Currently, the U.S. is home to over 15 million trained employees in the restaurant industry. No matter how long you may have been in the restaurant business, there is no way to be 100% ready for a pandemic like the COVID-19 one. As business owners, we often have contingency plans for natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and fires, and we may have a plan of action in cases of cyberattacks, but that is usually about it. 

No one can easily predict a virus outbreak that will put many small businesses struggling for work, so don’t let that discourage you. Instead, we want to help you come up with a new restaurant strategy to help you survive these testing times.

Before you go on and lay off all your staff and lock the doors of your restaurant, take a deep breath and sit down. Let the initial panic blow over, so your mind clears, and you start thinking straight again. Not all is lost, and you shouldn’t go down without at least a fight. Here is what you can do. 

What Is a Business Continuity Plan 

Basically, it is a backup plan in case there are emergency situations beyond your control. It is a plan that covers steps for maintaining the productivity of your business so it can recover during and after a catastrophe. It is likely you don’t have such a plan yet, so we will help you figure out the logical steps to create an environment that lets you and your workers keep your jobs. It’s not as difficult as it may sound, and creativity in adding more steps is more than welcome.

Based on possible threats, you need to prepare procedures to help combat problems as they come. Since the problem is already here, a.k.a. the coronavirus, you can learn as you go. The steps we propose in this blog are inspired by the National Restaurant Association’s toolkit and are specifically related to this pandemic, but as you get to know them, you’ll find they can easily be applied for a variety of other disastrous situations. Your restaurant’s marketing plan will also change in the process.

#1 Check Government and Industry-Related Pandemic Protocols

Check Government and Industry-Related Pandemic Protocols

Dealing with a pandemic is not a solitary effort. There are existing protocols from industry organizations that are a great starting point. In your case, you need to check the National Restaurant Association’s page about COVID-19. It offers a vast pool of resources and important answers to the most urgent questions you’re probably asking yourself at the moment. 

Aside from that, look at the state and local pandemic protocols available in your area. Contact the local emergency service or the health department to inquire more about the situation and what measures apply to your business. Check this page for more contact details for each state.

#2 Keep the Communication With Your Employees Open and Honest

Keep the Communication With Your Employees Open and Honest

You don’t need us to tell you this, but open communication with your staff should always be part of how you conduct your business. However, this is especially true in critical times when your employees will be scared for their financial security and keeping food on the table not only for your restaurant but at their homes, too.

Start by educating them about the actual scale of the virus and try to debunk fake news to mitigate fear and stress. The CDC is the perfect source to find actual data about what is happening. Aside from that, make sure to communicate what you’re doing to protect them and keep their jobs. Even if you don’t have the answers yet, update them with your ideas and plan of action. Knowing that you’re actively seeking options is often enough for them to keep their trust in you.

Learn the procedures regarding sick leave related to the pandemic, find the essential employees that are the backbone of your operations, as well as those who are the heart of the team – you will need someone to keep the spirits up. Once you have a temporary plan, communicate it to your staff and explain your reasoning.

#3 Establish a Safe Working Environment

Establish a Safe Working Environment

The COVID-19 outbreak dictates increasing the cleanliness of the workplace to the highest possible measures. Keeping your kitchen, equipment, and premises clean is an absolute must if you are to remain operational, even if just for takeout and delivery orders. Keeping your restaurant clean also means letting your employees understand how important it is for them to report if they get any symptoms. 

#4 Define Your Skeleton Crew

Define Your Skeleton Crew

If you can only offer takeout and delivery for the time being, this means you will be operating with a smaller team. Picking who stays on that team should be both strategic and logical. There shouldn’t be irrational decisions in your renewed restaurant strategy.

Earlier, we said you need to identify the essential people on your staff in terms of operation, as well as those who are the heart of the team. Choose among these employees and construct a critical team that is just enough to keep things running. 

The good news is, with the ban (or recommendations not) to eat out, more people will turn to takeout, so you can add more employees to the skeleton crew as the situation unfolds. Be very strict in following the rules for takeout, the hygiene levels you need to keep, and other regulations.

#5 Prepare for Unavailable Employees

Prepare for Unavailable Employees

In times of quarantine and a virus that hasn’t been contained yet, you should prepare for the possibility of some of your employees not showing up for work. It could be because they got infected, have someone infected at home, need to take care of their children, don’t have transportation, etc. 

If you have enough people on board, and your skeleton crew is about 30% of all employees, you can relax slightly more than those whose core team consists of more than 50% of the entire staff. The first group can afford to have two-thirds of their employees unavailable to work and still remain operational, while the second group can only have less than half the people out of work and no more than that.

#6 Learn the Local Operational Rules

Learn the Local Operational Rules

Foodservice is among the very few segments that will stay open during the pandemic. Stay informed as to any serving and logistics requirements, and make sure you know who the decision-makers are, so you know who to contact if you have any questions.

#7 Let People Work From Home

Let People Work From Home

Yes, the majority of your restaurant’s operations require people to be present on location. However, you can easily let your digital marketer work from home. You still need to have someone take care of your website, your Facebook page, your Instagram, and other social media channels. Your restaurant’s marketing plan shouldn’t be stopped.

Promoting your restaurant when everyone is online looking for a nice takeout in their area is the only way to secure a steady flow of clients. It’s also how you will be communicating with your community in the foreseeable future.

Start your online presence today, so you can have clients tomorrow!

If you have no online presence yet, there is no better time to fix that than right now. Take advantage of the fact people are more online now than ever because of the shutdown.

#8 Minimize Your Losses

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, you are going to lose money and business. Until you find a new pace of work during the pandemic, you have to cut some expenses and work with what you’ve got. For example, you can:

  • Modify your menu to respond to item shortages and client concerns
  • Increase your remote ordering capacity and online and phone support
  • Increase your takeout options and offer curbside/contactless delivery

The Bottom Line

There will hardly be a restaurant that doesn’t get hit by the coronavirus recession. It may all seem lost, but don’t make rushed decisions just yet. Take a look at our proposed steps and fight for your business. Get the necessary cleaning supplies, communicate openly with your employees, construct a skeleton team that is enough to keep things running, keep track of legislative changes, cut your losses, and adapt to the situation at hand. 

You wouldn’t be wrong to consider taking on debt to inject some money into your operations. Learn more about your options here.

You got this.

Stay safe!
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