Here are five tips to help your restaurant survive the 2020 pandemic panic:
- If your restaurant is still running, keep wiping down – COVID-19 spreads by surface contact.
- Spread out your tables.
- Keep a log of events.
- Explore switching to a take-home/delivery service.
- Lower your prices!
HOW CAN MY RESTAURANT DEAL WITH THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS?
Sadly, there is not a restauranteur amongst us who is not asking themselves this question.
The problem with our industry is our dine-in areas. With curfews in place, we are not allowed any covers. And even if, in our country of operation, we are allowed to offer a takeaway business, there are few customers around to use it.
Letting down customers is bad enough. But what is really tearing up restaurateurs is having to let go of valuable staff.
A survey conducted by us of about 100 restaurateurs made it clear that they would not be able to keep up with the complete strength of employees for over a month. One of the major changes most of them mentioned would be to reduce the staff to a bare minimum.
Hiring and firing is a harsh reality of the restaurant trade. We get used to it. But the ultimate challenge we now face is keeping our businesses running at all.
Below we review some tips on what practical responses to emergency have worked in the past for restaurants and other businesses. We also highlight specific Coronavirus challenges.
Restauranteurs can restore their mojo by taking action:
- Use our Coronavirus Quick Fix Crisis Plan for Restaurants to address what immediate issues you can.
- Use our 3 Step Crisis Plan for Restaurants to set your business straight for the future.
- Get yourself a clipboard and make your own 20 point Restaurant Continuity Checklist. Use it to keep on top of your restaurant’s ability to prepare for, deal with, and learn from the crisis.
CORONAVIRUS QUICK FIX CRISIS PLAN FOR RESTAURANTS
Here are 5 Coronavirus action tips that you, as a restauranteur, can address right away:
1. Make sure your kitchen is clean
If your restaurant is still open, keep wiping down! Covid-19 spreads by surface contact.
2. Spread out your tables
Again, if you are still open, be sure to keep customers reassured by reworking your seating layout to offer as much space as possible between groups.
Make the best of crisis, and use this as an opportunity to address long-standing design issues without causing further disruption. Get rid of the furniture that has been getting on your nerves. Face the fact that you are going to be losing covers anyway, and reduce your number of seats in exchange for a new, open feel to your venue.
3. Keep a log of events
Whether you are still serving in dine-in area or not, begin a Coronavirus chronicle.
This is a crisis log, similar in its simple format to the accident log that keeps the health and safety of your employees on the level. Your Coronavirus chronicle will keep your business on the level.
To avoid any possible problems with computers going down, make this a written journal rather than a spreadsheet.
The aim of this crisis log is to document how the crisis impacts your business as it happens.
For each day, note down any key decisions you make, or any key events that impact your restaurant. Be specific. Be detailed. And try and be brief.
For example, on one day, the following three key events might happen at your restaurant:
- There is news in the media that your government has unveiled a package of support for restauranteurs
- You put up posters around town offering a contactless delivery service
- You have to fire 20% of your staff
The entry for this day in your crisis log might look like:
Date: April 4th 2020
News: government says there are grants. Action: research grants online asap
Action: have put posters up for delivery service in 3 of 6 target areas
Action: had to fire Mohammed AlGhaith, Fatima Mubasheer and Ali Khan
As well as updating your log every day, find the time, if you can, to record what has happened up to now since the Coronavirus panic began.
There are two big advantages to a restauranteur keeping a crisis log:
In the short-term, keeping a record of some kind can boost your morale. As the emergency progresses, and your chronicle begins to fill up day by day, you will be able to look back and see from previous entries that you have conquered seemingly impossible challenges already (fingers crossed!).
Over the long-term, your Coronavirus chronicle will help your business. Keeping a log of events is standard practice in corporate business continuity plans for handing incidents of disruption.
For us restauranteurs, investing in the simple discipline of keeping an emergency journal means we will be able to review our response to the emergency as part of our recovery from it. (See Step 3 below of our simple 3 Step Crisis Plan for Restaurants.)
When things go back to normal, we will need to know what went wrong and what went right.
4. Explore switching to a take-home/delivery service
If you are in an area where curfews are in operation, you may be allowed to make food deliveries.
This is the case in the UK, for example, where business experts point to the rapid thinking of restaurant giant Leon, who, ‘will this week launch an Ocado-style home delivery site as it reinvents itself to survive the coronavirus crisis.’
5. Lower your prices!
If you have switched your focus to home delivery, the best thing you can do to drum up trade is to lower prices. That’s what the Harvard Business Review says.
Any income is better than none. And, although customers expect to pay for delivery, the Covid-19 effect on spending means that your customers also expect a bargain.
