The Place 2 Be has become a hot spot in Hartford since the restaurant opened in 2016. With the COVID-19 crisis restricting customer engagement, Owner Gina Luari had to get creative. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price reached out to Gina to find out how she’s handling “business as unusual.”

NAN PRICE: How has The Place 2 Be responded to the current crisis and embraced the “new normal?”

GINA LUARI: When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re working in your business, you’re focused on making each day successful. It’s hard to take yourself out of that environment to look at the business as a whole and figure out where you can make improvements. This is the time you have that thinking space to really reflect on the business.

We’ve essentially used this time to become a better business. Now, we’re able to do things we couldn’t do while we were operating—including updating our training guides to include health and safety guides and developing ServSafe procedures. Some things that would have taken us the course of a year to finalize, we’ve accomplished within about a month.

NAN: In what ways have you had to rethink your process and look at new ways of operating?

GINA: We had always offered delivery through Uber Eats and Grubhub, but we didn’t put that much emphasis on the product once it left the building. We’re heavily focused on the look of our plates and the experience customers have while they’re inside our four walls.

I changed all our takeout containers to be on brand and improve our customers’ experience. We used to have aluminum containers. I knew some of the food may have to be reheated if it couldn’t be delivered on time, so I sourced microwaveable containers. I also ordered stickers so we could brand every single container and bag, so when it arrived to our customers it still felt like it was from Place 2 Be.

NAN: Branding has always been at the core of your business. I remember talking about that when we met for your Innovation Destination Hartford story in 2018 (read: Hartford Startup Restaurant Is The Place 2 Be).

GINA: Yes. I think our biggest driving factor has been developing and being consistent with our brand. I recently read a quote: Customers don’t come to you because of what you do, but why you do it. I disagree with that. I think customers come to you because of how you do it. Your brand is how you do things. And, I think the how is more important than anything.

On top of that, our images on Uber Eats and Grubhub, showed what a milkshake would look like in-house. So, I had one of our photographers do a takeout photo shoot. Now, our pictures show what the product will look like when you receive it at home. And that’s driven sales. For example, when we updated our milkshake photo with a really cool picture in a takeout container, we sold 25% more milkshakes than we did the week before—and there was no difference other than the picture changed.

With social media, you have to stay relevant in terms of what’s going on. With many businesses in general, when you look at their social, you wouldn’t know if we were in a pandemic or if it was just another day. They’re still posting as if it’s business as usual—and it’s not.

We changed all our content to show people holding to-go bags or people at home enjoying our takeout. If I posted a picture of somebody inside the restaurant enjoying a stack of pancakes, that’s so irrelevant. It’s a waste of effort because it’s not connecting with your followers. Our efforts are really resonating with people in our social media because we’re making our content relevant to the situation.

NAN PRICE: As a business owner, what’s the most positive takeaway during this crisis?

GINA: We’re in a situation we can’t control and how you come out of it is going to define your business. This isn’t going to last forever, we are going to reopen, and when we do, I want to be a stronger, more efficient business.

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