A New Season of COVID: 3 Ways Restaurants Can Prepare

Aug 28, 2020

For restaurants—and the rest of the world—COVID was the theme of our spring and summer. Unfortunately, it’s still the headline as we head into the fall.

Back in March, restaurant owners and operators pivoted as quickly and strategically as they could, not knowing how long this new normal would last — or that it might slowly just become…normal. And while no one has a crystal ball, what we do know is that the hospitality industry is quite a ways away from returning to pre-COVID operations.

With that in mind, as we approach a new season, savvy restaurateurs have an opportunity to reassess the changes they’ve made. If you’re in the restaurant business, now’s the time to determine whether the solutions you put in place are going to work for the long(er) haul, or if they’re just interim solutions that need to be reevaluated.

Here are three questions every restaurateur should be asking themselves now to prepare for the upcoming months:

1. Am I taking care of my employees?

Restaurant employees have had a rough go of it since the pandemic began: fewer shifts, a lot of process and workflow changes, not to mention working parents who are dealing with daycare closures and remote schooling. It’s important to continue supporting them as their personal and financial circumstances remain in flux.

That includes:

Keeping them physically safe. Don’t let up on safety and sanitation procedures. Your employees are risking their health to work, so they need to be able to trust that you’re taking all precautions to create a safe and healthy work environment.

Over-communicating any changes. Don’t leave any members of your staff guessing. Use this as an opportunity to reach a new level of transparency and trust among your team.

Giving them financial security wherever possible. Many restaurants have switched to payroll tips because employees can’t afford to wait for weeks to get paid. Ensure you’re continuing to provide instant tip payout through a digital tipping platform. (It’s also a time and cost savings, especially if you’re dealing with increasing credit card payments and less cash on hand.)

Note that by taking care of your employees, you’ll maintain a healthy, happy and productive work culture. You’ll also remain competitive as employers hire talent back and build employee loyalty when the tough labor market inevitably returns.

2. Will seasonal changes affect my operations?

Physical space: Patio seating has been a lifesaver for many establishments during COVID. As we approach cooler months, depending on where you’re located, this may not be a year-round solution. And for restaurants that reduced indoor dining capacity to maintain social distancing, they may be continuing to lose out on revenue.

Think about what you can do to maximize your space while keeping everyone safe, and plan ahead. For example, if you haven’t already, consider plexiglass solutions for your indoor dining space. For your outdoor seating area, now may be the time to invest in outdoor heating or enclosure systems that will allow you to continue using your space throughout the fall and winter months.

Supply chain: When planning your seasonal menu changes, take into account supply chain considerations. Will the change of seasons, along with the impact of COVID, affect your ability to access the items you need? Do you have reliable access to — and a healthy reserve of — cleaning supplies and inventory to keep your space as safe and germ-free as possible if those items are in short supply again?

Event policies: With cooler weather and the holidays approaching, start thinking about how you might handle any annual events or requests for gatherings and parties in your space. If your establishment isn’t conducive to safe social distancing crowds, you may need to get creative. For example, consider offering catering services for customers who want your food to be part of their event experience.

Consider offering catering services if your establishment isn’t conducive to safe social distancing for crowds.

3. How will we handle another potential shutdown this fall?

Experts agree that a “second wave” of COVID-19 is coming. (Although in some locations, the first wave of the pandemic is still going strong). On top of that, the cold and flu season will only exacerbate our current problem, potentially causing what many experts are calling a “Twindemic.”

If your area enters another shutdown, limiting your services back to curbside and takeout only, ask yourself, “What did I learn last time?” “What went well?”  ‘What would I do differently?” Use what you learned to put together a plan so you can be prepared for round two. Be sure to communicate your plan to your team — or even solicit input from them — so that everyone is on the same page in case you have to put your plan into action. Best case scenario, you’ll never have to use it.

Whether you’re still struggling with these uncertain, ever-evolving circumstances, or you’ve hit your stride: we now have time and experience on our side. Leverage that to make informed, strategic decisions for your business as we move into the end of the year and look ahead to 2021.