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30 March 2020

COVID-19: How SMS can connect you with your hospitality employees 

The public health impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching. While it’s difficult to gauge how every business will be impacted, restaurants and hospitality services will be hit first. Many have already been ordered to shut down across the world. Restrictions vary at the moment. Some have been forced to close entirely, such as those in New Zealand. Others are still allowing pick-up or home deliveries, such as in Australia.  

  Large conglomerates or franchises, such as Subway or McDonalds, can easily survive this sudden change in business. There are, however, many small business owners in the hospitality industry, as well as their workers, who are far more concerned about the long-term impact on their livelihoods. 

 

Why your employees should be factored into your business continuity plans   

Did you know almost 7M Americans will go without pay if they become sick? This is due to a lack of benefits and security in the food and beverage industry. While 75% of Americans receive paid leave benefits, 25% of food service workers do not. This means that there is a lot of pressure on business owners to take care of employees throughout this health crisis.    

Restaurants, cafes and all sorts of hospitality venues make a name for themselves by building upon the customer service and experience delivered by its staff. That’s why it’s more important than ever that employers do their utmost to keep employees engaged, secure and feeling valued. Otherwise, they run the risk of increased turnover rates and the loss of trained up and talented staff.  Here’s how we think SMS services can help you make giant strides in your recovery plan. 

 

Getting sick due to COVID-19   

 Use SMS messages to communicate if you are adhering to new occupational health and safety practices. Many businesses are being encouraged to stop the spread of COVID-19 by asking their potentially sick employees to not come to work. Especially for the food industry, the potential for contamination and spread is exponential when it comes to a worker coming into contact with a regular influx of people.  

 Whether they’re a server, bus boy, bartender or barista – it doesn’t matter. The US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people who are mildly ill, or think they have it, should stay at home.

Important Update Staff

Further to that, employees should not feel pressured into returning to work and potentially endangering others. Employers should reinforce the negative consequences of coming into work and find ways to provide, even to their casual staff, sick leave if they are able to. We recommend sending out a separate bulk SMS to all staff with the assurance that, should they become sick, they will be taken care of.   

  

New staff rostering and new staff positions  

With the potential closure of restaurants any day, alongside imposed self-isolation, old methods of staff rostering may not be relevant anymore. It’s likely that with the dramatic drop in business, staff rostering may need to change day-to-day. Or if, unfortunately, your business is hit with a sudden closure, you may want to be able to reach out and inform staff as quickly as possible.  

With an average open rate of 98%, SMS provides business owners the best way of getting through to staff as efficiently as possible. Enabling two-way conversations via SMS also allows staff to message back easily. They can confirm they are available for a shift or have further questions about a new procedure. We have found that hospitality staff prefer sending and receiving text messages with their employers. They are less intrusive and it’s easier for them to reply on their own time. 

As a business owner, you may already be stressed about emergency management. Now, you may have to sit down late at night to organise a new roster schedule and cut down on many people’s shifts. You would rather be chatting with your business partner about new potential revenue streams or how you can reach out to your local community. Instead, you’re stuck there late at night bogged down in monotonous and repetitive administrative tasks. 

With our new integrations marketplace, we hope we can cut down some of these time-wasting and energy-sucking issues for you. Integrations allow you to hook up your favourite and most used applications, such as Excel, rostering software or your email, such as Outlook. They then communicate with our SMS gateway and work together to decrease your workload. Consider what we did when we introduced an integration with workforce management software, Time Target, and how this helped improve rostering for Estia Health Aged Care. 

Online SMS may also serve you when new staff positions arise. As we suggested in COVID-19 business continuity plans: how the hospitality industry can stay float,  new circumstances may demand new positions. For example, a trusted member of your waitstaff for dine-in customers could pivot their role to a delivery driver. This gives you the option to quickly advertise new positions to your staff’s mobile phone. This increases the likelihood of them getting back to you more rapidly. 

  

New cleanliness and hygiene protocols  

Good hygiene and OH&S must be maintained throughout any food or beverage service. Now that Coronavirus has brought upon a surge in more clean habits, both customers and employees are insistent on new levels of caution. Updated protocols to ensure dining-out, in most cases at the moment, remains low-risk and safe. 

New hygiene protocols alert on a phone SMS

SMS notifications are a great place to start letting staff know that you are taking the necessary steps. Making sure everyone is aware of new protocols around washing their hands, frequently using hand sanitiser, following new food safety rules and taking extra precautions when cleaning up the kitchen is easier. If the new protocols require much more detail, other messaging templates, such as mobile landing pages, can be used. You can also use embedded short trackable links with shortened URLs, which take you to an online page or document. 

  

Keeping employees updated   

The only way to decrease uncertainty and anxiety is to give assurance and information. One of the most common uses for SMS since its inception has been in keeping staff constantly updated about time-critical events or issues.  

For example, it is widely used by the government for public safety warnings. It is also used by many organisations to counter service disruptions, such as road closures or equipment failures. For many hospitality venues, SMS alerts are already used for outages or break-in alerts since these issues require immediate attention.  

The same should be utilised should there be a natural disaster or outbreak. While there might be day-to-day changes, employees should have a reliable medium to stay constantly updated within the hospitality sector. 

Since COVID-19 started spreading, SMS has been the go-to medium because of its consistent rate of cut-through and average open-time being within 90 seconds. It has been particularly useful in helping all kinds of hospo venues, not just restaurants, alert their staff when a confirmed Coronavirus case has occurred either at their locale or within the vicinity. 

Confirmed Case SMS Alert

Imagine you are a new waitress at a city café frequented by a large crowd of busy urban professionals desperately in need of coffee every morning. You’re about to head in for your mid-morning shift and you get a ping on your mobile. You are just about to walk out the door, but you check the text just in case.  

It’s from your employer letting you know that one of those busy professionals, a regular who always remembers your name, has been diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19. You are told not to come into work due to potential contamination and that your shifts for the rest of the week have been cancelled. You have had frequent contact with that regular until today and now you are concerned that you might have COVID-19 yourself. You immediately contact a doctor to find out next steps.  

While there are many ways in which employers can keep you updated, should that alert have come via email or through another source, this new waitress might have missed it and be well on her way to work via public transport before receiving it. SMS saves you time, but in the case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), it might also be saving lives too.  

  

Keep communicating!  

Regardless of whether you’ve had to cut shifts, or have had a full business closure, it’s important that no matter the circumstances, you should keep communication up. The special circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and its impact on our ability to live life as normally as we once did, has far-reaching consequences that we are yet to feel or understand.   

By keeping up a level of communication as many of us adjust means you can keep each and every one of you connected. It also poses an opportunity to help create a new level of calm and trust that many of your employees may actually need.  

Even if it’s just a daily text message, let staff know you’re monitoring the situation on their behalf. Make them aware that you’re looking for new ways to keep them onboard or to help them with their potential cash flow or personal situations.  

You can even invite them to make a time to chat with you through an integration with CalendlyGoogle Calendar or with your chosen scheduling software. The level of transparency you want to have with your employee is up to you, but you can only benefit when your employees feel they are being taken into account during this tenuous situation. 

What we know is the hospitality industry is a resilient one. We can make it through this, but we can only do this together. Restaurants. Diners. Cafes. Bars. Breweries. Nightclubs. You name it. They are made up of their people, as much as they are the food and beverage they serve. Taking care of your people now means taking care of your business in the long-term. 

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