Preparing your restaurant business for the COVID-19 season.
Restaurants and tourism-based businesses around the world have been massively impacted by the spread of COVID-19. Travel restrictions and the effort to “Flatten the Curve” of the disease are crucial measures in saving lives.
In the meantime, business owners are in a place of uncertainty, and financial projections that anticipated a busy and fruitful 2020 season are now unknown.
Business owners in Maine and across the country are working quickly to mitigate the impact that the disease and the associated regulations are having on the industry. Many small businesses are seeking guidance on where to start with messaging and how to reach out to their communities.
Need a place to start? Take a look at the checklists and ideas below. They can help you get started as you make your plans.
Disclaimer: Use this information at your own risk. The below sample letter, information, and checklists are meant to provide information only to you and your team. They do not replace the advice and consultation of a legal team, nor the guidance from local state, and federal regulators. They do not guarantee accuracy or the most up-to-date information. You and your business are strongly advised to conduct your own research and consult your own legal teams for a review of any information that relates to your business, business communications, state and national protocols, your employees, and your suppliers.
- Review the most current CDC, DHHS & OSHA, WHO, and FDA guidelines regarding COVID-19 in the workplace and at home. News is changing daily. Stay abreast of what is happening from a reputable source.
- Reach out to your insurance provider(s) and make sure you are aware of the policy limits of your coverage. Make sure to have your policy information in place for easy access.
- Reach out to your legal team and worker’s compensation agents to discuss what is required of you as an employer in protecting your team and the public.
- Review food and restaurant safety and cleaning protocols at your restaurant. Discuss these with your team and document the steps you and your team take on a daily basis to keep up to code.
- Develop a clear plan of action for your in-house team for emergency response. Make sure to put your health and safety guidelines in writing and review them with your team so that they are clear and actionable.
- Ask employees who may feel sick to stay at home and seek medical care when indicated.
- Consult with your local SCORE office for support in understanding what options may be available to you as a small business. They are at-the-ready with information from the SBA and your state regulators.
- Get clear on what you can do financially in your business if you stay open, or if you decide to close. Talk to your financial team (Accountants/Financial Planners/Score Advisors) so that you have as clear-a-picture as possible of future projections. This can help you feel a measure of control and understanding – AND it can help you if you need to ask for support from your bank, SBA, or other investors.
Update your business:
- Review and update your business hours on your website, Facebook, your Google-My-Business profile and any/all social media.
- Post a letter to your guests regarding the measures you are taking to ensure that your business and your employees are following all local, state, and federal protocols. You should post this on your website, send it to your email list, and post it via Facebook. MAKE SURE that you have it posted on your website before you post it on social media or in an email newsletter. You will want to link back to your website URL for reference on your business updates.
- Update those posts frequently.
- There are many kids who will miss out on school breakfast and lunch programs, and adults who cannot afford regular groceries due to reduced working hours. Consider donating your time and leftover food or meals to your local food bank or community support center. In Maine, the team at Full Plates, Full Potential is ready and willing to help you.
- Consider donating any leftover food to your employees. Many of them will need to supplement their food budget.
- Create offers like “Gift Card Sales” with small discounts (e.g. “Buy $100 GC for $90”), sidewalk pick-up of take-out food, etc. Post your offers to social media with links to your website.
- Make it easy for guests to adjust reservations and offer up new dates if they cancel. Collect their emails when they call or cancel. Put them in your database for future news releases and specials.
- Talk to your teams often and be open in your communication.
- Put all plans, policies, and communication notes in writing.
- Review the “13 Golden Rules of PR Crisis Management” for ideas.
Sample communications letter to your community.
The Structure of your outreach can look like this:
- Statement of Intention
- What we are doing to ensure we are following state and federal protocols.
- List what the customers can do to support your business
- Closure and contact information
- MOST IMPORTANT: Stick to the facts of what YOU and your team are doing to follow safety protocols as prescribed by state and federal regulations. Link to the CDC, FDA, DHHS, and the WHO. Do not add to this crisis by making promises or guarantees that you can’t legally/morally/ethically keep.
Your business will require its own distinct messaging based on your unique needs and guidance from your counsel and up-to-date information from your local and state representatives.
“Dear Restaurant Community,
We work hard to create a welcoming environment for our guests and our team. We are closely monitoring the rapidly changing situation around COVID-19. The health and well-being of our community are paramount, and we want to share what we are doing in this time of uncertainty.
What we are doing:
- Monitoring the CDC, WHO, DHHS, and FDA guidance for the most up-to-date practices
- Upholding the highest standards of cleanliness and food safety in our facility and with our providers
- Asking our team members to stay home when they are sick
- Discouraging personal contact including shaking hands
- Providing hand sanitizers and clean restroom facilities for our guests and team members
- Frequent cleaning of surfaces and “high-touch” areas used by our guests and team members
What you can do:
- Stay home if you are sick and follow the current state and federal guidelines around COVID-19. Call us to make a change to your reservation, as we are happy to accommodate you at a future date
- Purchase a gift card for future use
- Contact us for curbside take-out
The well-being of our guests, staff, and community is our top priority. We value your support of our restaurant. Please stay in touch with us via our website and on our social media for the most recent updates. And of course, if you have any questions, please reach out to us at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Our goal is to support our community with suggestions and ideas to help “weather the storm.” Please make sure to consult your business partners and legal teams to plan for emergency communications and protocols.