How to Handle Temporary Restaurant Closure during COVID-19

How to Handle Temporary Restaurant Closure during COVID-19
Ana Cvetkovic

By Ana Cvetkovic

Table of Contents

    Due to the volatile situation caused by COVID-19, restaurateurs across the globe are having to temporarily close their businesses to support social distancing. In some areas, they are even being legally required to do so.

    The uncertainty of how long these closures could last is frightening. Fortunately, there are things that restaurateurs can do to mitigate revenue loss now and prepare their businesses for success after the storm has passed.

    We’ve created this COVID-19 restaurant closure guide to help restaurateurs like you navigate these difficult times. You’ll learn:

    • What to consider before closing your restaurant,
    • How to communicate your restaurant closure with staff and customers,
    • How to reduce your costs so that you can reopen successfully, and
    • How to stay busy and productive amidst the COVID-19 crisis

    What to consider before you close your restaurant

    Trying to decide whether or not to close your restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some things to think about before you shut your doors.

    The law

    This major decision isn’t entirely up to you. If local laws mandate that you have to shut your restaurant down, then you must comply. Many U.S. states are forcing non-essential businesses to stop operations. If your state considers restaurants non-essential, then you must shut down for the time being.

    However, many states that are forcing restaurants to stop their dine-in services are allowing them to operate as takeout and delivery-only establishments. Check our guide below to see what COVID-19 restaurant laws apply to you.

    Revenue

    When you’re closing your restaurant, your revenue is a key element to consider before you make your decision.

    Ask yourself:

    • Can your business survive without generating revenue?
    • Will running a takeout and delivery-only restaurant be profitable, or will the costs outweigh the revenue this opportunity could generate?

    If your restaurant does decide to go the takeout and delivery route:

    • Is your restaurant’s menu optimized for takeout?
    • Do you have takeout packaging in stock?
    • Do you have accounts on online ordering sites like GrubHub and Uber Eats?
    • Do you have delivery drivers who you could hire, or would your FOH staff take on this role for extra pay?

    Read through our article on how to pivot your restaurant to takeout & delivery to see if leveraging these revenue channels is an option for your business.

    If your restaurant must close completely, are there any other ways that it can generate revenue? Consider things like merchandise sales, inventory sales, or private cooking lessons. We’ll talk about this more later on.

    Safety

    If you can run your business as a takeout and delivery spot, consider whether or not you can carry out operations safely to avoid spreading COVID-19.

    • What measures can you take to make customers feel more comfortable ordering from you?
    • Can you offer contactless deliveries and curbside pick-ups?

    Staff

    When it comes to staffing, consider what may be at stake before closing your restaurant.

    • Can you afford to keep your staff on payroll while your restaurant is closed?
    • Can you give dine-in related employees other tasks to do that will benefit your business and ensure that they don’t lose their income?
    • If not, how can you support your staff during a shutdown?

    You can point your restaurant staff towards monetary relief programs offered by the government and other organizations to help them stay afloat if your business closes.

    Consider all of your options before implementing a COVID-19 restaurant closure.

    How to communicate your COVID-19 restaurant closure...

    Whether you decide to close your restaurant partially or fully, it’s important to communicate your decision properly to staff and customers. Here’s how to do that thoroughly.

    ....to staff

    Telling employees that they won’t have any shifts for several weeks (or even months) is a difficult thing to do. Avoid burning bridges by being transparent with staff. Make sure that staff know about your COVID-19 restaurant closure before customers do.

    Since in-person meetings are prohibited in most places, communicate delicate decisions, like layoffs, with individuals on the phone or through video call. Then share general updates with staff through your team communication tool.

    Your team members will be anxious to know when they’ll be able to come back to work. Manage expectations by creating a timeline for updates. Most states have mandated closures for restaurants until specific dates. Tell staff to expect updates from you around these deadlines. Be accessible for questions in the meantime.

