Idea in a Nutshell

Is your business in the KSA F&B sector?  A Saudi restauranteur?

Here’s how to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Review some practical tips from the restaurant industry.

Want to know how other restaurants are dealing with the business impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Thanks to lessons learnt during the MERS epidemic of 2012, the Kingdom is already in great shape to deal with the medical impact of coronavirus. 

And reassuring news for workers came from Friday’s royal decree giving compensation of 9 billion riyals to employees affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But what about the toll on the restaurant sector? With curfews in place, Saudi’s 21,000 restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. 

COVID-19: Steps to Keep Your Restaurant Running

Whatever happens, us restauranteurs on the customer-facing frontlines of the Saudi F&B sector need to keep a cool head and take what practical steps we can:

1. Take Community Support

One of the heart-warming aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak has been the support shown by communities for their local businesses. Make it easy for customers to show their approval by ensuring that your gift cards and merchandising are available.

Restaurants occupy a special place in peoples’ hearts. Even before the pandemic during last November, Saudi customers flocked to support  a local restaurateur threatened with bankruptcy. 

You and your staff have made plenty of special times for customers; now allow them to make your day with whatever support they might offer.

Do yourself a PR favour too and do some charity work yourself: use any spare food you have to feed the vulnerable at this time of crisis.

2. Speak to your Bank to Explore Options

Make speaking to your bank a priority. 

There might be options available that you have not considered. You might be able to negotiate a repayment holiday for any loans you have (including overdraft fees), as well as take advantage of any new helpful coronavirus-related measures. Find out what is on offer.

Be reassured that the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) is currently pushing banks to offer loans right away to help businesses. 

3. Online Deliveries

Your business may offer online delivery already. If not, look into developing it as a priority. 

Despite current delivery problems with the curfew, remember that the situation will change. And, when it does, restaurants offering online delivery will be commercially well-placed to answer demand.

Obviously online F&B delivery is currently restricted in the Kingdom to hours outside of curfew. This necessary pandemic regulation may intensify, or slacken off; we do not know. The trick is for your restaurant to be prepared for the future, and do what you can now to reassure customers.

Across the GCC, online delivery giants such as Talabat were pro-active in introducing F&B contactless delivery back in mid-March 2020. Zomato and Uber Eats also took the initiative with contactless delivery and cash-free payment. Follow their lead and use the COVID-19 epidemic to get ahead and discover new ways of doing business that give you a competitive edge.

Be reassured too that the clientele for online delivery is growing fast. And that’s without the coronavirus curfew effect swelling the numbers of customers who order from home:

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saudi online delivery sector was judged by market analysts to have a bright future, and expected to grow by almost 10% a year until 2024. Saudi’s F&B sector already boasts a booming online delivery market worth 5.29 billion riyals. And its top sector, claiming 3.16 billion riyals, is the restaurant-to-consumer sector.

4. Take Steps to Slash Restaurant Costs

If ever there were a time to look at the efficiency of your restaurant overall, it is now. 

If you want to get down to the financial nitty-gritty, take the time to conduct a full cost overview of your restaurant. 

You can make immediate savings by calculating the actual and ideal food cost percentages for your restaurant.

Use your unique food cost percentages to spot where waste is happening. Inventory issues? Inefficient processes in the kitchen? Or is somebody stealing food? Whatever the reason for waste, the way to spot it in the first place is to go back to your figures. 

(You can use your POS system to help you, if you have one.)

5. Plan Ahead

You have probably already taken a big step to save costs by firing staff. Famous restauranteurs worldwide have come under fire themselves for doing so. But what choice is there?

Firing staff, particularly when you have invested in their training, does not feel good. But you must move on. Do not be distracted from the future needs of your business: be sure to have staff lined up that are ready to work immediately as soon as the COVID-19 situation gets better.

Develop your own Restaurant Continuity Checklist to keep a grip on what business continuity steps you will need to take as the COVID-19 continues

6. Focus on Breakfast and Lunch Only

Curfew makes delivery and take-away nigh impossible. If you are finding that to be the case, focus your efforts on providing an extended breakfast and lunch menu instead. 

