There is no doubt now that almost every business and every person will be affected by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, in one way or another. While we can’t know the exact impact this might have on your business, we have put together some suggestions based on past outbreaks, other industries’ responses and advice offered by the CDC and the National Restaurant Association. We hope these suggestions are helpful and business impact is minimized during this difficult time.
My husband and I live in a resort destination. He operates a tour company and the cancelations have already started coming in. Conference and vacation cancelations are going to have a serious toll on our hospitality-oriented community. I write this in the sincere hope we can find ways to minimize the impact of the coronavirus on the livelihoods we all hold dear and the staff that depend on us for their careers and income.
At Fishbowl we have detailed plans in place to remain fully operational for our clients through the duration of this crisis. One of our offices is currently working from home due to an outbreak in their local community. With the use of online meetings and team communications they have remained at 100% productivity levels. We hope to reopen that office next week provided local health authorities have isolated the cases and have everyone exposed under quarantine.
Put the situation in perspective. During the 2003 SARS outbreak in Southeast Asia, hotel occupancy plummeted — but for only three months. The SARS outbreak was short because flu season ended and government containment efforts ultimately worked. According to the CDC, flu activity peaks between December and February, tapering off by the end of May. Just last week, Cornell professor emeritus Sherri Kimes published recommendations to the hotel industry. More than anything else, Dr. Kimes recommends staying the course through a brief but bumpy time. Her podcast to the hotel industry can be found here.
Reassure your guests. I recently received an email from Alaska Airlines. I am on many airline email lists but have only received one message concerning the coronavirus. While the email didn’t give any specifics, it did make me feel better about their brand and safer about flying in their airplanes. A simple proactive message of reassurance can make the difference for a guest choosing you or your competitors’ restaurants.
Create a quarantine plan today. Be prepared should your area be put under quarantine. In-restaurant dining and private parties will come to a complete stop. One Kosher restaurateur in New York had most of his customers suddenly under quarantine. He immediately put a food delivery plan into action. This has maintained his business during the emergency. If you call his restaurant, they deliver your food to the door at no charge. The delivery is left on the doorstep after ringing the doorbell. He mobilized his wait staff as delivery drivers for the short duration of the quarantine.
What else can you do? Here are some additional concrete suggestions you can consider:
In Singapore and at some public-facing companies like WeWork, employees with any outward appearance of cold or flu are asked to stay home. By Singapore government requirement, a digital temperature is taken at the start of every hospitality employee’s shift. While this may be too intrusive to require for your workforce, it may be a voluntary step your staff is willing to take in order to reassure guests that everyone in front and back-of-house is healthy.
The CDC encourages you to review your sick leave policy in light of employees who may have financial hardship if they cannot work. Many employees will come to work and try to tough out a cold or mild case of the flu. Look for ways you can ease that anxiety if an employee is better off staying home. I spoke to a local restaurant owner who said they are offering small loans against future pay when employees are asked to stay home who otherwise depend entirely on their modest income.
When the busser clears a table, have them also disinfect it and the chairs. Typically a simple wet cloth is used to clean the table surfaces. Overtly using disinfectant and including the chair surfaces can provide your guests with some additional reassurance. If you decide to go to this extent, make sure your guests know and have your staff be overt about the process. WeWork has its staff disinfecting common areas within the office on a regular schedule. It is done very deliberately and publicly so its customers are aware of the additional efforts taken.
Reduce the density of your floorplan. You can accomplish this in one of two ways: remove some tables from the floor; or, have the host seat guests in a pattern that maximizes the distance between them. This strategy is employed in some schools. Coronavirus is heavier than the common cold virus and doesn’t stay airborne as long. The average safe radius is six feet (where the common cold can waft through the air up to 25 feet away).
Develop quarantine procedures for staff. Should a quarantine be declared in your area, make sure staff maintain a six-foot distance from each other in the restaurant, frequently disinfect their hands and wash their hands with soap and water for 20-seconds after using the restroom. The CDC recommends putting up additional reminder signs in work areas so employees are constantly thinking about repeating these safety activities.
Change access to buffet tables and salad bars. Common handling of utensils with unsanitized hands is a potential vector for spreading germs. Several options include simply closing buffets and salad bars; have the food served by a server rather than self-serve; require hand-sanitizing before use; or create a separate menu of the items available and serve the food by staff from the kitchen.
Take a moment to consider every place your guests and staff may touch commonly where others have touched. If a door can be left open, leave it open. If you can provide hands-free restroom amenities, consider doing so (self-flushing toilets, motion-sensitive water and towel dispensers). Put hand sanitizers in bathrooms and at entrances.
Communicate with your guests. We suggest that you send communication of concern now and prepare a quarantine communication in advance of needing it.
Here are some topics to address in your communication now:
- As the owner/manager you want to personally reach out to your loyal guests to talk about this important topic (make it personal and heartfelt).
- Express your shared concern.
- Let them know you are daily keeping up with local developments, and following guidance from the National Restaurant Association and the CDC.
- While taken for granted by the guest in normal times, remind your guests that your staff knows and performs food safety best practices.
- If you are taking any special actions, like disinfecting tables and chairs or practicing a less dense seating strategy, let them know that.
- Close on an optimistic note. Reaffirm your commitment to providing great food and warm hospitality through this difficult time. Thank them for putting their trust in you and your dedicated staff.
If you need any help composing a message, please contact us through your account manager. Our marketing services are available free-of-charge to assist should you need any guidance crafting your message.
If you can please take a moment, I ask that you kindly respond to this survey. We will report the results and provide additional guidance based on your feedback.
Here are some resources for further reading:
CDC Recommendations for Small Businesses
NRA Recommendations and Resources for Restaurants
Cornell Professor Emeritus Sherri Kimes Recommendations to the Hotel Industry