How to Respond to Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a Restaurant Owner

Foodservice has always been about hospitality. Treating guests like family, serving others as we’d want to be served. And even as COVID-19 drives guests out of dining rooms, the instinct of restaurant operators will always be to take care of people.

Being together is why many operators got into the business — the energy of a full front-of-house, the interaction with our neighbors and friends, the joy of sharing meals around life’s milestones. We will sit around the table again. But for now, how can restaurants continue to be hospitable when together isn’t an option?

First, take care of yourself. It may feel contrary to your generous nature, but before you can care for your employees and customers, make sure your own physical and mental well-being is attended to. Sleep, exercise and eat the way you know you’re supposed to. The stress these circumstances are placing on you is real — be aware of how you’re feeling and take action to protect your own health.

Second, keep caring for your employees. The CDC has provided recommendations on handwashing, social distancing and self-isolating to protect the health of employees and customers. But in addition to physical safety, service workers are feeling very vulnerable about their finances.

If you don’t need a full staff to serve guests in-house right now, consider alternate ways workers can still contribute to your business. Do you need a social media manager? Delivery drivers or bikers? Deep cleaning? As you read this, programs are being discussed to help small business owners manage the gap in revenue. Until those funds are in place, consider how reassigning your staff to new tasks could help keep workers active.

Third, stay connected. Social media is really proving its value as a lifeline right now. Not only by keeping people informed, but also keeping them connected to their favorite things, like entertainment and food. For foodservice, social media is where you can continue to shine as a hospitable host — welcoming people to new ways to experience your food. Consider these ideas for content:

  1. Promote a smaller menu: To reduce costs, limit your menu to only your most popular items, and highlight them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Treat it with all the excitement you would an LTO!
  2. Talk about your safety procedures: While customers want to support you, they may be nervous about ordering, even take-out and delivery. Use images to show them exactly what the experience will be like — from how food is handled to how they pick it up.
  3. Show your faces. People want to know that you and your employees are ok and that they’re not burdening you with their orders. Share pictures of your staff and celebrate the valuable service they are providing. And be direct with your customers about what you need from them if they want you to keep providing their favorite meals.
  4. Make take-out more fun. What’s the show everybody is watching tonight? Can you offer a themed dish to go with it? Or, how’s the weather? Suggest a picnic outside. People still want to have fun, and your food can be a big part of that.
  5. Encourage buying gift cards. People are looking for ways to support local businesses and show friends they are thinking of them. Gift cards are a great way to do both! For a no-contact option, offer to mail the gift cards to their home.

Even if guests can’t dine-in with you right now, staying connected to them will help build anticipation for returning to your operation when the time is right. Just imagine the celebration that will be! Until then, thank you for your service, your hospitality and your courage in keeping families fed. We can’t wait to sit together again.

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