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COVID-19 Planning: A Partial Primer

This is just a starting point and a rather generic one at that, for dealing with the issues you face in your Hospitality business.

There are a legion of more specific actionable items you should decide and act on but without knowing your specific circumstances and resources, I cannot list them all here.

If you need additional help, contact me.

I will help you for free.

Count on Me

This is an incredibly difficult time for you, your work family and your loved ones at home. Please know I’m doing everything I can to help operators continue to serve their Guests through this crisis and beyond. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me here.

We will get through this together.

K.I.S.S.

If there is a theme for all your actions, it needs to be SIMPLIFY – SIMPLIFY – SIMPLIFY everything!

  1. Menus
  2. Processes
  3. PRICING
  4. Communication
  5. Marketing
  6. Leases
  7. Loans
  8. Asking for help
  9. Every action you take.

General

  1. Know that this will pass. Anxiety, stress, anger, sadness. Know that all of these emotions are okay. Keep your head up for brighter days ahead, control what you can, and let go of what you can’t. There is a big difference between, “This is happening to me,” and, “This is happening.” You can take Yale’s most popular online course for free that covers ‘The Science of Well-Being’ here.
  2. Lean on your entrepreneurial instincts and your support team. You took a big risk starting your own business and 99.99% of the world was caught by surprise by the coronavirus outbreak and its impact.
  3. Just like on an airplane, put your own proverbial “oxygen mask” on first. You can’t help your team or anyone else if you’re not in control. We’re social creatures in the hospitality industry, so find an avenue to safely communicate and connect with people. Start with family and friends.
  4. Avoid media hype. Get your information from the authorities, like the CDC and their Guidelines Related to Businesses.
  5. For a visual aid and data tables, monitor the John Hopkins Outbreak Tracking Map.
  6. Be productive! Write five goals on an index card. The biggest and most important goals go at the top. Work your way down the list. Every time you get distracted with another task, write that one on the back so you can discover where you end up spending most of your time.
  7. Take this time to learn and grow. Take a MasterClass, re-up on certifications, explore online business and hospitality industry-related courses.

People

  1. Require any employee with symptoms to stay home, get tested, quarantine for the 14-day window, etc. Rules are being updated: If someone reports to work who has flu-like symptoms, send them home. If you have to pay them legally for sending them home, do so.
  2. Set schedules and updated procedures for cleaning surfaces.
  3. Look into paid sick leave and/or working with government agencies for help here. For example, Colorado is providing paid sick leave now.
  4. Adjust labor requirements and go down to a skeleton crew. Run as lean as possible.
  5. If you are staying open, you MUST have this Department of Labor Coronavirus Employee Rights  poster visible for your employees.
  6. Help your staff navigate unemployment. Many states are waiving the waiting period.
  7. Pay staff who are on sick leave or quarantined/self-monitoring according to your local government rules.
  8. Direct staff to grants, funds, and other relief efforts including USBG for bartendersPennsylvania’s example, and Southern Smoke.
  9. If you are mandated to shut down, you still may be required to pay staff for accrued time off and accrued sick leave.
  10. The family paid leave may be enacted for staff who are caring for a family member who has COVID-19. The recently passed Families First Coronavirus Act is also going to affect your business.
  11. Do not fire anyone for contracting COVID-19 which could be a violation of their rights. These NYC attorneys have a lot of insight into this topic.
  12. Learn how to legally check an employee for COVID-19, if possible.
  13. Do not disclose an employee’s name if they have contracted COVID-19. You may have to disclose to other employees that they may have been exposed.
  14. Understand how to gracefully and clearly communicate layoffs and retentions based on reduced hours or closures. Do not violate any laws by terminating anyone because of their sex, race, national origin, etc. Know the difference between furloughs, layoffs, and terminations.
  15. Set up a GoFundMe for your staff to help your community support them. See an example from Death & Co. here.
  16. Set strict protocols for handwashing, coughing, sneezing and reporting symptoms. Over-communicate this.