But, writes pricing expert Rafi Mohammed of consultancy Culture for Profit, that doesn’t mean you should give customers any discounts or special offers without making it clear that they are discretionary and one-time only.
Otherwise you run the risk of devaluing your business when things, inevitably, go back to normal.
Four tips are suggested to ‘psychologically reinforce to customers that these discounts are unique and are not permanent’. Set up some easy hurdles which the customer must conquer to take advantage of your deals:
- Asking customers coming onsite to bring a food item for charity.
- Offering discounts on group purchases only.
- Cash only sales.
A SIMPLE 3 STEP CRISIS PLAN FOR RESTAURANTS
It is too late to plan for Coronavirus – but we can respond.
Our first response must be to ensure that we are not caught out again. We need a plan to tackle emergencies in the future. And you need to find a clipboard!
To keep things as simple as possible for you and staff, your new best friend is going to be a single Restaurant Continuity Checklist. This, on a single piece of paper, is the essence of your crisis plan. It is simply a list of bullet points; you can expand it or cut it as you see fit.
Divide your Restaurant Continuity Checklist into 3 steps:
- Plan before the emergency
- Act during the emergency
- Review after the emergency
PLAN BEFORE THE EMERGENCY
1. Prepare your 20-step Restaurant Continuity Checklist
You’re doing it right now. Keep going. And don’t be scared to include business continuity ideas that apply to all businesses – not just the food and beverage sector.
The important thing is to keep a single checklist (however detailed it is) in one place at your restaurant in hard copy. Then you have a single point of reference which staff can use as a crisis ‘bible’.
Use your Restaurant Continuity Checklist as the basis for your business continuity plan.
2. Develop & Practice Emergency Drills
You will already have evacuation drills in place. Review them, and take tips from the experts on how to make your fire drills more efficient.
3. Review your insurance
As a restaurant, you will already have a portfolio of different insurance packages.
The questions you need to ask as part of a regular review are: do I need the insurance I’ve got, and am I covered at a reasonable level? It is important to keep your insurance situation under review so that you can cut costs by switching insurer if possible.
(If you use a professional business advisor, they will be able to help you with this, as will your personal financial advisor if you have one.)
When it comes to crisis management in particular, you need to make sure you have an appropriate level of coverage. Find a balance between cost and the extent of coverage.
Standard restaurant insurance is designed to cover you in the event of your business causing harm; the average insurance claim for a restaurant in the UK is just over £6,000 (27,000 riyals).
But what we all want is insurance that will cover us from loss of revenue in the future caused by pandemics. That will be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so. We will have to wait and see what new proposals insurers make when the crisis has passed.
4. Begin employee crisis training upon hiring
You will quickly become used to hiring and firing in the restaurant trade. Make sure you also get used to delivering some basic training to your new hires immediately.
That means the standard health and safety induction, as well as getting them on board with any crisis procedures you have. Make sure they know about your Restaurant Continuity Checklist. Make sure too that all staff knows to keep the business informed of changes to contact details.
It’s all too easy to put off inductions for new joiners, especially given the frenetic pace of our trade. But don’t put it off, because an emergency can strike in the meantime and staff will not be prepared.
ACT DURING THE EMERGENCY
5. Keep a log
Keeping a crisis log allows you to keep a sense of perspective, as well as have a reliable record of events when you review the crisis later. See point 3. of our Coronavirus Quick Fix Crisis Plan above.
6. Make customer safety a priority ...
… Even if it means shutting down! Raqtan repeats: make customer safety a priority even if, for whatever reason, it means shutting down your restaurant.
Why? Because, as restauranteurs at any level, all we have is our reputation. You will regret it if you cut corners at times of crisis and end up at the centre of a food safety scare, for example. Even if any public liability is not your fault.
So, during the current Coronavirus crisis, for example, be sure to keep wiping down your kitchen, seated area as well as all door handles and open surfaces.
Warn staff too that customers are likely to be more anxious than normal. We all need to think twice before doing anything that could make our customers more scared. Testing restaurant-goers for fever in the US did not go down well three weeks ago, for example; don’t be tone deaf too.
7. Keep in contact with regular customers at all costs
Keep your eye on the long game. It may seem like your business is going under. But until it does, a big focus should be reassuring customers on your database. Keep your business front of mind, even if you are not even currently open. There is a strong swell of support from the general public for small businesses and especially restaurants. So take advantage of it to maintain business for the future.
8. Use promotions, gift cards, discounts, offers
Get creative in promoting your restaurant.
That doesn’t mean get wacky – it means get real. Unless you get your thinking hat on and come up with some novel way of promoting your business, you are not doing your job. In a trade where margins are just 3-5%, being a restauranteur means being a showman. So be one!
