This edition of MRM’s “Ask the Expert” features advice from EZ-Chow Inc. Please send questions to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

Everywhere we turn right now it seems restaurant brands are continuing to face operational challenges and hurdles. With outdoor dining occupying the foreground, and bars and indoor dining taking a back seat to consumer preferences, it begs the question: what happens when it gets cold?

Outdoor dining works great during the warmer weather, and for facilitating additional curbside/delivery. However, for many states and cities in climates that experience a full four seasons of weather, cooler weather is fast approaching and with it, another chance to make operational changes.

So, what are some additional ways restaurant operators can swing with the seasons and make additional revenue?

1. Meal Kits – A variety of restaurants are turning to meal kits as a way to make supplemental income during shutdowns and limited capacity. Most are doing this by picking their top three best/most popular meals that are easy to assemble for home cooks. This requires some packaging adjustments so ingredients can be easily navigated and mixed together once they arrive at their destination.

2. Menu Features – We’ve seen many of our restaurant partners implement menu features with great success. And by this, we mean offering proteins/center-of-the-plate and sous vides menu items designed to feed an entire family. For example, offering a complete brunch package for Mother’s Day (pre-ordered ahead and picked-up ready-to-serve), Pre-ordered and fully-cooked turkeys for Thanksgiving or other holidays, steaks for two for a date night at home, the list is endless. By having pre-ordered, ready-to-serve menu items that go beyond the traditional meal for pickup/curbside, restaurant operators have a chance to capture additional ROI, even during the downturn. One key to making this a success is marketing. Get creative and incorporate one or two beverage items if you can (alcoholic and/or non-alcoholic, is possible). Some fun ideas to play with can include pre-ordered meals for a movie night at home, An Evening in Rome that features a pasta dish, or baked hams for the holidays. This can be similar to catering; however, the customer picks up the food rather than have it delivered. And if you don’t offer dinner for four, consider adding it to your menu mix.

3. Repurpose Employees – Chick-fil-A has done a great job repurposing employees to cater to more drive-thru guests. If you have a drive thru-operation, consider doing the same.  If your curbside/takeout business has picked up, consider having furloughed employees help package meals and/or carry them out to waiting vehicles. This is also true if you have enabled two-way text communication between your restaurant and waiting customers. You could designate one employee to manage the communication stream, including phone lines, and the POS. Think through what your current needs are and where there might be employee gaps. Then, work to fill those gaps.

4. Marketing – The seasonal changes bring ample opportunities to ramp up your marketing messages, especially if you’ve added meal kits, meal bundles or enhanced services. Given the coming school year, keep in mind busy families and single-parent homes will need meal-time relief during the week. Offer special meals for dinnertime or 15-minute meal kits that require minimal assemble and make times. Consider what your customers are dealing with today and provide a service that eases the burden.

As operators, by taking a few simple steps to alter your menu and keep employees working, the challenges you face as well can be easier managed. Keep an open communication exchange as well between your teams and your customers. A little laughter, a kind word or even an open door, can make a big difference.