By Adrian Johansen, Contributor
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. In an instant, we lost our normal ways of life in exchange for lockdowns and safety guidelines. This unfortunate series of events was especially bad for the restaurant industry as it could no longer allow for large groups of paying customers. The good news is, as the new year continues, we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are being administered, and state mandates are loosening.
However, we are not yet out of the woods. The numbers of casualties are still high, and we are beginning to learn about new mutations of this horrible virus. As a restaurant owner, you likely have no choice but to try and keep your business alive, and you need your staff to make it through. Sensitivity and understanding are essential for restaurant owners during this time. Give your staff the respect they need while keeping your business afloat with these tips.
Considerations as Employees Return to Work
As lockdowns begin to become less restrictive, restaurant owners will likely be excited to call in their staff and get back to business as usual. But if your crew has been out of work for a while, you may need to consider their emotions during these trying times. While your staff is likely glad to return to work and get that steady income, they may be taking their long stretch of unemployment harder than you may realize. During this time off, they were likely applying to many jobs with a proportionate amount of rejections. They also had to constantly worry about paying the bills and providing for their family.
Because you can never know how someone is feeling unless you speak to them, it is more important now than ever that restaurant managers are actively communicating with their staff as they plan for returns. The importance of an open-door policy cannot be understated. Your folks need to know that they can come in and tell management when they don’t feel like they can go on or ask for help and know that their boss will deliver. Restaurant managers must also show a strong face during these communications. Even if a manager has feelings of anxiety and fear about getting their business going again, they must exude confidence yet empathy, so the employee knows they are in good hands.
Management may also have to consider that not all employees will be able to jump in on a full-time basis right away. During the lockdowns of 2020, many schools and childcare facilities were closed, forcing most parents to have to watch their kids at home and assist with their online learning. Since most schools are still closed, some of your staff may still have these responsibilities. To best support your employees’ return to work, allow flexible schedules in certain cases when possible. If an employee can come in a few hours later while they drop off their child and your business can still do what needs to be done, then consider allowing it. This kindness can go a long way towards employee retention during these unsettling times.
Keep Everyone Safe
Like most people in America, your staff is likely apprehensive about returning to working face-to-face with the public while we are still amid a pandemic. As restaurant owners, you want to do whatever you can to quell these fears by actively following state and CDC health guidelines and making your establishment safe for everyone that enters. Start by hiring a cleaning service that can bring its expertise to your business as they clean and sanitize every nook and cranny every day.
Provide your staff with everything they need to feel safe and secure while they work. Conduct health and temperature checks as employees come in each day. Have plenty of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) available for your staff to use, including gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer, eye protection, and anything else your employees may request to feel safe. If an employee mentions that they feel sick, they should be sent home immediately until they feel better.
If your state still allows some indoor dining during the lockdowns, ensure that you are doing everything necessary to protect your guests as well. Healthy customers will lead to healthy employees. While tables should be distanced away from each other, consider moving them further and limiting indoor dining. Ensure that customers are wearing their masks as often as possible and install plastic partitions in between the customer and the employee if ordering at the cash register is necessary. By actively showing that safety is your number one priority, you will send a great message to your staff that you care for them and their well-being.
Keep Your Restaurant Afloat
While emotional support is of utmost importance during lockdowns, keeping your business afloat so you can keep your staff employed and give them purpose is equally important. Yes, times are tough now, and bringing in revenue isn’t as easy as it was pre-pandemic, but there are ways you can make and save money during these difficult times. For instance, you could speak to your landlord and ask for a temporary rent abatement until things blow over, so you have more money for your food and employee salaries.
You should also kick up your marketing efforts and cater them to the current situation. Advertise the safety precautions you have in your restaurant so patrons who worry about COVID-19 will choose your establishment over others when given the choice. Mention max capacity, the distance between your tables, and that your waitstaff wears masks at all times. Make your restaurant and menu available on all third-party apps — including GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats — so you can reach a wider audience.
Speaking of your menu, consider simplifying it to only your most popular items. Doing so will cut down on extra food and ingredient costs and allow you to get the most bang for your buck. When scaling down, keep in mind that the items you choose to keep on the menu should also be the dishes that will travel well and arrive in the best condition when ordered via takeout.
While 2021 may bring the world back to a sense of normalcy, the existence of COVID-19 and lockdown orders are still a reality. As a restaurant owner, do your best to take care of your staff in any way possible, and in turn, they will help your business survive these turbulent times.