The restaurant industry in the United States—and worldwide—is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reports that industry analysts expect that as many as 75 percent of independent restaurants could end up closing as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns that have restricted in-store dining across the nation. Even though restrictions are being lifted in some areas, it’s a grim picture for many, and it has left restaurants scrambling for ways to stay afloat without any idea of what tomorrow might bring. But there are clear steps that restaurant operators can take today to lay the foundation—or at least the hope—for staying open long enough to see the other side of the crisis.
- Set up and expand delivery and takeout options. Even in places where local shelter-in-place orders haven’t closed in-store dining, restaurants are still seeing reduced traffic. Delivery and takeout are the only options to satisfy guests who can’t or won’t eat in. Many third-party delivery services are trying to offer improved terms for restaurant operators, but now is a good time to look at setting up direct delivery programs, even if it means managers and owners are delivering meals themselves. Most importantly, communicate new dining options to customers through every available channel.
- Get creative. Simply switching over to delivery and takeout with no other changes may not be enough to keep a restaurant afloat. Think outside the box. CNBC reports that some restaurants have transformed themselves into makeshift grocers and Community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations. Walter's Sports Bar, based in Washington, DC, for example, has begun selling bundles of vegetables. Others have re-worked their menus to focus on more cost-efficient offerings, such as family-style meals instead of à la carte menu items or cook-it-yourself meal kits. Some restaurants have put a new focus on nonfood sales like gift cards and wine.
- Enforce rigorous food safety practices. Although transmission of COVID-19 does not appear to be linked to food consumption, it's nevertheless more important than ever to enforce rigorous hygiene and sanitation practices if restaurants want to protect their staff and their guests against both foodborne illness and the coronavirus. It’s also never been tougher: With reduced staffing and other pressing demands, restaurants may struggle to find the time to do all checks. Consider switching away from time-consuming, error-prone, paper-based processes in favor of digital food safety apps and systems that can reduce labor while still ensuring compliance with safety and wellness checks, like ComplianceMate C19.
- Be conscientious about staff wellness. Staff working while sick will worsen every other problem that restaurants face today. Implement every possible safeguard against this potential issue. Be proactive: Restaurants, in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), should incorporate employee wellness checks alongside their normal food safety and quality checks. They will also need to ensure that previously ill staff members meet all wellness criteria before returning to work. The ComplianceMate C19 app incorporates both wellness checks and COVID-19-specific procedures, and is kept continually updated with CDC and WHO guidance.
- Take advantage of the CARES Act. Yes, there is still time. The program runs until December 31, 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which is the so-called Phase 3 of emergency relief measures being passed by Congress—includes provisions that can help the restaurant industry. Cash flow is very likely to become an existential issue, as restaurants will be unable to sustain cash flow or credit if closures last for months. The CARES Act includes small business loans up to 250 percent of the operation’s average monthly payroll cost with no collateral or "credit elsewhere" requirements. The loan can be forgiven entirely if employers maintain their workforce or rehire laid off employees.
ComplianceMate™ is an enterprise foods safety management tool. Its free app, ComplianceMate C19, assists foodservice with the demands of keeping guests and employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The app includes checklists covering COVID-19 cleaning, employee wellness, handwashing, and guidance on when an employee who previously tested positive for COVID-19 can return to work. It functions on any web-enabled device and can be accessed here.