Be bold. Experiment with dishes and pricing. Use the opportunity to make special offers that actually save you money by using up any surplus food you have. Calculate the food cost of new dishes and compare against the ideal food cost for your restaurant. 

Generally, make sure your premises are open to serve customers when they are allowed out. 

7. Market Cleanliness in Food and Packaging to Gain Trust

A huge step you can take to boost your restaurant’s sales during the COVID-19 outbreak is to show customers how seriously you are taking cleanliness. 

Both your product and your service needs to be squeaky-clean. And, most importantly, you need to shout about it: this is about marketing as much as your civic responsibilities.

First, reassure customers. Make it clear to customers that no health authorities believe that coronavirus spreads on food packaging. 

Second, provide customers with a list of hygiene measures your restaurant is taking to maximise hygiene safety:

COVID-19: safety precautions for restaurants

Here are some safety measures you should follow to keep your restaurant Coronavirus free

8. Disinfect using Chemicals that Kill COVID-19

COVID-19 can live on metal surfaces for up to three days.

Ensure that in your kitchen you are using the disinfectants reported to be effective against COVID-19 such as isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and chlorine-based solutions. 

UK health authorities are advising venues that host the public to pay particular cleaning attention to ‘all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as bathrooms, door handles, telephones, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells.’ 

So, even if your service is limited to delivery, make sure one of your staff is in charge of disinfecting the premises; and remember that your customers will be very glad to hear about in your marketing. Make a thing of it on social media.

9. Coronavirus Handwashing Routine

Staff should be washing hands for twenty seconds before and after every new customer contact – even if it is a contactless delivery! Don’t take any chances. This makes it safer for your staff member and safer for the customer. 

(Review the World Health Organisation’s guidance on Best Practice for washing hands against infection) 

And, if you have staff coming and going from your premises, they need to be washing their hands to avoid bringing in infection to your business.

10. Deliveries in, deliveries out: Maintain Social Distancing

And that doesn’t just mean in the kitchen! Think about deliveries. 

If you still have suppliers making deliveries, make sure they park vehicles in plenty of space, so your staff will not have to work close together to unload the goods.

If you have staff out making deliveries, make sure they are presenting vehicles, goods and themselves in such a manner that customers are given plenty of space.

11. Deal with Sick Staff

Even if we had COVID-19 testing kits, it’s not worth taking the chance, is it? If you have a staff member reporting illness, take them at their word. Usher them into self-isolation.

Saudi Arabia has ordered for free treatment for all citizens and residents irrespective of their iqama status. 

12. Masks and Gloves

Until the authorities say otherwise, you will have to make your own mind up about your staff wearing face masks. 

Face masks help protect against infection by coronavirus by catching spray that would otherwise enter the mouth and nose of the wearer. 

There are different approaches being taken globally. 

The World Health Organisation says, ‘if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.’ 

Hospital workers need to wear face masks because they are exposed at close range to COVID-19. But the coronavirus science is showing that, if everyone were to wear face masks, the rate of infection across the population would slow. 

Bear in mind that customers may find it reassuring for your staff to wear masks. But some may find it frightening instead. This is a risk you have to take. 

Meanwhile, at your restaurant venue, keep a firm grip of the safety aspects you can control:

13. Ban Cellphones

The glass surface of cellphones can support life for COVID-19 for up to 72 hours. So cellphone use amongst employees should be limited as much as possible (even though doing their job will inevitably involve using a phone). 

Some level of risk cannot be avoided. Just focus as a restauranteur on doing what you can to keep your staff and customers healthy.

We hope you found these tips useful. 

As new information becomes available from authorities, we hope to provide more specific KSA information. In the meantime, our F&B industry is not alone in being faced with some tough questions by COVID-19. Globally, restaurateurs need to keep looking for answers.

Restaurants and providers that innovate stand the best chance of surviving. 

Keep a sense of perspective too; the surge in KSA’s already-thriving online F&B delivery sector shows that it is not all bad news. Keep trying new ways of doing business. And keep smiling for customers, whether face-to-face, over the phone or online. 

When this is all over, the customers that come back will be the ones you didn’t forget now.

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