What You Can Do to Strengthen Your Restaurant During the Coronavirus Shutdown

As a 25-year restaurant operations veteran, I completely appreciate the dramatic lifestyle change that restaurant operators have experienced from the coronavirus shutdown. 

Many of you went from a crazy amount of daily responsibility to a dead stop with literally no work you can do. Sure, you had to scramble to salvage any fresh product you had on hand and many of you immediately embraced off-premise dining, but gone are the volumes of Saturday night and managing 40+ staff members.

If you are anything like the restaurant operators I know, you are going crazy looking for something to do. Fortunately, I have several suggestions about how you can spend your coronavirus shutdown improving your restaurant so you can do more business when things return to normal. 

Rebuild your website

In my work, I review the marketing efforts of hundreds of restaurant operations annually. What I find, with far too much regularity, is an outdated, non-responsive website that does nothing to enhance the success of the restaurant. 

Some of these sites have literally been in place for 10 years without a change, but the technology has kept on rolling. That means enhancements like social integration, online ordering, mobile responsiveness and solid data collection aren’t present on most restaurant websites.

This is a self-inflicted wound that can be remedied with ease by creating a new site. That may sound intimidating, but with today’s website design services the site creation experience is certainly no harder than any social media software with which you already engage. 

Whether you want to integrate online ordering for your carryout business or do a better job inviting guests to join your newsletter, an improved restaurant website is a great tool. With a focused effort, you could create and deploy a new site in just a few days (or even a few hours if you’re using an automated, intelligent website builder). And an updated site will better integrate into your marketing programs and deliver your business value. This is a great time to get your marketing current and relevant.

Update your employee files

Nobody likes administration, but it’s a necessary evil for every business operator. Your employee files are a crucial aspect of managing your business. Whether it’s outdated W-4 withholding forms or incomplete immigration documentation, some quiet time is exactly what your employee files need. This is not just an opportunity to be a better administrator, it also represents a chance to interact with your staff who are not working. 

By reaching out to them for documentation for their file, you also confirm that you are still in control and eagerly awaiting their return to work. This will make a difference when you get back to business, because your team will feel connected and involved, even if you are currently separated by the pandemic shutdown.

Give your restaurant a deep clean or do maintenance

One positive outcome of the shutdown is that restaurants now have the luxury of doing extra cleaning or maintenance. Whether it’s re-attaching a shaky bathroom stall partition or steam cleaning your kitchen and walk-in coolers, there is no shortage of projects. 

This doesn’t just make sense because you have the time, but also because there will be a new normal regarding sanitation. Guests will expect you to provide a safe, sanitary, and spotless environment going forward. Now is the time to facilitate that. Don’t just stop at the deep cleaning, but take this break to also consider and implement new protocols for your sanitation program.

Strengthen your vendor relationships

When this thing is over, you will need strong vendor relationships to stay ahead. Take the time now to review your vendor list and challenge those vendors to defend their value. Whether you rely on a prime vendor relationship or use lots of individual outlets, demand an explanation as to why they are your best option after the shutdown. Start by asking how they will provide value as well as manage your supply chain.

In fact, now might be the perfect time to rebid your entire business. Review what each competitive vendor is offering and reset those relationships before the shutdown is lifted. This way, you’ll be ready for the next phase of your operation with vendors that have committed to helping you return.

Also remember, your vendors have resources and now is the time to demand they provide you with them. From menu design to energy audits, your vendors can do more than just deliver you goods. By calling them out, you get more attention from them and likely more support. 

Plan your return to “normal” operations

This might seem obvious, but our industry is famous for its inertia. Many of you feel like the shutdown may never end and you may never return to operation. Frankly, if that is your approach, you will be right. However, if you are committed to coming back, you must use this extra time to formulate a plan.  New considerations like social distancing, dining room/bar configurations, and sanitation requirements should influence your planning.

Once the shutdown is lifted and you are allowed to operate again, having a framework for reopening will be crucial to actually doing it. You will get notice from your state as to the return-to-operation date. Consequently, build your plan by accounting for the time you will need to notify staff of their recall, order product from vendors, and address the new normal of social distancing for operations. If you are prepared, you will better handle any obstacles that returning to operation might present.

Last thoughts

There are obviously more than five things you can improve during the shutdown, but consider this a primer to get you thinking about what is right for you and your business. Oh, and by the way, it’s also ok to work on yourself during the shutdown. You are an integral part of your business and any improvements you make to yourself will improve your operation at the same time. Whether it’s learning a new software program or getting a certification like ServSafe, you and your restaurant will be well served by the improvements.

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