9. Discount prices
How can restauranteur discount prices when margins are already so tight? But, in times of crisis, how can you not?
Do you want your restaurant to survive? If so, offer discounts – but be sure to structure them so customers recognize they are one-off measures. For ways to do this, see point 5 of our Coronavirus Quick Fix Crisis Plan for Restaurants above.
10. Manage food and drink stocks
At times of crisis, the supply chain is often one of the first casualties. And, because we deal with fresh produce in the food and beverage trade, that can be particularly devastating.
You need to be all over your POS inventory system, checking what supplies are threatened by disruption.
Critically, if your restaurant is currently closed because of national crisis, you need to have a plan for restoring food supplies when things get back to normal (see step 17 below.) That means keeping in constant contact with your suppliers.
11. Get delivering
It’s your best bet to keep your business afloat if your venue is closed. Two weeks ago, when the Coronavirus Crisis was beginning in the UK for example, London takeaway restaurants quickly adopted contactless delivery. Delivery Hero also was quick to take the initiative with contactless delivery and cash-free payment.
12. Keep an eye on changes to the law
Before the law starts keeping an eye on you! Legislation tends to change fast in crisis situations. And playing dumb won’t help if you get into trouble. Do your business a favor and make staying within the law a priority.
13. Slash unnecessary costs
If you are sitting around under curfew, why not make the most of your time to review your operating margins?
It is more important than ever to slash food wastage. At the best of times, avoidable food wastage costs the UK restaurant sector, for example, £0.97 (4.48 riyals) per meal and a total of £682m (3147m riyals) each year.
To tackle waste and inefficiency in your entire operation, you need to begin by calculating your food cost percentage, and go from there.
14. Network support with other restaurants
You’re not in this alone. It feels like it, sometimes. Particularly as other restauranteurs are the competition! There’s not usually much incentive to get together and share notes. But, in times of crisis, reaching out to other restauranteurs is a very positive step. You might be richly rewarded, but you won’t know until you try it.
15. Take the opportunity to be charitable
If you’ve got food going to waste, take the opportunity to boost your public profile by doing some charity work. Go and feed somebody. It will put your problems into perspective and might give your restaurant great PR at a national level.
16. Design a plan for getting back to normal
It might be all doom and gloom now. But how are you going to make the transition back to normal business? You need to make a plan.
Make sure you have arrangements in place to hit the ground running as soon as you can. That means keeping in regular contact with your existing/surviving suppliers, as well as having staff that are ready to come in immediately.
17. Look after yourself
As restauranteurs, we always put ourselves last. We have to. It’s a demanding business and, with staff to look after too, there simply isn’t the time for a self-pampering program!
But when crisis strikes, it is important to manage our stress levels. Reduce your leadership stress. And be aware that it is not just you feeling the pressure.
REVIEW AFTER THE EMERGENCY
18. Review your crisis log
Read your crisis log from start to finish. Ask yourself: how could we have handled things better? Be sure to get some feedback from staff too on how the restaurant did as a team.
19. Make immediate changes
Write down three things you need to change about your restaurant that you can do immediately without spending more than 500 riyals each. Find the money and enact these changes. Having suffered months of uncertainty, it will be a giant morale booster to get some actions in place that will make the future a safer place for your business.
20. Update your Restaurant Continuity Checklist regularly
It’s your restaurant, your livelihood – and your Restaurant Continuity Checklist.
Make it your own. Organize it how you like. But whatever you do, keep your checklist of restaurant continuity actions updated on your computer and make sure there is always a hard copy of the latest version.
A simple list of planned steps will give your restaurant a firm grounding next time emergency strikes.
We hope you have found this guide useful. As restauranteurs, we need to stay one step ahead of the crisis.
We understand that at the time of this writing, all restaurants in Saudi Arabia can only accept delivery and takeaway orders. However, when at some point they are allowed to resume dine-in, other restrictions and precautions most likely will stay in place for months to come.
In future posts, we will be expanding on our Coronavirus Quick Fix Crisis Plan for Restaurants. Meanwhile, your 20 point Restaurant Continuity Checklist gives you the basis of a continuity plan that you can develop on your own.
Just the simple fact of having a restaurant continuity checklist at all is a step in the right direction. It means you are organized, focused and upbeat. You always knew being a restaurateur was going to be tough …
… So remember to keep smiling for your customers.
See how US Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer does it on his personal Twitter account.
Stay upbeat, stay creative – and stay in touch.
At times of crisis, you have to keep shouting the name of your business from the rooftops, even if you feel personally like curling up into a ball.