- Empty Restaurant tables are becoming ubiquitous.
- COVID-19 is keeping the dine-in customers at home.
- States are starting to shut down dine-in options for restaurants.
This could have a devastating effect on the small restaurant owners and the staff who need to provide for their families.
The environment is rife with speculations
- Will there be a complete lockdown?
- How long will it be?
- Can we expect delivery and pick-up orders to increase?
- Will we be able to tide through this phase on delivery and pick-up orders alone?
- Will warm weather slow the virus’ spread?
There are no definitive answers, we can only “Keep On Keeping On”!
As a restaurateur, your first priority is the safety of your guests and your employees. However, with an increasing number of preventive measures that are being put in place to contain the spread of the virus and impending lockdowns, you’ll need to adopt proactive measures to minimize the losses during the current slowdown and to tide over this crisis. We have divided the strategies to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on your Restaurant Business into 3 categories.
- Precautionary Measures
- Operational Measures
- Marketing Measures
How can restaurants minimize the impact of COVID-19?
1. Safety Should be Your First Priority. Lay down detailed guidelines for your service staff and kitchen staff. Remove all tableware including salt shakes and sauces with single-use sachets.
2. Go cashless
3. Train Your Staff To Handle Any Emergency
4. Look Opportunities for Cutting Down Costs
5. Rethink Your Menu – remove low demand resource-intensive items and come up with menu items that lend themselves to delivery and takeout.
6. Providing Delivery Is The Way To Go
7. Work With Third-Party Delivery Services
8. Go Big On Contactless Delivery And Curbside Pickup
9. Come up with Offers And Specials To Meet Changing Demands
10. Win The Confidence Of Your Customers
a. Put up posters publicizing your sanitizing efforts.
b. Pop-ups on the website/ online ordering platform should talk about your efforts.
c. Publicize the efforts you are taking to ensure in-store sanitation on your social media handles/ emails to customers/chatbot messages/ text messages.
e. Communicate your commitment to the community and let them know that you are concerned about their safety and wellbeing.
f. Connect with local Facebook groups to reach out to your local community and thank them for their support.
g. Reach out to local group admins and request them to call on the community to support local businesses in this hour of crisis.
11. Explore Alternatives: Appeal to your loyal customers to buy gift cards to help you ride over the crisis.
12. Stay On Top Of Options: There are several Government/Public Grants and private initiatives
Private Initiatives to help restaurants during the current crisis.
13. Rent negotiation: Reach out to your landlord to explain the situation and ask them if they are willing to help you out with some temporary rent discount until things settle down.
COVID-19: Resources and Relief Programs Available To Restaurants
1. Pay-check Protection Program
2. Economic Injury Disaster Loans
3. Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loan
4. SBA Debt Relief
5. SBA Express Bridge Loans
Private Initiatives such as Dining Bond Initiative and Facebook Small Business Grant .
Resources For Restaurant Workers
a. ROC Disaster Relief Fund
b. Another Round, Another Rally
c. One Fair Wage
d. Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation
Reopening Checklist: Prepare Your Restaurant to Welcome Back Dine-in Guests
a. Operating Hours: Consider going back to normal operating hours in a phased manner. .
b. Rethink Your Menu: eliminate buffets and other resource-intensive menu items or items having a very low demand.
c. Take Stock of Your Inventory: Keep small inventories. Remove resource intensive items from your menu.
Remove items that will be difficult to procure and look for substitutes.
d. Labor: You can choose to incrementally adjust labor based on demand and hours of operation. If you do plan to hire additional labor, ensure that you start the hiring process well in time to be ready for the re-opening.
e. Managing Multiple Locations: If you own multiple locations, you should avoid sharing resources between them to minimize contact between personnel. If you work with a larger team, you could consider splitting them into two teams that do not interact with one another.
f. Lay Down Clear GUIDELINES for the Staff
g. Any Employee Who Has Any Symptoms Should Be Sent On Leave
h. There should be clear guidelines for workers returning to work after recovery
i. Lay down detailed guidelines for your Service Staff and Kitchen Staff and establish a disinfecting protocol and schedule cleaning time.
j. Minimize Contact at Each Touchpoint: Limit the number of customers to 50% (some states have stipulated 25%) of seating capacity. Consider reservation /call ahead process so that you can adhere to capacity and distance requirement.
k. Use technology where possible to minimize contact, including mobile ordering, menu tablets, texts on arrival for seating, and contactless payment.
l. Use floor markings/decals to maintain distance both inside and outside your establishment and contactless payment.
m. Control and monitor all movement of guests within the restaurant such as trips to restrooms etc to maintain distancing requirements.
n. Encourage customers to remain in cars while waiting to be seated/ or for to-go orders.
e. Rethink Seating Plan: No tables of more than 6 people.
f. Prepare Tables for Guests: Remove condiments, silverware, flatware, glassware, or other traditional table-top items and eliminate table presets.
h. Have Guidelines for Food Delivery and TakeOut and Delivery Drivers
j. Communicate distancing and safety guidelines to suppliers.
k. Publicize your efforts
1. Precautionary Measures
a. Safety Should be Your First Priority
- Lay down detailed guidelines for your service staff and kitchen staff.
- Ensure that your restaurant is as clean as possible. (Note: You can get a list of approved disinfectants on the EPA website. Regular soap is equally effective. The virus is coated in an oily membrane that disintegrates by soap and water.)
