It was supposed to be the summer of freedom, of getting back to real life and emerging from the shadows of the pandemic. For a few glorious weeks in early summer, as more and more people became fully vaccinated and COVID-19 numbers were going down, people who had been locked down for over a year started emerging, and dining experiences seemed to be going back to normal.
Then came delta. This August, the harsh reality of the COVID-19 delta variant wave is starting to hit restaurant owners. No sooner did we start our new campaigns celebrating the return to in-person gatherings, dining indoors, and mask-free merriment in some states than the bad news started creeping in: the delta variant was spreading, and even some vaccinated people were getting sick. Restaurant owners already dealing with staffing shortages and uncertain supply chains now had to re-think their operating plans. Does everyone need to mask up again? Will guests keep coming, or will they switch to takeout again? Is indoor dining still a thing?
Last March we all got caught with our pants down as the world shut down forcibly, suddenly, and with little warning. With this new wave, yes, it’s still uncomfortable but this time we have a better idea of what to expect. Today, we’re bringing you six things that you can do NOW to set up your restaurant business to thrive and succeed in the midst of this uncertainty.
1. Online Ordering
Many restaurants scrambled to implement ways for their guests to order food online, with varied success. Online ordering needs to be easy and seamless. Make sure you have a functional, active site that is easy to access from your social media & website. It must be easy to navigate and include clear, swoon-worthy photos that will inspire guests to place an order and keep coming back. Your online ordering website should be user-friendly and incorporate both takeout & delivery options. You’ll also want it to be fully integrated into your restaurant’s POS system so there’s no need for extra work on the back end, or increase labor needed to manually key in orders.
2. Contactless Takeout & Delivery
Once again, guests are going to be looking for ways to pick up their orders without getting close to any other human. Consider curbside or exterior-entry options that make it easy. And contactless payments are a must- it’s best if guests can pay online prior to pickup to avoid waiting around indoors or getting too close to restaurant team members.
3. Plans to Handle Staff Infections
If the delta variant infects one person at your restaurant, it’s likely to spread rapidly and you could quickly be left without any staff members as everyone stays home to recover or quarantine. You’ve got to nip this in the bud before it takes your team down. Put Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in place that outline company protocols around what the proper procedures are when someone has exposure and the steps they need to take. Consider taking ALL employee temperatures upon arrival and log them, ask the standard questions again before their shift starts. Keep the plexiglass up and make all staff wear masks. Splurge on those N95 masks for your team members.
4. Modified Menu
Be ready for staff shortages and supply chain disruptions by preparing a simplified menu. It should include a variety of dishes that your team is able to execute with lighter staff when the dine-in volume is low. When making the menu selections, choose things that are conducive to delivery and takeout. Make sure family-style options are included on this menu. Pricing is going to be key with commodities rising rapidly so make sure you keep your menu fluid and be ready to update your POS to accommodate the inflation in both purchasing and wages.
We hope you didn’t throw away all those signs about masking and deep cleaning! Guests will be looking for signals that your restaurant is a safe place to dine. Create SOP’s that include tightened sanitation practices and then communicate them clearly to your staff and your guests. Transparency is key, you want your customers to be comfortable about the extra steps you are taking to keep them safe. Rather than waiting for local ordinances, be proactive versus reactive when you set up and communicate your policies regarding masks & social distancing. Remember washing hands and having sanitizer around is one of the key ingredients to staying safe
6. Employee COVID-19 Reimbursements
There are policies that protect you as an employer when you pay your employees who are affected by COVID-19 and can’t come to work. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has extended the original credit for retaining employees until December 31, 2021. Employers aren’t required to pay the affected employees, but they get tax credits if they do. Additionally, as of April 1st, employees got a fresh bank of 80 hours so those who used the hours last year will be able to use them again.
Here at DSR Hospitality, we don’t want you to be at the mercy of this unrelenting virus. We are here to help. Beyond ARPA and the CARES Act, there are several programs available to assist restauranteurs and to help you survive and thrive amidst all this uncertainty. Reach out if you need advice or assistance with setting up and executing the solutions we’ve outlined above. We can even help you find the capital to fund the changes you need to make now. Facing the morphing pandemic is rough for every human on the planet, but especially for hospitality teams on the front line. The difference is this time we are able to be prepared.