Some Restaurants Are Staying Open, Here’s How
In the wake of COVID-19’s widespread impact, most restaurants decided to close in some capacity. Whether they limited their operations to delivery-only or shut their doors completely, food service establishments all over have severely limited their scopes to prevent the spread of disease.
However, not all restaurants have chosen to reduce operations; some still run full dine-in service in areas with no mandatory shut-down. Black Sheep Restaurants , a hospitality group based in Hong Kong, have kept their doors open throughout this entire pandemic. If you’re looking to do the same—and your city or country isn’t under lockdown orders to the contrary—they’ve released a how-to guide for operating safely during a plague.
Keeping a Safe and Healthy Environment
Despite what may seem like overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are valid reasons to want to maintain a fully functioning restaurant. Black Sheep was heavily motivated by the knowledge that their thousand employees had no other financial safety net, but plenty of bills. However, you need to prioritize health and wellness for your customers as well as your employees. Without them, there would be no restaurant to open.
As a business owner, you can restructure and implement protocols to protect everyone’s health and safety:
- Set tables a safe distance apart so diners won’t violate the six-foot social distancing rule. You can manage this by either changing your floor plan, or simply closing down or removing certain tables.
- Establish hygienic practices like sanitizing shared surfaces every thirty minutes, making masks available to everyone and requiring their use, cleaning more often and more intensely, banning physical contact between employees, and providing sanitizer or wipes for anyone to use.
- Give guests somewhere to store their masks, for example a bag or envelope. This prevents them from leaving them out on tables or potentially discarding them on the floor.
- Have guests sign health declarations and take their temperature with a contactless thermometer before allowing them to enter the premises. Don’t give access to anyone with an abnormal temperature and those displaying other signs of illness, with no exceptions.
- Find the nearest hospital and COVID-19 testing facility so you can easily refer people to the proper medical channels if they choose.
- Protect your other restaurants if you have multiple locations in the area. A group of customers turned away at one place might try and lie their way into another; develop a method, such as a group chat, for venues to communicate in real time and share time-sensitive information with each other.
- Establish contactless delivery and pickup options for customers. Utilize curbside pickup for food runners rather than allowing them to come inside and interact with guests and workers.
- Streamline your menu. Get rid of dishes that don’t sell very well so you can better optimize your staff’s time and energy. Reducing inventory also minimizes your contact with multiple suppliers.
- If possible, employ cash-free or touch-free payment methods.
Although maintaining a sanitary restaurant environment can take a lot of work during a pandemic, with proper distancing guidelines and new, stricter protocols, you can operate your restaurant both safely and efficiently.
Managing Your Staff
In these new and uncertain times, your employees all work on uncharted and potentially dangerous ground. Honesty will help you better handle their concerns; transparency is key. Let your employees know what, when and why you’re taking certain measures so they can fully understand the situation and better align themselves to your mindset. This ensures everyone works efficiently and furthers the goals of the business. Keep your employees in mind as you:
- Give your staff the option to take an indefinite leave of absence. This isn’t mandatory, but let them know that they are free to self-isolate if they see fit, and that their job will still be there when they’re ready to return to work. This will stop them worrying about job security, and prevent anyone from coming in sick to work out of fear of losing their position entirely.
- Be honest if you need to make pay cuts and establish unpaid leave regulations. Black Sheep provides advice to help its workers manage their finances, negotiate rent and fill out government forms if they need help translating from their native language.
- Provide any new information to your employees before making guests aware. Aside from seeming unprofessional if customers know more than the workers do, it breeds distrust and insecurity amongst your staff if they worry that you’re keeping things from them or that you’re not being entirely upfront.
- Make sure employees keeps their uniforms and appearances tidier than usual. Customers will associate messiness with uncleanliness. Don’t leave room for unnecessary worry; make sure your staff and business look as healthy as they are.
- Develop a game plan for when someone inevitably gets sick. A guest or a staff member will eventually send notice that they’ve fallen ill. Having a set plan in place allows you to react swiftly and accordingly. Train staff on how to handle potentially infectious situations as well.
- Using the same contactless thermometers that check customers’ health, take your employees’ temperatures every morning when they come in. Send home anyone who has symptoms or a fever.
- You can further minimize the risk of widespread infection by keeping workers on shift together. If the same five people always work the morning and a different five come in at night, one group will remain safe even if the other gets infected or needs to self-isolate until they’re sure the danger has passed.
- Put up signs around the restaurant reminding your staff about mandatory hygiene. For example, place signs over the sinks reminding everyone to wash their hands every thirty minutes.