Operations

  1. Contact your landlord to work on rent forgiveness and/or deferment. This is an example letter we drafted but have your attorney review it to cover your specific circumstances and make sure any agreement reached is in writing.
  2. Check to see if your lease has a force majeure clause to allow for rent abatement.
  3. Analyze your cash flow and consider a full short-term shut down if business is that bad. Expect delivery and to-go sales to be less than 5%-10% of your on-premise sales if you have no history of to-go sales.
  4. Check state, county, city and local mandates if you have to shut down. Prepare as if it’s coming and view our coverage here.
  5. Limit occupancy to guests as recommended by many state officials. For the 6 states and dwindling that have allowed on-premise to stay open, there are still usually rules in place around this.
  6. Negotiate with any other vendors or services if you must stop or reduce payments. Utilities, linen services, your leased equipment, your leased car, etc.
  7. Focus on what systems you can improve or implement when you reopen.
  8. Crowdsource for investors or reach out to your network for loans. Sites like Honeycomb or SeedInvest may take too long to get funds but are worth checking out.
  9. Obtain a Small Business Association loan if possible and as needed. They have resources now just for coronavirus relief.
  10. Research state and local relief specific to where you live and operate. Advocate that your liquor payments and other fees are delayed without penalty. Here is a great letter from Bobby Heugel to share with your local politicians. This is an example of what Seattle is doing, one of the first places to be affected.
  11. Learn about alcohol to-go sales and if you’re legally permitted to offer such a service. Pitch your local politicians to make an exception. PDT stated they sold 300 cocktails at $12 a piece. Who could use an extra $3,600 right now?
  12. Due to the proximity nearly every operation has, you will most likely be considered a medium-risk operation by OSHA standards. Additional rules now apply and a good metaphor is thinking how receptions are treated at a doctor’s office and how they are kept safe.
  13. Obtain a conventional bank loan, line of credit, or merchant financing. See options here.
  14. File a claim with your insurance broker. It may get denied as many have pandemic exclusions but it doesn’t hurt to try and be ahead of the curve. Read our interview with an insurance broker here.
  15. Check with local state liquor authority on your license status regarding your business being closed. Some have clauses stating you must be open to keep the licenses in good standing. While this is contradictory to many state mandates and guidelines, its always smart to double-check anyway.
  16. Perform a deep clean of your bar and restaurant and have a contact list of services that can come in in case someone who was infected has visited your store. See how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces here.
  17. Make an inventory of equipment and items that are in need of repair or replacement. Sadly, there could be a lot of restaurant auction sites with an influx of inventory.
  18. Move all your products to one refrigerator (or as few as possible) and turn everything else off at the breaker. Leave cameras and alarms on as needed. Clean out your draft lines using guidance from Brewers Association.
  19. Sanitize your place if a confirmed case of COVID-19 was in your restaurant using CDC guidelines.

“More than half of consumers said they’re very willing to use drive-thru windows and carryout service, and nearly half are very willing to get food delivered. The initiative most people said would motivate them to use a restaurant right now is a discount on a future dine-in visit for a delivery or carryout order today. ” – Datassential 3/19/2020

Marketing

  1. Get aggressive with your marketing and promotion

  2. Be honest about the situation with your customers. Ask your community for help supporting you through these tough times; you’d be surprised how many people will order a meal from you just to help out.

  3. Blast social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU’RE OPEN! Do the same with your special offers.
  4. Honor competitor coupons whenever you can.
  5. Hang large, visible “WE’RE OPEN” banners outside your location.
  6. Distribute flyers in strategic locations.
  7. Create social posts stating and showing that you’ve updated to a hyper-vigilant cleaning and sanitation policy, complete with photos of clean kitchens/operations.
  8. Operators are selling gift cards to generate revenue and cash flow. Some are giving their employees a commission for any they can sell.
  9. Work on creating unique content during your downtime and continue to post to stay top of mind for when you reopen.
  10. Clean up your email, phone, and other databases. Consolidate any lists from POS, loyalty programs, events, etc.
  11. Sell merchandise and other items if possible. If you don’t have a retail/merchandise component to your business, use the downtime to research and develop one.
  12. Learn to create better ads on Facebook and Instagram, and automate them!
  13. Have your chefs create videos making your famous apps or entrees.
  14. Have your bartenders create videos making your signature cocktails.
  15. Encourage your guests and fans to post photos of themselves at your place of business. Promote those posts!
  16. Social media influencers are grounded. Try livestreams or other tactics to engage with them.

Menu

  1. Curate your menu to match circumstances
  2. Estimate how long you expect to have your service disrupted.
  3. Talk to your distributor about potential delivery gaps you may experience with your products.
  4. Scale back your menu where possible. There’s no need to carry slow-moving items until normal business resumes.  Customers will understand if you explain it to them.
  5. Find creative ways to manage your perishable inventory
  6. Identify and prioritize inventory with upcoming shelf life issues.
  7. Feature “at risk” items in promotions that prompt customers to order now. For example, “FREE slice of cheesecake or FREE salad with purchase of a pizza.”
  8. Consider donating product to charity for a tax write-off.
  9. Transition from fresh to frozen where possible to eliminate waste and shelf life issues.  Fresh ground burgers can be substituted with frozen until this crisis is over.
  10. Offer a “Come Back” incentive (Buy One, Get One Free) for next purchase on EVERY order that goes out for takeout or delivery.

Food & Beverage

  1. Start reducing your inventory now. Only order what is absolutely necessary and switch to a simplified menu. A national quarantine hasn’t been implemented but it’s not outside the realm of possibilities.
  2. Create and use a simple, downsized, throwaway paper menu.
  3. Use plastic glassware when possible.
  4. Spin up a ghost kitchen to avoid the front of house staff coming in with no business or tips.
  5. Create “everything but the booze” cocktail programs so guests can have a fancy cocktail with their to-go orders. They will add the booze themselves where liquor delivery isn’t an option.
  6. Start cocktails to go. NYC and Alabama have this available now.
  7. Setup wine to go programs with your food orders.
  8. Begin a food-to-go program and create a to-go station as needed.
  9. Start a delivery program and include handwritten notes thanking people for the business and remind them that calling in directly to place orders rather than using a third party saves your business money. See how UberEats, Doordash, and Grubhub‘s plans to waive or defer payments.
  10. If you’re mandated to close and don’t plan offer food-to-go or delivery, donate your inventory to non-profits (if doing so is legal) and/or make food care packages for displaced workers.

