This post was created in cooperation with the Portland Independent Restaurant Alliance.
COVID-19 is a disaster that is just as destructive as an earthquake or tsunami. Not only has it affected the health and safety of countries and citizens around the world, but it has also affected our businesses, careers, and personal finances. The virus has cost our families, our colleagues, our employees, and our friends, and now, it’s costing the foodservice community at large.
But we can weather this crisis if we pull together, both as a people and as an industry.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of advice, recommendations, and resources that we hope will help you and yours get through these trying times, whether you’ve been laid off or are still operating under restrictions.
The Current Situation
Different states are handling the virus in different ways. As of this writing, states like New York have implemented quarantine measures and closed non-essential businesses (including bars and restaurants). Others, like Nebraska, have only released public health advisories and not enforced any closures at all.
News site AlJazeera has released a comprehensive list of each state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to date.
Visit this site for a live update of infection numbers by state.
To get an official status update of government actions and statistics in your region, visit https://govstatus.egov.com/
How Can I Keep My Employees & Patrons Safe?
At this point, most restaurants and food service establishments have closed their dining areas either by choice or by mandate and have limited service to takeout and delivery. This is meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but even with such measures, there is still a risk for you and your team.
Protect your team and customers by adopting the following safety measures assembled by the James Beard Foundation:
- Be completely transparent with your team – advise them of the risks of working right now and the situation in your area
- Provide gloves, face masks and hairnets to all of your staff
- Mandate frequent hand-washing sessions
- Forbid employees from showing up to work if they feel sick, have a fever, or exhibit other symptoms of illness
- Request that employees practice social distancing
- Disinfect tables, chairs, countertops, tools, shelves, bathrooms, metallic surfaces, and other frequently touched areas multiple times a times
- Remove condiment containers, tissue dispensers and other objects that could be handled by customers and pass along contagions
- Have thermometers on-site to check staff temperatures
- Supply guests with hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes if interacting directly with guests
- Throw away used containers and packaging and wash hands immediately after handling
- Discard used gloves and wear new gloves before handling food
Consult the CDC Fact Sheet for more tips and information.
How Can I Keep My Business Afloat During the Coronavirus Crisis?
The next few months will be a trying time for many brands, even if the actual quarantine period only lasts for a short time (which already doesn’t appear likely). Although many restaurants are still allowed to provide takeout and delivery service, this alone may not be enough to keep these businesses alive.
We’ve spoken to restaurant and foodservice operators across the industry for advice and recommendations on how to keep the business solvent:
Recognize what customers care about.
Customers are more safety-conscious than ever. Brand loyalty is now taking a backseat to health standards. Demonstrate to customers that you are consistently taking proper precautions, and they are more likely to buy from you again in the coming weeks. Use social media or email to communicate with your loyal and prospective customers.
Show your employees you care.
Take employee health and safety seriously and pay attention to their concerns. If an employee doesn’t feel like they are being taken care of, they are less likely to follow your policies and take care of the customer.
Reassess your menu–once.
Review your menu and consider trimming it down to meals that use long-lasting or more affordable ingredients. This will stretch your available funds and help you afford to stay open for a little bit longer.
Once you’ve streamlined your offerings, do not change it. Customers will no longer have the luxury of sitting down and leisurely scanning the menu. Keep it consistent so that customers who order online and phone-in will know what to expect.
Do an immediate cash flow check.
Stop what you’re doing and take stock of all your cash, credit, inventory, assets, and liabilities. Know what your restaurant has available, down to the last cent. Knowing your numbers will allow you to assess how much stuff you can afford to keep* and how much inventory you can afford to purchase to survive.
*Resources for impacted companies & their staff are at the bottom of this article.
Get on social media.
Customers are no longer walking by your storefront or taking each other to lunch. Foot traffic is gone. The only way customers will know you’re open is if you get on social media and make your presence known.
Need a crash course in social media basics? Learn fast.
Offer gift cards.
Gift cards will allow loyal diners to pre-purchase meals in exchange for giving you more short-term cash. The James Beard Foundation also suggests participating in dining bonds, which would enable customers to purchase at a lower value to redeem at a higher value later on.
Borrow as much as you can.
Banks will consider restaurants and other foodservice brands to be a higher-risk investment during this time, but you should immediately find alternative sources of funding to supplement your cash resources. This crisis period may take a long time to resolve, and you need to be prepared and have a source of emergency funds. Grants may also work if you can get through the application process.
Contact your representative.
Reach out to your local, city, county, and state representatives! Tell them of your challenges and petition them for fast, firm, and effective action. Visit https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials to get their contact information. For our neighbors to the north, Canadian restaurateurs can contact their members of parliament at https://www.ourcommons.ca/Members/en/search.
My Restaurant Shutdown. What Do I Do Now?
The restaurant you work in may have closed its doors, but have hope. You can still make valuable use of your time and prepare for the future, for when the crisis is resolved.
Here are a few places that are hiring a lot of people quickly:
If you need emergency cash, there are quite a few relief funds and charities specifically for businesses, and specifically hospitality workers:
- U.S. Small Business Administration
- Another Round Another Rally
- The Giving Kitchen
- USBG National Charity Foundation
- Montreal Restaurant Worker’s Relief Fund
- PDX Mutual Aid – Emergency grocery supply and delivery for the Portland area
- CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees)
- One Fair Wage
- Restaurant Opportunities Center
- Restaurant Relief Worker’s Fund
- Canada Emergency Business Account
- Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
You can also use this time to develop a new skill or learn a new trade so that you can switch careers if you are unable to return to the hospitality business.
Free online classes include:
- Free Ivy League Courses
- Online courses on multiple topics at Udemy
- Download any textbooks you want from Scribd (30 days free)
- Search engine marketing from com (limited time)
- Content marketing from Ahrefs
- Computer programming from Codecademy
- Sales training on com
No matter what happens, just remember that if we stay strong, we will pull through — as individuals, as businessmen, and as an industry. This, too, shall pass.
See you on the other side. Stay safe.