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KINKA FAMILY Restaurant Group is on the Road to Recovery and Resilience in the Wake of COVID-19

KINKA FAMILY is recognized as Canada’s largest Japanese restaurant group; they operate several restaurants and cafes across North America and Asia including: KINTON RAMEN, NEO COFFEE BAR, KINTORI YAKITORI, JaBistro, and KINKA IZAKAYA.

In March, as restaurants were ordered to close their doors across the country, KINKA FAMILY had no choice but to alter their business model to survive during the pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, all restaurants under KINKA FAMILY including KINTON RAMEN, KINKA IZAKAYA, KINTORI YAKITORI, JaBistro, and NEO COFFEE BAR, were available through UberEats and have since been expanded to take out and delivery through UberEats, DoorDash, and SkipTheDishes. 

“In May, we launched our own online ordering system for KINTON RAMEN, which has helped us reduce fees to third-party vendors,” explains Stella Yu, Director of Marketing for KINKA FAMILY. “Though we will still rely on the services, we recently expanded the in-house ordering system to almost all of our brands.”

While the locations were open for takeout and delivery, the team used this time to focus on the eventual reopening. “As an organization, we had to review everything from the overall structure of our teams to retrofitting our kitchens to allow for social distancing between chefs, line cooks, and other vital members of our teams,” explains Yu.

“We also underwent new protocol training with the team, adjusted our menu offering, and reconfigured our seating arrangements. With things changing each day, we also took an active role in legislative and regulatory elements as they were announced so we could be ready to pivot and open quickly.”

As restrictions eased and many restaurants reopened their doors, patios at a number of KINKA FAMILY properties are now ready to receive guests. However, just because patios are open, KINKA FAMILY understands that this will not equal a massive boost in profits.

“We’re not expecting to see a high level of demand for dine-in just yet,” says Yu. “It’s important to understand that every individual is operating at their own pace and we can expect that several of our customers will continue to utilize delivery and takeout until they’re ready to join us in-house.” 

This is a sentiment echoed by many Restaurants Canada members and operators. In fact, in a recent survey, 35 per cent of respondents that reopened the dine-in portion of their business in May said it had a positive impact on their sales. On the other hand, 44% said it had a negative effect. In June, there was some improvement in those that saw a positive impact on the dine-in portion of their sales.

While the road to recovery is somewhat longer than some operators may have initially anticipated, KINKA FAMILY remains firm in that their team are prepared and equipped to provide exceptional customer service, putting customer and employee health and safety to the forefront.

As KINKA FAMILY concentrates on unlocking the doors to their establishments, they’ve put the emphasis on preparation and training, something that started prior to reopening. 

“The training of our team members has adjusted significantly and over the past few months and every department, including in-office and on floor staff, has worked tirelessly to prepare for the company’s nationwide opening,” Yu elaborates.

“Our strategy for reopening prioritizes education and we have implemented several protocols, internal handbooks, and short educational videos to arm our teams with the knowledge they need to safely navigate the workplace. It is imperative that our team members operate with a high level of confidence, knowing that they have all the tools and resources needed to do their job safely and effectively. As a company of over 300 team members, we are well equipped to deal with every single challenge that COVID-19 has presented over the last few months.” 

Interestingly, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who enter KINKA FAMILY establishments, they’ve recently introduced the role of Hygiene Ambassador. A concept that seems to be gaining in popularity. “The Hygiene Ambassador will be responsible for protecting the safety and well-being of our team members, customers, delivery partners, etc,” explains Yu. 

“Duties will include maintaining the cleanliness of the restaurant, managing the flow of all guests who enter, seating guests at designated tables while maintaining social distancing guidelines, and answering any questions that customers might have regarding the new protocols and procedures.” You can read more about KINKA FAMILY’S response to COVID-19 here.

Additionally, changes to the physical space have also taken place. Prior to reopening, locations in Ontario and Quebec were retrofitted with plexiglass dividers, separating the kitchen and dining area. More recently, these were added to communal spaces such as bars and tables where appropriate. Restaurant layouts were revised to ensure a two-metre distance between tables, and the restaurant was outfitted with sanitization stations. Contactless options are also available for a guest visit, such as disposable and downloadable menus (using a QR code), disposable cutlery, and no-touch payment. Upon arrival, team members will receive a non-invasive, touch-free temperature check prior to each shift  and during their shift will wear the required PPE.

Aside from these operational changes, KINKA FAMILY recognizes that consumer demands have shifted in the ‘new normal’ and this is reflected in their new menu. During the lockdown, profits were top priority and accordingly, KINKA FAMILY focused on providing consumers with delivery-friendly menu options as well as special promotions. 

“As we move into the reopening, [restaurants will operate] with full menu offerings. We’ve also introduced some exciting new immune-boosting specials, packed with antioxidant-rich ingredients like ginger, miso, and mushrooms,” says Yu. 

Similar to the Restaurants Canada backed P.O.S.T Promise program, the KINKA FAMILY team have built their entire reopening strategy around their “Expect More Care” campaign, which aims to “bring confidence to our customers and ensure they know their safety is our highest priority,” as Yu puts it. “Everything in our marketing plan- from signage to social media content- is built around the “Expect More Care” campaign.”

While the foodservice industry has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, KINKA FAMILY has placed their sights on recovery efforts by training, educating, and preparing. In building their own recovery plan, the team leveraged the Restaurants Canada Rapid Recovery Guide (province-specific guides are also available for download here). 

“The Recovery Guide has been an incredible resource for us as we planned our reopening,” says Yu.”From it, we’ve taken a step back from our traditional models of dining and operations and looked at the ways we plan to market and how we plan to train our teams. It has also informed a lot of the policies in our new pre-shift screenings. All resources are helpful to us and restaurants need all the advice and guidance that we can get if we are to navigate the complexities of reopening and do so successfully.”

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