- Ensure that none of the staff is sick or showing symptoms of sickness.
- Every surface that customers touch, like doors, tables, drink stations, light switches, bathrooms should be disinfected at regular intervals.
- Ensure that your staff washes their hands regularly and uses protective gloves and masks.
- Schedule cleaning times.
- Encourage customers to wash their hands before eating.
- Provide disinfectant napkins/ sanitizers on tables.
- Replace salt shakes and sauces left on tables with single-use sachets.
- Go cashless, if possible.
- If possible, put more space between tables, or “reserve” alternate tables so that customers can maintain a safe distance from each other while enjoying the dine-in experience.
b. Train Your Staff To Handle Any Emergency
Some restaurants are going to the extent of taking customers’ temperatures at the door and denying entry to anyone who shows symptoms.
If that feels too extreme, you should at least train your staff on how to react if a customer starts displaying symptoms.
- How will you make sure that the guest leaves your restaurant while ensuring minimum contact with other guests and employees?
- What steps do you need to take to disinfect the area after the guest has left?
2. Operational Measures
a. Opportunities for Cutting Down Costs
In the current crisis, you may have to reduce staff or cut down on operation hours to save on costs. Take stock of your inventory. Are there any fresh purchases you can avoid given the low order volume of orders
b. Rethink Your Menu
Looking at order history from the past few weeks (based on what you are customers are ordering most), you can work out which menu items you can eliminate for the time being.
In case, you have to go delivery or take-out only, you can prune your menu to include only those items that have a high demand and deliver well.
c. Providing Delivery Is The Way To Go
With many cities/states limiting or banning dine-in options, you should focus on getting more pick up & delivery orders. If you are not providing delivery, now is the time to consider adding it given the fact that you would have some wait staff available to do this.
- Come up with offers and discounts to promote online orders and delivery. For instance, to increase the frequency of orders you could offer waive of delivery fee or give a percentage discount on offers above a certain value.
d. Work With Third-Party Delivery Services
As we have seen an upsurge in delivery and pick-up orders in all states dealing with Covid-19, if you are not working with any third-party delivery service, now is the time to get started. To help small restaurants cope with the current crisis, several delivery platforms have cut down on their commissions or removed them completely. Uber Eats, for instance, has initiated the $0 Delivery Fee* campaign by waiving the Delivery Fee for independent, non-franchised restaurants across the US and Canada. Doordash is launching the #openfordelivery campaign to promote partner restaurants.
In case, your delivery partner has not come up with any such waivers, you should reach out to them to negotiate the fees. After all, their existence is incumbent on your survival.
b. Go Big On Contactless Delivery And Curbside Pickup
- Advertise to your customers that you provide contactless delivery and how they can provide delivery instructions on your online ordering platform or via phone.
- Publicize that you provide curbside pickup and customers can pick up their to-go orders safely.
- If possible, start offering drive-thru.
c. Offers And Specials To Meet Changing Demands
Come up with offers and specials to need of the hour.
- Work-from-home lunch specials
- Specials for pick-up
- Freeze and Bake options
- Combo deals for families or Family Meal Deals
3. Marketing Measures
a. Win The Confidence Of Your Customers
- Put up posters publicizing your sanitizing efforts.
- Pop-ups on the website/ online ordering platform should talk about your efforts.
- Publicize the efforts you are taking to ensure in-store sanitation on your social media handles/ emails to customers/chatbot messages/ text messages.
Use every marketing channel at your disposal to reach out to your customer base. This could include:
- Social Media Handles
- Text Messages
- Chat Bot Blast
Create customized messages for each channel
- Post about the safety measures you are taking.
- Promote Online Ordering/ Delivery
- Promote Curbside Pick- up
- Contactless delivery
- Offers on Online Orders
- Specials that you may be offering at this time
b. Reach Out to Your Community
Engaging your community is going to be critical during the coronavirus. Reach out to them on social media, emails, calls, texts, whatever you can and show them the human face behind the brand.
- Communicate your commitment to the community and let them know that you are concerned about their safety and wellbeing.
- Connect with local Facebook groups to reach out to your local community and thank them for their support.
- Reach out to local group admins and request them to call on the community to support local businesses in this hour of crisis.
c. Explore Alternatives
- Reach out to apartment complexes/ offices in the neighborhood to check if there are any catering opportunities. You could also hand-out posters promoting curbside delivery information at these apartments and offices.
- Reach out to local organizations like schools and other non-profits to see if they can organize virtual fundraisers.
- Gift Cards: Appeal to your loyal customers to buy gift cards to help you ride over the crisis. If you don’t currently sell gift cards, you can consider printing vouchers valid for the next 18 months.
- Government/Public Grants: The government will come up with emergency packages (coronavirus stimulus package) to help small businesses during this time. Stay on top of these developments. Contact your local chamber of commerce to find out more.
- Private Initiatives: Many individuals and business houses will come forward to support small business owners who are one of the worst affected by this global crisis. You must keep up with any such initiatives. We do hope and pray that we do not need them but it is best to be prepared under all circumstances.
- Rent negotiation: Reach out to your landlord to explain the situation and ask them if they are willing to help you out with some temporary rent discount until things settle down.
In this challenging time, we must adopt an All-Hands-On Deck-Approach to deal with the crisis. Now more than ever, it’s vital to remember how important it is to stay strong and support each other!