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30 March 2020

COVID-19 business continuity plans: how the hospitality industry can stay afloat

Food and beverage workers around the world are being rocked by the enforced closure of all non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, bars, breweries and diners, thanks to COVID-19. Some facilities are still allowed to stay open, albeit under severe restrictions. Others are being shuttered entirely. 

Government stimulus and relief packages are being announced to help support the continuity of these businesses through the long-ranging impacts of the Coronavirus. It is, however, still vital for many business owners to find new ways to keep their businesses alive while their doors are shut.  

Talk to your customers 

Customers are the lifeblood of a hospitality business. It’s no surprise that we recommend restaurants reach out to them first to seek support. Here’s what we think you need to let them know. 

  • The current situation 

Are you closed? Are you open? Beyond that, maybe it’s a good time to talk about the situation openly. Whether you are able to sustain yourself in the short-term or whether you’re in dire straits and need financial support or donations now. With transparent communication comes real empathy and real aid. 

  • Your internal response 

What are you doing within your business in response to COVID-19? Most businesses are closing or pivoting to take-away and delivery. SMS is an easy way you can communicate this using our free messaging templates. It would also be good to also tell customers about precautions and steps you are taking, and what they can do as well. At the end of the day, no matter their previous patronage, customers still want reassurance that ordering from you is still a safe choice.

 

SMS from restaurant to customer about new hygiene practises

For example, many restaurants while shuttering and offering take-out are also making extra efforts around sanitisation, cleaning and customer service. Consider also any plans or ideas about how you are enabling your business to continue, and to keep your staff in work.  

  • How you will adapt

Besides takeaway, many businesses are getting creative about how they are adapting to these new conditions. Telling your customers about these plans and keeping them updated will make sure they can continue to support you – even isolated in their homes. For example, restaurants in Sydney such as Pazar Food Collective and Soul Dining have new social distancing delivery options using a mix of online ordering and SMS notifications that require detailed instruction from the business first.

  • Ways they can support

Takeaway isn’t the only way you can garner support. An interesting way some restaurants are brokering additional support is by having regular guests buy gift cards. These can be used after the restaurant or business is allowed to open again. Another idea is by creating digital tip jars and online fundraisers to support staff, as well as the business’ continued existence. 

  • Share gratitude and updates 

Don’t forget to thank your community – they’re why you’re here today! Give them the ability to stay in touch with you. This can be through email, SMS or some other preferred communication channel, like social media. 

Many restaurants are using multiple communication channels to stay in touch with customers. If SMS alerts and communications are something you’re interested in, we’ve put together some easy-to-use food and beverage business SMS templates on keeping in contact. 

 

Take care of your staff 

More often than not, hospitality workers are casual workers. They do not usually get the benefits that most salaried workers enjoy. That means if they are off sick or if their workplace closes, they will be forced to go without income and job security. This then affects their families, finances and further health. 

In a crisis of this magnitude, the closure of your business does not only impact you. It will impact all of your workers too. It is important, as a business, to show your staff that you support them so that when the times comes, you can more easily bounce back. We’ve talked about how SMS can help maintain connection with employees but whatever methods you choose, here are our top tips. 

  • Work with them on a solution 

We suggest having a two-way conversation about the realities of the situation. It’s important to get their feedback and address the business’ recovery plan as a team. Having them on board means they are more likely to work with you, rather than against you, when you come up with a temporary solution. This may include pay cuts or taking unplanned leave in order to ensure they all have jobs to come back to in the long-term. 

  • Do the right thing  

For many businesses, this may mean that staff will have to remain remote or practice safe distancing when together. Keep them updated on your risk management plan, check in on them and stay in contact. Many businesses are doing this via SMS and we recommend that a variety of communication methods are used. 

While this may not be easy for every business, offer paid sick leave when you can. Reassure your employees they do not have to choose between making their next month’s rent and endangering others. If they call in sick, trust in their discretion and be lenient on asking for a doctor’s certificate or that they come into work. 

