10 Restaurant Lessons on How to Thrive in the Pandemic in Manila

Restaurants are closing as more lockdowns are implemented due to new Covid variants. We talked to restaurateurs who are able to successfully thrive during this pandemic.

Make sure to watch our Awesome! LIVE discussion (playlist here) with Adrian Dimacali of Mary Grace, Thomas Woudwyk and Ingga Cabangon Chua of Crosta Pizza, Chef Miguel Alba of Alba Restaurante Español, Mike Hilton & Ahtisa Manalo of Koomi and Aiza Mesina of La Carnita.

Here are 10 Key Lessons I learned to help you thrive on your own pandemic journey.

Mary Grace Cafe

Mary Grace’s legendary pandemic story continues as they expand into 50 cafes and 46 kiosks nationwide. All the outlets are 100% owned by the family to maintain their personal touch when it comes to ambiance, quality of the food and management of the company.

Watch: 🔴 The Resilience Story of MARY GRACE: Lessons from the Pandemic with Adrian Dimacali

1. First, take care of your people and their families.

The bedrock of any restaurant business are the employees. Employees are not a drain on cash but rather the ones who generate the cash and give life to the business. To survive in the pandemic, you have to take care of your people and their families so that they will take care of your restaurant business and your customers.

✅ Are you taking care not only of your employees but also their families?

2. Stay true to your core purpose.

Know what’s the purpose of your restaurant brand in society. For Mary Grace, their core purpose is to be the second home away from home of their guests, whether they are dining by themselves or with a group, dining out or meeting friends over zoom. They make sure to keep their stores open and to keep every detail of the restaurant clean for safety, just like home.

✅ Have you defined the core purpose of your restaurant in society?

Crosta Pizza

Crosta Pizza is regarded as one of the best pizzas in Manila, opening soon in Ikea Philippines. People love their pizza for the quality of their dough and their innovation with the Detroit-style of pizza.

Watch: 🔴 CROSTA PIZZA: The Resilience Story with Thomas Woudwyk and Ingga Cabangon Chua

3. Don’t be Afraid to Innovate.

Crosta developed more cult following, specially during the pandemic, with their eye-popping pepperoni pizza, Detroit-style pizza with stuffed triangle crust and their own thin cheese crust. With more businesses going online, your brand can effectively cut through the social media noise with new flavors, new ingredients or new presentations while maintaining the high quality of your product.

✅ Have you innovated or introduced new products during the pandemic?

4. Digital Transformation is Crucial.

Most restaurants neglect the need to digitally transform their operation to handle deliveries during lockdown. Crosta developed pickup.ph to transform their operation and be able to handle online inquiries and orders and have the pizza ready for pick-up or delivery right on time when customers expect it to be. Now is the time to develop your business to be lockdown-resilient.

We raved about It here: Crosta Pizza: Poblacion Pizza Drive-Thru (A Review)

✅ Did you transform your online presence and ordering process during the pandemic?

Alba Restaurante Español

Alba Restaurante Español is the institution known for authentic Spanish cuisine in the Philippines and recognized as the OG standard for Spanish food in the country.

Watch: 🔴 Culinary Story of Chef Miguel de Alba of Alba Restaurante Español

5. Restaurant is a Relationship Business.

The restaurant is a relationship business with employees, suppliers, partners, lessors and most specially customers. Nurturing this relationship throughout the pandemic is key, not to mention doing whatever it takes—like creating frozen deli food, offering delivery for paella, cochinillo and even canonigo and doing private catering when needed.

✅ Do you nurture your relationship with your customers on a more personal level?

6. Pandemic is a Silver Lining.

With an unshakeable trust in our Lord, the pandemic can be a blessing in disguise. Alba is known for their Spanish buffet which is no longer viable with the pandemic, so the restaurant’s a la carte menu is now getting the spotlight for dine-in and take out. With more and more competition coming from home-based businesses, the restaurants are challenged to elevate their food and to redefine their ambiance and experience in the post-pandemic world.

✅ Do you take advantage of the new opportunities offered by the pandemic?


Koomi is a healthy yogurt beverage franchise from Australia now taking Manila by storm during this pandemic. By end of the year, they are targeting to expand to 60 Koomi stores across Metro Manila, Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga.

🔴 The Story of KOOMI in Manila with Mike Hilton & Ahtisa Manalo

7. Healthy Alternative to Comfort Food.

Pre-pandemic, Filipinos were addicted to milk tea, and the current health crisis made people rethink about enjoy their drinks still but in a healthier way. Koomi capitalizes on yogurt as a probiotic drink and fresh fruits as sources of vitamin boost for the immune system. Now is the time to take advantage of the healthy immune boosting trend that will permanently change the way we enjoy our food post-pandemic.

✅ Do you have a healthy immune boosting product in your offering?

8. Take Time to Perfect your Branding.

I love how Koomi perfected their branding before launching in the market by offering a Filipino yogurt version vs. the Aussie massim original, providing local favorites like avocado, ube and mango goodness and finally having an awesome delivery take out packaging box made specially for drinks. Add to these the use of Koomi to refer to the goodness of the yogurt instead of just the name of the cow mascot and the use of the #guiltlessgoodness hashtag to communicate the brand proposition online.

✅ Have you perfected your branding during this pandemic?

La Carnita

La Carnita, a Modern Mexican Cantina offering Filipino Mexican favorites, is known for their Grilled Nachos a la Bomba, which is like nachos x raclette. From being a hit concept in a food park, they applied the lessons on how to expand, specially during the pandemic.

Watch: 🔴 The Story of LA CARNITA – Home of Nachos a la Bomba with Aiza Mesina

9. Location and Format of the Store are Key to Start-up Success.

You have to be smart about the location and the format of the store. This specially applies to those successful home-based businesses planning to expand to a brick and mortar store. Cost-effective locations outside the mall that are near an existing neighborhood or hospitals or health facilities with a take-out format are thriving in this pandemic.

✅ Do you have the right location and format for your store?

10. Millennials are Key for Franchising Opportunities.

Millennial entrepreneurs are resilient and look at risks in this pandemic as opportunities to build their business by franchising successful food products. Target existing food outlet franchises with adjacent location opportunities to synergize their food offering to capture communities. Take advantage of favorable rental rates and lock-in long-term rental contracts.

✅ Do you continue to look for franchising opportunities during this time?

🙏 We continue to pray for the food and travel industry to survive this pandemic. Hope these lessons inspire you and give you ideas on how to thrive during these trying times.

Live an Awesome Life with Christ,

Founder & Digital Creator, Our Awesome Planet

Disclosure: We paid for our meals. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.

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