    View this post on Instagram

    To say the last week has been a challenge would be a huge understatement. Our team, our community and our family has taken a hit and we continue to face these challenges every moment of every day. Every news conference we gather around as we would when we were younger to watch our favorite shows, only now our future lies in the hands of the broadcast. “Social Distancing” and “Flatten the Curve” are more than buzz words of 2020. We must act and we must act now if we are to get through this together. WITH THIS IN MIND WE WILL BE CLOSING OUR DOORS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. The support we have received over the last 8 years will never compare to the appreciation we have felt in the last 7 days. YOU have stepped up and ROCKED OUR SOCKS with your letters of encouragement, notes, calls, purchases and genuine smiles. We couldn’t have asked for more! It is with a heavy heart and blurry eyes that this message continues… This not the end of us at all. We fully intend to reopen our doors when the time is right. We encourage all of our friends who have supported us over the years to stay home if you can. Practice physical distancing while still remaining social. Reach out to those in need and engage in genuine conversation. Lend an ear where you can and give our first responders and medical professionals the time they need to ensure that we are all looked after in a timely manner. This isn’t about us and our four walls, but our community and those in it. We know this too shall pass and when it does, we will be there too, with you. Stay safe! Rieley, Kim, William, Brynn, Hannah and the entire Cilantro and Chive & Moe’s Pizza Co. Team ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜 👉 Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns during this time and we will do our best to get back to you in a timely manner, heymoe@moespizzaco.ca.

    A post shared by Moes Pizza Lacombe (@moeslacombe) on

    ... to customers

    If you decide to close your restaurant temporarily, let customers know that you are doing this and explain why. Reach customers through every communication channel possible so that they don’t show up to your door expecting that you’ll be open for takeout, just to find your doors closed. While most customers will be understanding of unannounced closures during the coronavirus pandemic, some may write your restaurant off for good if they have a poor experience with it during these difficult times.

    Be thorough in communicating your restaurant’s closure by notifying customers through the following means:

    • Posters/notices in your restaurant’s window
    • Making announcements via social media
    • Adding a banner or pop up to your restaurant’s website. A blog post explaining why you are closed when you expect to reopen is also a good idea.
    • Sending an announcement in your email newsletter
    • Updating your hours on your Google listing, Yelp page, TripAdvisor profile, etc.
    • Adding your restaurant to the Rally for Restaurants directory

    When you reopen your restaurant, update all of the above channels with the good news.

    How to reduce your costs to reopen your restaurant successfully

    If your business doesn’t have revenue coming in, it has to be put into survival mode. Trim any unnecessary spending to ensure that your restaurant will be able to reopen successfully when the time comes to do so. Here are some tips for reducing your restaurant’s costs:

    • Put produce and meat deliveries on hold
    • Ask your landlord to pause rent payments
    • Apply for restaurant relief programs and other forms of government assistance. Stay tuned for 7shifts’ very own relief program!
    • Manage your 7shifts account
    • Reach out to 7shifts Support to request a temporary hold.
    • Continue to utilize 7shifts’ communication tools to share relevant information to employees once the time comes to ramp up to re-open.
    • When re-opening your business plan your schedule and ensure coverage while you ramp up
    • Leverage 7tasks to continue cleaning practices + the Manager Log Book and Shift Feedback to keep in communication with your Management Team
    • Reduce your payroll by temporarily letting go of staff
    • Unplug appliances and cancel cable bills to lower your utility spending

    With adjustments here and there, your restaurant will be able to weather the storm.

    How to stay busy and productive during COVID-19

    Closing your doors to customers doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. Take advantage of this downtime to work on projects that you’ve always wanted to pursue but haven’t had time to tackle when your doors were open.

    Follow these tips for staying busy and productive throughout your COVID-19 restaurant closure so that you can reopen successfully.

    Revamp your menu

    Have you always wanted to reinvent your menu? Now is the perfect time to do it!

    1. Hold virtual meetings with your chefs to brainstorm what kind of change your menu needs
    2. Let chefs experiment with recipes at home so that they can practice social distancing
    3. Keep customers engaged while you’re closed by sharing the behind-the-scenes action with them on social media and letting them vote on new dishes

    On the business side of things, now is a good time to review the data you’ve collected through your POS and inventory management systems over the years. Look at your historical sales and food cost reports. Which dishes on your menu are the most popular? Which are the most profitable? Can you create new menu items that are both popular and profitable?

    For example, perhaps your carbonara pasta is your most popular dish, but your  pizza is the most profitable. Consider fusing the two to create a carbonara pizza, which will hopefully be profitable and popular.

    Even if you don’t want to introduce new dishes to your menu, you could use this time to redesign your menu for maximum profitability. When you apply the principles of menu engineering to your menu, you fuse psychology and design to draw people to the most profitable items on the menu.