The risk for you, for them, their colleagues and your customers is too high. Instead, aim to build trust and community with your workforce during this time. 

  • Promote mental health 

Potentially the biggest health impact due to lack of social contact and rising uncertainty is severe drops in mental health. Positive initiatives you can take for your employees who may be off work or taking significant pay cuts are ones around maintaining or improving their mental health. 

A small way you can do this is by giving them free subscriptions to mental health apps. SMS is a really useful way for you to regularly send them a positive affirmation or reminder that you are thinking about them  and value them as an employee. You can also coordinate daily group or 1-on-1 catch ups to ensure that you maintain social contact and a supportive culture from top to bottom.

 

Think outside the box  

 You don’t have to look far to see businesses, communities and individuals rally around the food service industry. For example, we have seen Marks and Spencer’s Neighbourly Community Fund and SnackSafely’s #SnackSafelyAtHome campaign. Many are working overtime to help each other and support small local businesses to thrive in these evolving economic circumstances. 

We have also identified businesses being increasingly inventive and creative in response to these new restrictions. These can inspire you to think about where you can take your restaurant or venue outside the box. Here are some of the best ideas we have gathered.

  • Takeaway we go  

For many small businesses who haven’t yet explored digital delivery and takeaway platforms this may be the best time to do so. For example, many takeaway restaurants such as Dominos and Subway already have SMS ‘text-in’ ordering as part of their delivery options. 

Dominoes SMS text in emoji takeaway and delivery service

For businesses who are also pivoting to takeaway, this may give your staff more opportunities to work by moving their role from wait staff to delivery drivers

Get creative; don’t let customers order straight off the menu. Consider putting together ready-made care packages for the elderly, personalise orders with positive, heart-warming notes or create sizeable, family-style meals to help out stressed and overworked parents. 

  • Go the distance  

A city-based café in Australia’s Adelaide called My Kingdom For A Horse has launched a new initiative in light of recent business closures and a dramatic drop in trade. It’s called Distance Dining and allows diners to phone in and pick up their meals via the front shop window in less than 20 minutes. 

Food is discounted and can only be paid with a card. While this may not sustain a business in the long-term, it’s an easy option for restaurants or cafes who have a strong army of regulars and an easily accessible bricks and mortar shop front.

  • Engage with local support  

Offline and online, communities are popping up everywhere to support local businesses. This widespread support means there has never been a better time to engage with your local community and neighbours and gather their support. Consider dropping menus into local mailboxes, seeking out local Facebook groups or utilising apps like NextDoor to see how others are reaching out and drumming up support. 

Many publications localised to their city are also building lists of restaurants and places to support during this crisis. Online food directory service Yelp is also serving affected businesses by offering free advertising on their platform, free upgrades to more premium accounts, as well as $100 for free search advertising to businesses offering delivery/takeout.

  • Can you go a step further? 

Despite its many locations, global independent craft brewery Brewdog was also seriously impacted by COVID-19. In pivoting to go online, they identified that customer satisfaction didn’t only come from their brewery and the beer. It also came from the community, the experience and the social connection. At a time where people are more isolated than ever, any steps you can take in order to help people reconnect is a boon(dog).

Brewdog has announced they are taking their 102 bars online in order to replicate the warm, communal experience sorely missed by many of its patrons. Instead of their usual regulars, Brewdog is opening its online bars to anyone in the world (+18). This will involve events such as beer tasting, homebrewing masterclasses, pub quizzes, live music and comedy. Food and beverage businesses in Australia such as Pixel bar and cafe in Melbourne are starting to experiment with similar virtual experiences.

Brewdog Virtual Bar

While dine-in may no longer be an option for many of us, this does not mean it’s the end of your business nor the hospitality sector as a whole. It just means a shift in understanding how we can continue to enjoy one of life’s true delights. While uncertainty may continue to reign for a while longer under COVID-19, we can continue to support each other during this crisis and work  our own recovery strategies. MessageMedia stands by you and will continue to stand by your business too. 

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