We are technically allowed to stay open in the midst of COVID-19, with reduced seating capacity for social distancing. However, I recently posted our brunch specials to social media and got a ton of negative comments for spreading the virus. I feel like either way I lose—how long should I stay open?
– Restaurant owner, Florida
The spread of COVID-19 is prompting a new and rapidly changing reality for restaurant operators. As an illustration, between receiving this question and writing the response, Florida’s governor announced that restaurants must operate at half of their guest capacity, and employees will be screened for the virus. As of Wednesday morning, restaurants had been closed or limited in over half of U.S. states. No matter where in the country you are located, I think it is reasonable to assume you will be closed, at least for dine-in business, and plan accordingly.
While it may be unpopular, my advice is to close your dine-in operation preemptively, even if not required to by law. There are numerous reasons:
- Operators report significant decline in revenue—and employee tips—regardless, due to the outbreak.
- The virus is not foodborne, but transmitted through social contact—meaning every day your dining room is open, it puts your employees and management at risk.
- The only way to stem the pandemic is through social distancing—the opposite of dining out.
This does not mean you should give up hope or shut your doors completely, but rather be creative in how you can keep generating revenue, protect your team and provide a memorable experience to guests. Your guests already are or will likely be homebound for multiple days as companies encourage staff to work from home and more schools close. My advice is to ready yourself for that reality by building a robust takeout and delivery program, offering family meals, and taking advantage of your existing inventory and items you can reliably get through your suppliers. Offer no-contact payment and pickup to keep your staff safe.
States and municipalities that allow restaurants to stay open in the interest of business may be trading short-term benefit for long-term losses. Even restaurateurs have been advocating for clear direction from government to level the playing field. You know that when restaurateurs are asking for regulations, we are in a new world.
Resources for the hospitality industry and workers here. You can also join Restaurant Business’ private Facebook group, “Coronavirus in the Food and Beverage Industry,” for resources and updates, and follow all of RB’s COVID-19 coverage here.