    Connect with your professional network

    Don’t let social distancing discourage you from strengthening your professional network. The universality of the coronavirus is bringing the restaurant industry together virtually.

    Connect with colleagues in your area and around the country through Facebook groups, Reddit, virtual meetups, and more. Share ideas for how to generate revenue, communicate with customers, and more. You never know what connections you’ll make and where they’ll take you in the future.

    Support staff

    While payroll will most likely be the first thing cut as you reduce your business’ expenses while it’s closed, it’s important to try to retain as many of your key employees as possible. Retaining staff is challenging enough without the threat of COVID-19. The restaurant industry’s average turnover rate is 73%!

    Don’t burn bridges during this pandemic. If you fire your top employees now, they won’t be likely to come back to your restaurant when normal business operations resume. See if your staff can do something else for your restaurant while it’s closed. Discover people’s hidden talents. Have staff help redesign your menu, create an employee engagement program, make training videos, etc.

    Keep in touch with your customers

    It’s difficult to stay atop customers’ minds if your restaurant closes its doors for several weeks or months. Be creative with your marketing endeavors to ensure that customers don’t forget about your restaurant while they order delivery or takeout from your competitors during the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are some ways to keep in touch with your customers:

    • Share recipes for favorite dishes - Encourage customers to make their favorite dishes from your restaurant at home by sharing popular recipes with them. Let customers know that you’ll only be sharing recipes through your email newsletter. This tactic will incentivize people to sign up for your newsletter, which will help you expand your future  marketing endeavors.
    • Let customers vote on new menu items - If you’re using this downtime time to revamp your menu, get your customers involved in the process. Share the dishes that your chefs are cooking up via Instagram Stories. The polls feature on Instagram Stories is a fun way to keep customers engaged. If you make customers feel like they influenced your new menu, they’ll be eager to try it out when your restaurant reopens.
    • Host virtual cooking classes - Virtual cooking classes are an excellent way to bring in revenue and stay atop customers’ minds while your restaurant is closed. Have your most tech-savvy chef set up an ad hoc filming studio in your restaurant’s kitchen by placing their smartphone on a tripod. Let your fans know about the virtual cooking classes by making announcements on social media and through your email newsletter. Charge a fee for the class. Send attendees the link to a private Zoom call to ensure that only those who have paid for the class can join in. Share a grocery list with attendees in advance of the class so that they have ample time to gather the ingredients.

    Plan for your restaurant’s grand reopening

    Use your restaurant’s downtime to plan for a successful reopening. These ideas will make your reopening stand out from that of other restaurants:

    • While your restaurant is still closed, sell discounted gift cards that customers will be able to redeem after you reopen.
    • Use your grand reopening as an opportunity to launch a new menu. Write a press release and invite journalists to the launch of your new menu to drum up media coverage.
    • Throw a “welcome back” party exclusively for your regulars to thank them for their past and future loyalty.
    • Host a VIP grand reopening for family, friends, and staff. Create a social media contest to let fans compete for an invitation to the event.

    Don’t think of your COVID-19 restaurant closure as time lost. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to work on growing your business instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a restaurant.

    Top tips for surviving COVID-19 restaurant closures

    We’ve given you a lot of information and many ideas to digest. Here’s a summary of top tips to take with you as you streamline your operations during a COVID-19 related closure:

    • Consider laws, alternative revenue streams, and the wellbeing of your staff and customers as you contemplate temporarily closing your restaurant.
    • Be transparent with staff and customers if you decide to close your restaurant during the coronavirus epidemic. Communicate with both parties often and through multiple channels.
    • Reduce costs now in order to be able to reopen successfully. Pause inventory deliveries, reduce your payroll, and lower your utility bill to weather the storm.
    • Take advantage of the time gained by closing your restaurant to grow your business. Revamp your menu, stay in touch with customers, grow your professional network, do what you can to retain staff, and plan for your reopening during this time.

    Stay safe during these difficult times. Check out our COVID-19 restaurant resource library and Instagram for more helpful tips.

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    Ana Cvetkovic
    Ana Cvetkovic

    Ana Cvetkovic is a freelance writer for 7shifts. She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a creative marketing agency that helps the hospitality and tourism industries reach millennials online.