The road ahead might still be full of challenges, but with economies reopening throughout the world, and restrictions easing in every state in the US except for North Carolina and D.C., restaurant owners have begun to take the first steps towards opening their businesses back up to the public.
Some restaurateurs had to make the difficult decision to close down over the last few weeks, while those who continued to operate during the pandemic have been relying on delivery and takeout to keep their businesses afloat.
We’ll probably find that the restaurant industry landscape will have changed significantly after the pandemic, and getting back on track is going to take some readjusting.
You’ll need to make extensive preparations, talk to your team and develop protocols that will help you adapt to these new circumstances, and most importantly, to help your customers feel safe!
Getting your restaurant ready for reopening
If your restaurant has been closed for more than a few weeks, you will need to check your stock and equipment thoroughly to make sure everything is up to standard. In its list of best practices to reopen restaurants, the FDA emphasises the importance of checking that your business still holds up to food safety and hygiene protocols. Make sure that:
Your fridges and freezers are still functioning to keep your food stored at safe temperatures, and that your thermometers to test food temperatures are also working correctly.
That all surfaces are thoroughly disinfected before you start working again, and that your staff is reminded of basic hygiene rules in the kitchen and front-of-house.
That potable water is still available throughout your location, and that there’s detergent hot water available to wash and disinfect your dishes (165°F for single temperature dish- washers or 180°F high for rinsing).
That all new stock is properly labeled, that there’s no evidence of pest activity, and that any ingredients that remained in storage while you were closed aren’t spoiled or expired.
Adapting to life after the pandemic
What is your plan for the days before you open to get ready for your customers? What is your plan for opening day and what are you going to do in the weeks that follow?
You probably are going to need to have some well-thought-through, best, worst, and probable scenarios to ensure that you are not overwhelmed and surprised. Consider that perhaps your customers have changed their buying patterns; that their finances may not be the same as they were previously; that what might have been valuable before is valued no longer.
Besides the tips that we mentioned earlier, there are a few preparations you’ll need to make to help your customers feel safer at your restaurant, and to fight the spread of COVID:
Try to limit self-serve options for food and drink, such as buffets, soda machines, and waters fountains.
Try to keep 6 feet distance between your tables, and reduce the number of employees you allow in shared spaces and the kitchen, so that it’s also easier for them to stay at a safe distance from each other.
Put up signs reminding your customers and staff of the rules you’ve implemented, you can even mark the floor with tape so that it’s easier for your employees to remember the distances between each prep station.
If you have any space outdoors (and the weather is nice), we highly recommend that you set up some extra tables, as many states (such as Texas), have allowed for unlimited seating capacity outdoors while limiting indoor seating.
Adapting your menu and inventory
Suppliers may be out of stock of items because their supply chain has been disrupted. Talk to them. On top of that, you may have already made some significant changes to your menu if you were trying to optimize your menu for delivery, favoring products that travel well.
We recommend that you take another look at your menu, and that you start by serving your most successful and profitable dishes first, and only start reintroducing dishes that are more difficult to source or which don’t adapt well to delivery once your restaurant is back on track.
Talk to your staff
Recruiting and retention in the foodservice industry have always been a challenge, and with many employees having been laid off due to COVID-19, rehiring is now top of mind. Though the challenge still remains.
Figure out who is coming back and who isn’t. Some of your team may have rethought their employment with you. There might be others that you realize just didn’t fit in your business and you are going to sever your relationship.
Retain the staff that you have, and empower and engage them in the workplace. Your staff is your livelihood, so encourage them to help you to generate a plan to reopen and reinvigorate your business.
But most importantly, show them that you’re trying to keep them safe, and make plans so that you’re not left hanging if too many of them fall ill at the same time:
Go over health and personal hygiene practices with your staff.
Make sure you have a contingency plan if a significant number of employees call in sick.
Try to get a good supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) including masks and gloves.
Start promoting your business again
Your customers are going to need to hear from you and you must find ways to educate them and invite them back to your business. You may think you want to cut your marketing costs, but be strategic in this process. Businesses that market well in times of recession tend to outperform their competitors.
Social media advertising played a big role! Now we are slowly getting back to normal with only 30% of seating capacity allowed to be filled but we still get a lot of orders through delivery apps. Samantha Gosyco, owner of Samsam Bistro.
To overcome the challenges of the next few months, the key is to be flexible, and to keep an open eye for any further changes in the economy or in the industry. Times of change can also bring with them new opportunities, and you might find that this is a good time to discover a new niche, or even to develop new and better business practices!