Guest Experience

  1. Show your customers you understand their safety concerns

  2. BE THE CLEANEST RESTAURANT IN YOUR AREA.  Brag about it, show your staff disinfecting via Facebook Live or Instagram.
  3. Follow CDC guidelines regarding food safety and handling. Review them regularly as they are updated often:
    CDC guidelines
  4. Reduce the number of tables in your dining area to ensure social distancing.
  5. Deliver curbside orders on a tray to reduce handling by staff.
  6. Consider switching to disposables (plastic cutlery, cups, paper napkins) during this time, if possible, to mitigate perception of risk.
  7. Contact local schools for a “Dine & Dash” event where the community picks up to-go meals and a portion of proceeds (10%) goes back to the school to help support them through this challenging time as well.
  8. Offer family style meals to-go, even if it’s not your typical cuisine. Hamburger shops can sell lasagna and salad for four people via curbside takeaway. It’s a higher price point sale and distributors have all the products you need.
  9. Use walking delivery to your immediate neighborhood. Your staff need something to do if customers aren’t coming in.
  10. Offer catered lunch specials to offices who want to thank employees who still need to work on-site.  Make the pricing beneficial to the business owner, chances are they are hurting as well.
  11. Breakfast establishments may see the most impact as they typically have the least demand for takeout. Consider adapting your business model to capitalize on the “all day breakfast” trend and offer Brinner to-go (Breakfast for Dinner).
  12. Respect social distancing by spacing seating or tables three to six feet apart and remove bar seating.
  13. Provide hand sanitizer at each table, entrance and exit.
  14. Clean surfaces often and make it very visible to guests (and on social) as it’s one of the best ways to make guests feel more comfortable dining out.
  15. Prohibit any guest displaying any flu-like symptoms from entering your venue. Understand additional “hot points” such as coughing and sneezing, and provide a script for managers and/or security to use.
  16. Use the time your venue is closed to do the repairs or improvements you have been putting off.
  17. For now, prohibit staff from giving guests handshakes, elbow taps or fist bumps: some people sneeze and cough into their hands or the crook of their arms. Use tongs for straws and garnishes. Santize hands after handling cash and credit cards.
  18. Have a clear plan specifically for your door staff regarding coronavirus and guest interaction.

Technology

  1. Utilize Allset for lunch meetings to get people out of their homes when working from home.
  2. Use AI bots for to-go orders.
  3. Use AI bots to answer questions.
  4. Sign up for DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, etc. GrubHub is waving the first $100M of fees.
  5. Update your hours on your website, all social media, and third-party sites. Not everyone has a Facebook or Instagram to check your profile and posts.
  6. Implement technology to help ensure employees are washing their hands, like a $1,200 Hand Wash Coach or Pathspot’s HandScanner. Maybe not on the $1,200 spend during times like these…
  7. Research telehealth options like Teladoc and Zedic for managers and staff.
  8. Review all the systems you can replace with tech: attorneys replaced with LegalZoom, for example.
  9. Look into cocktails on tap, cocktail art, and over-the-top (and therefore Instagrammable) presentations.

Returning to Normal

  1. Start planning and promoting your grand re-opening.
  2. Many talented staff are unemployed. Toe the line of poaching and find available talent. Start the conversations now
  3. Over-communicate with your staff about re-opening procedures. Make sure you understand your local labor laws for having staff check email and start the ramp-up for returning to work.
  4. The re-opening of bars is going to be a very busy time. Staff up and accordingly. Prepare marketing to communicate how you’re helping your staff and community first.
  5. Negotiate cash on delivery with liquor, beer, and wine vendors as legally allowed in your area.
  6. Determine if you want to open with a limited menu, your full menu, or the menu you created while shut down. Ensure your staff is ready to handle changes and the load.
  7. Utilize social media to show your followers and fans your enhanced sanitation procedures to help address their concerns about cleanliness and make them more comfortable.
  8. Partner with other local businesses to drop off flyers or postcards offering special offers to capture more foot traffic.
  9. If you cant afford to re-open the doors full time when mandated closures are lifted, try select hours or weekends at first. Also, expect that your guests may also just be getting back on their feet and it will take some time for them to afford to visit regularly again.
  10. Consider selling your bar or restaurant if you can’t afford to keep operating it during this time. Check with your attorney and accountant for advice on determining viability and solvency.
  11. Start pre-selling specials for when guests come in for your re-opening events. This can provide necessary cash flow to buy food and other necessary supplies.
  12. Learn from China who is weeks ahead of us on how they ran their bars during the pandemic.
  13. Encourage your guests to post on social media or post their review. Get them excited for being out and tempt them with door prizes and gift cards giveaways.
  14. Reach out to your specific crowd via messages and emails to gauge their comfort levels. Find ways to mitigate any concerns that arise.

While it’s easy to say now, the advice from financial and business experts recommending having six months of savings both personally and professionally rings true here. Start your “rainy day” fund the day you reopen and maintain that frugal mindset until this it’s fully funded.