The Coronavirus, also known as COVID -19, is already affecting the economy, at least in the short term, with cancelled events, cruises and less foot traffic to retail stores and restaurants. But will it continue and for how long? The answer is we just don’t know.
So, what can restaurants do to mitigate the negative effects of this pandemic on their business?
Which actions should be considered whether you’re a single restaurant operator or an executive at a large franchised chain? In short, everyone should do the same things.
First, you should develop strategies for the following areas:
Now is the time to re-train all employees about proper hand washing techniques.
The key is to wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot, soapy water. The secret to knowing how long to wash your hands is to sing Happy Birthday to yourself two times. That’s right, two complete verses of the birthday song lasts about 20 seconds.
This would be a good time to refresh your restaurant team’s use of gloves too.
(The National Restaurant Association video on hand washing on YouTube)
Now is the time to double-down on overall restaurant cleanliness. Re-train employees how to sweep and mop floors, scrub countertops, and clean and disinfect equipment. It may be hard to accept that you need to add labor to outwardly show how important cleanliness is to you and your restaurant, but it’s crucial. Have twice as many employees clean and wipe things down, especially in high traffic times. Have them clean tables, disinfect salt and pepper shakers, ketchup bottles, and menus. This will be a visual cue to customers that the restaurant management takes their responsibility to provide a clean, safe environment very seriously. If you don’t, the customers gracing you with their presence may decline more than your competitors because they did a better job showing how important cleanliness and food safety is.
When the effects of COVID-19 create declining restaurant traffic, you will be cutting labor and reducing schedules, even if you boost your cleaning efforts. Employees will lose hours and may become financially distressed. And in some cases, they will become sick with the virus. Not only will you have retrained your teams on hand washing and cleaning protocols, but you must tell your employees not to come in to work if they are sick. As a matter of fact, you should make it very clear that an employee coughing and sneezing and exhibiting any other symptoms will not be allowed to work. This “don’t work if you’re sick” policy could create shortages for some shifts and add to the stress, but it’ll be worth it for overall morale and appearances. Also be mindful of employee attitudes and awareness of the Coronavirus to minimize surprises.
Dine-in occasions are already taking a hit. Now’s the time to make a plan and improve or add delivery to your operation. That’s because customers will likely feel more safe dining at home, especially if they have delivery options from healthy delivery drivers.
Several of the 3rd party delivery operators are offering no-contact drop-offs which will help with overall social distancing. Delivery was already a growing occasion and this pandemic may boost that dining option to new heights.
As a marketing guy, I know less about supply chain so this will be short. Common sense dictates you take an inventory of your food, paper and other supplies. Do any of them come from China or other affected countries? If they do, you may want to check with your distributor and consider domestic alternatives.
If you don’t have a communication and/or crisis management plan, now is the time to create one. From a communication standpoint, many brands in the travel, hospitality, retail and restaurant industries have already sent emails to their customers explaining the precautions they are taking to keep employees and customers safe. Potbelly Sandwich Shop included a list of best practices as provided by their vendors:
A good line to add is a reference to the CDC web site like this:
We are closely following the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines and recommendations on the steps we can take to help prevent the spread of the virus.
It is also a good idea to post a copy or link to your external communication on the home page of your web site like Darden restaurants did.
Map out all of the possible threats your establishment faces and create responses for each one. Know what your messages are going to be and who will be the spokesperson to deliver them. For example, if a bunch of your employees at one location get sick with Coronavirus, be ready to deliver a message that all employees have been tested, the infected ones are in quarantine and everything on your restaurant is scrubbed clean multiple times a day.
In conclusion, with the Coronavirus contagion rapidly growing in this country and worldwide, you as a restaurant operator have responsibilities to your employees, guests and other stakeholders. The safety of your employees and customers is paramount and everything you can do to safeguard both will pay dividends in the future.