - people could order meals, fresh food, wine and cocktails online for delivery or pick-up."

Tony Pagano. Owner, Entrata Restaurant

E-commerce strategy

Taking the business online opened the door to four new ways of serving customers.

1. Drive-through breakfast and lunch

Pagano says he was fortunate to have enough space to offer a drive-through service. “Customers could order in advance or in person at the mobile front counter which we built in the carpark. Staff would then take their order to their car.”

He decided to open for breakfast and he also made substantial changes to the lunch menu.

“We added burgers, paninis, fish and chips and house-made donuts – things we’d never offered before,” he says. “This attracted fantastic support from the community and really helped to keep us going.”

2. Take-away and home delivery

The new take-away and home delivery service focused on the kinds of dishes normally served in-house.

“We also had a specific concept called Entrata @ Home for families,” Pagano says. “For example, Monday was cannelloni, Thursday lobster mornay, Sunday lamb roast. Everything was ordered online for either pick-up or delivery.”

3. Online bottle shop

When the NSW Government changed the licensing laws so that restaurants could sell alcohol, Entrata made the most of the e-commerce sales opportunity.

“We offered wine and cocktails, either alone or to accompany meals,” Pagano says. “We sourced screw-top glass flasks from a supplier in Western Australia to serve the cocktails.”

4. Fresh-food market

Pagano also set up a food truck in the restaurant carpark to sell fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, condiments and pastas.

“Our restaurant is fine dining and we only sold food of the quality we’d use in our own kitchen,” he says. “Where possible, we sourced the produce from local farms and suppliers, not only for the freshness and quality but also because we wanted to give them as much support as we could. Before COVID-19, a large part of their business was supplying restaurants.”

"We sourced the produce from local farms and suppliers, not only for the freshness and quality but also because we wanted to give them as much support as we could"

Tony Pagano. Owner, Entrata Restaurant

Calling on NAB support

For help in bringing all his innovative thinking to life, Pagano turned to NAB.

“My personal dealings with NAB, and in particular with our NAB Small Business Banker, Abegail, were absolutely brilliant,” he says. “She and the team really understood the human cost of the crisis and our need to keep our staff employed.”

Part of NAB’s support came in the form of a business support loan, which Pagano took out to ensure he could meet his commitment to take care of staff with no other means of support.

“Five of our workers are here on visas, so they’re not eligible for JobKeeper,” he explains. “We know of colleagues in our industry who had no choice but to go home and we were determined that wasn’t going to happen to our people.”

Planning for an uncertain future

For now, Pagano is continuing to plan for an uncertain future.

“The situation is continuously evolving,” he says. “Entrata has room for 160 people but, when we were first allowed to open the restaurant, we could seat no more than 10. Then this went up to 50, but we’ve no idea when or how this will change.”

The take-away and bottle shop options are still in place, though Pagano has closed the drive-through and fresh food outlet.

“Now that people can dine in, there isn’t enough space to continue operating them safely,” he says. “But we still have the structure and digital platforms in place so, if we do have more restricted service or another lockdown, we’re ready to go."

He believes the most important lesson from COVID-19 is that we’re all in this together.

“These are tough times for everyone, and I believe the only way to get through is by taking care of each other,” he says. “The thing we’re most proud of is keeping all 23 of our staff, permanent and casual, employed.”

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The information contained in this article is correct as of September 2020 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.