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How restaurants can minimize the impact of COVID-19

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As officials rush to get ahead of spreading coronavirus and mounting public alarm, restaurateurs are finding themselves on the wrong end of a worldwide lockdown. Some have closed their establishment and many are still trying to survive.

As a restaurateur, your priority is obviously the safety of your team and your guests. But after ensuring a safe environment, you’ll need to get proactive — and creative — to stay afloat during the current period of lower dine-in business.

This article presents strategies and tips to help restaurants minimize the revenue impact of the coronavirus, and for driving new revenue where possible. We’ll cover the above-and-beyond precautions your restaurant needs to take to accept dine-in guests, how you can streamline your operation temporarily, and promotional initiatives you can take to drive revenue.

In these surreal times, remember that this situation is a chance for you to leverage and deepen relationships with your loyal customers. They’ll be the ones who will carry your business through the uncertain times ahead, and who will help you return to normal when the world emerges again.

HOW YOUR RESTAURANT CAN RESPOND TO THE CORONAVIRUS

No one knows how long this situation will last. Some are hoping that warm weather will slow the virus’ spread and let health officials get a hold of the situation; others are preparing for a very bleak few months. The only thing we know is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The below advice falls into two categories: preventative measures you can take to minimize the revenue hit of the current slowdown, and proactive initiatives that can help you drive incremental revenue now — while setting your restaurant up for an eventual return to normalcy.

MAKE YOUR RESTAURANT FEEL LIKE A SAFE SPOT TO GUESTS

The first step in combating coronavirus is to make your restaurant as clean as possible. The EPA has created a list of disinfectants that are effective at killing SARS-CoV-2, which you can find here. (Note that regular soap really is effective. The virus is coated in an oily membrane, which means it is disintegrated by soap and water.)

Pay special attention to any surface customers touch, like light switches and doors, and any system that circulates air. Provide antibacterial gloves for your team, especially if they handle cash. (Some operators are going temporarily cashless.) Finally, many restaurants have scheduled multiple daily professional cleanings. Take every initiative you can to keep your restaurant disinfected.

But don’t just clean to make your restaurant safe. Send a message to your customers that your restaurant is a haven from what’s outside.

Leave a hint of disinfectant in the air. Have your bussers make performances of wiping down tables and chairs after each guest leaves. Put up signage touting your frequent and committed sanitizing efforts. Add disinfectant napkins to service.

Make an abundance of caution part of your brand. Put language about your efforts on your site and in your booking flow. If you choose to put more space between tables, broadcast that on social media. Do everything you can to make guests seek out your restaurant as a place of refuge.

Lastly and most importantly, if you are not able to guarantee sanitary conditions, consider closing your restaurant.

OPEN UP YOUR RESERVATION POLICIES

Lower rates of walk-ins and new bookings mean that you should plan to overbook more than usual.

Open up your pacing to allow more flexibility for when guests can book.
Make more inventory reservable available across booking channels. This is a good time to leverage third-party booking channels.
Revisit your cancellation policies to accommodate the situation. If you normally charge a no-show fee, for example, consider waiving it.
Consider making changes to your floorplan. Some restaurants are removing tables so they can put more space between each guest.
You can also minimize no-shows by communicating with guests to confirm existing reservations. It’s a good opportunity to reassure guests of the precautions you’re taking, and to offer any promotions you have to get them to complete the reservation: a complimentary appetizer, drink, loyalty rewards, etc.

PREPARE YOUR STAFF TO DEAL WITH SICK CUSTOMERS
Thorough, public sanitization is a given if you want to remain open during social distancing. But how should you react when a customer starts coughing?

Some restaurants are going to extreme measures to keep their staffs and guests safe. In Los Angeles, restaurant Sichuan Impression is taking its customers’ temperatures at the door and denying entry to anyone who refuses or shows symptoms.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, make sure your staff is trained on how to react when a customer starts displaying symptoms.

Equip staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks
Appear promptly on the spot with tissues or napkins
Offer the guest sanitizer or another disinfectant
Be prepared to put guests in touch with medical resources
Thoroughly disinfect every table, utensil, glass, and surface the questionable guest has contacted
Plan ahead of time for a circumstance in which you’ll need to expedite a guest’s exit from your restaurant
In general, make sure your team has a plan in place for dealing with a sick customer. Protecting your employees and making the other customers feel safe remains your number one priority.

IDENTIFY NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR COST SAVINGS

Beyond reducing staffing and / or hours of operation, here are some other ideas you might look into to right-size your business costs.

Analyze POS data for food cost savings
If you find yourself in the position of ordering a smaller amount of food or supplies, inform your purchasing by pulling recent purchase history from your POS system. Look for two things: which menu items you can temporarily eliminate (those ordered less frequently) and which meals your most loyal guests tend to prefer.

Partner with nearby restaurants
We are all in this together right now. Seek out and take any opportunity you can find to partner with a local restaurant: share kitchen space, resources, staff, supplies, etc. There are no restaurant competitors right now, only partners in weathering the storm.

Stay on top of stimulus options
As the coronavirus pandemic grows, various levels of government are likely to step in with emergency fiscal stimuli to help businesses survive. The details of any such plans are unclear as of this writing, but make sure to stay on top of the situation and avail your business of any assistance being offered. In New York City, for example, city government has made this financial assistance available. Contact your local chamber of Commerce to find out more.

BE ACTIVE ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

You can drive a lot of customers to your restaurant or order online by being active on your social media accounts. Social media is a productive and engaging way of telling your customers that you are ready to serve them despite the current situation and assure them of safety and quality of your products.

Sevenrooms, Mutant Media Group

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