- Boost morale any way that you can. Black Sheep leveraged the relationship with one of their supplier to acquire oranges for their team, a thoughtful gift that promotes health and wellbeing. They’re also beginning the Black Sheep Social Distancing Olympics. Come up with creative solutions with your own unique twist to keep your team’s spirits up and let them know you’re thinking of them. Happy employees work harder and better.
The New Customer Service
Much like your staff, guests prefer openness, blunt truth and transparency. Especially in a time when the smallest public gathering feels dangerous, people want to know that they can trust your business to prioritize their health over your profits.
However, you can’t necessarily guarantee the same honesty from your guests. Although trust is a two-way street, people don’t like disclosing sensitive information, especially if they’re worried that you might judge or ridicule them. Thus you need to be careful about how you approach sick (or potentially sick) customers to ensure that they, and everyone else who may have come in contact with them, feel heard and protected.
- Take names and contact information from everyone who comes into your restaurant, after they sign the health declaration and submit to the contactless thermometer. This way you can easily get in touch with guests who may have been in the restaurant at the same time as the reportedly sick individual, and they can thus take isolation measures of their own.
- Put out a public announcement and notify every guest about the potential infection. If you need to close or take extra precautions, alert anyone with an upcoming reservation about the unfolding situation. Even if you can’t convince them to reschedule their dinner, you can helpfully direct them to another of your venues or a restaurant close by that they might enjoy.
- Assign an employee to answer calls, emails and questions that come in. Customers will have a lot of trepidation about attending a sit-down meal while COVID-19 is still a relatively unknown threat. Make sure you always have someone available to reassure guests and address their concerns.
Redeveloping Your Social Media Strategy
Your social media pages are great avenues to connect with guests and address how you’re handling COVID-19 in real time. Create and establish new protocols for social media to ensure that all of your posts are timely, thought out, accurate and convey the same message on each of your pages. Use these platforms as a method to overshare—oversharing is the best scenario at this point to demonstrate your dedication to transparency and honesty with your customers.
- Construct a PR guideline to follow. Decide where customers should hear good news—From you or the press? Which platforms should you announce it on first?—and where they should learn about bad news too.
- Respond to journalists, even if it’s just with a short canned response. Reports that you’ve “declined to comment” or “could not be reached” will look fishy, and customers will suspect you’re hiding something. Right now, paranoia reigns.
- Don’t delete comments, especially the negative ones. Ignore any replies clearly just designed to get a rise out of you but have no real purpose, and address genuine criticism privately in a direct message or email. People will know if you’re deleting their comments and it makes the business look bad.
- Carefully vet everything before it goes on social media. Even generic phrases and post templates could seem outdated now. If you usually post about your Thursday special with the caption: “Everyone hurry down before it’s sold out!” it will seem insensitive and out-of-touch. Rework your strategy for this new, more isolated world.
You have the opportunity to foster your customer relationships in new, creative ways now that the old service-with-a-smile strategy is, by and large, unrealistic. Black Sheep provides templates “for various scenarios that you can adapt quickly and use across all platforms.” Check them out on Page 12 of the how-to guide.
Looking Toward the Future
Creativity is key as you adapt to life and business under COVID-19. Even if you choose, using these guidelines and hard work, to keep all operations running throughout this pandemic, business as you knew it won’t be the same for a very long time—possibly ever again. You need to adapt to this new way of life. For example, you can offer online classes and interactive experiences, the same way that many restaurants who halted dine-in service do to supplement their delivery-only model. Black Sheep also created a letter with tips and tricks that businesses can use to improve their day-to-day conditions, for example sanitization instructions and financial advice.
Most importantly, be flexible and maximize your strengths. Under COVID-19, life will continue to change from week to week, and bad news may come without warning. Develop strategies in advance for handling every conceivable situation and consider the future you want for your business. Even if your restaurant survives the pandemic, you’ll navigate an entirely new marketplace when the world reopens: One with less competition, sure, but also one where consumers have less disposable income to spend on nights out. Do you plan to restructure your service model? How will you draw in new customers? Will you return to business as usual? The future may be uncertain, but consider these questions so you’re prepared when it comes.
Familiarize yourself with this how-to guide as well as the templates that Black Sheep provides so that you can employ the necessary protocols at a moment’s notice. If you’re unsure if opening dine-in services is the right decision but you’re worried about letting down your community, take time to guarantee you’re prepared for the weight of either choice; closing certain services or keeping them open both come with their own risks, rewards and challenges. Ultimately you should do what’s best for your business, your employees and your community to get everyone through this troubling time together—for as long as it’s safe and legal to do so.
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