Are You Ready to Reopen? Follow These Crucial Guidelines15 min read
In today’s post, we’ll divulge several best practices for reopening your restaurant post COVID-19. We’ll cover how to let customers know you take their safety seriously, how to safeguard your employees, how to promote safe social distancing and much more. But first, we’ll look at the latest news regarding a second stimulus check for Americans, the updated PPP program and proposals coming out of the White House.
This post is all about how to rebuild your business. Don’t miss out.
But Fist….The News
There were three major news items this week. For starters, the prospect of a second stimulus for Americans is looking rather grim. Republicans initially described the HEROES Act as ‘dead on arrival.’ This attitude doesn’t seem to have changed since senators came back from recess. The consensus among conservatives seems to be that they want to wait as long as possible before deciding. This will allow lawmakers to gauge the effectiveness of the first stimulus check before authorizing a second.
On Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020, Senate Republicans made it clear that their primary concern right now is revamping the Paycheck Protection Program. More on that in a moment. But shifting resources toward a more robust PPP may mean that a second stimulus gets left by the wayside. However, providing consumers with more spending money in the form of a second stimulus could help bring restaurants back from the brink.
Some Senate Republicans, such as James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), are concerned that a second stimulus check could set a precedent, possibly paving the way for a basic income scheme in the U.S. Says Lankford, ‘Most folks are very grateful for the help. But I don’t think we should set up a situation where we’re doing a check month after month after month.’
According to Mitt Romney of Utah, another stimulus payment is ‘unlikely.’
The second item on the list for this week’s news update is the aforementioned PPP overhaul.
After bilateral support for the H.R. 7010 Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, Congress is looking at ways to make the program even more robust. For now, the change means that:
The forgiveness period has increased.
Now you have 24 weeks to incur costs that are eligible for forgiveness. That’s 24 weeks from the origination date or until December 31st, 2020. Go with whichever is earlier. This will help you get your restaurant back up and running.
Changes to payroll costs.
Now you only need to use 60 percent of your loan on payroll costs for non-payroll costs to be forgiven. This is a reduction from 75 percent.
Changes to salary restoration deadline.
You now have until December 31st to restore salaries. The same goes for FTEs. The original safe harbor date was June 30th. But you still need to have your FTEs and salaries at February 2020 levels by the new safe harbor date.
New FTE exemptions.
If you can demonstrate that your business cannot return to February 2020 levels, you may qualify for special FTE exemptions that didn’t exist before. In order to qualify, you must demonstrate a legitimate inability to rehire previous employees, an inability to hire new employees and/or an inability to get revenues to where they were in February 2020. The cut off is December 31st, 2020.
New Loan Repayment Conditions.
Payment deferral has changed to 10 months after your covered period ends. Alternatively, if the SBA decides that you don’t qualify for forgiveness, you now have a deferral period of six months.
Loan length has changed.
You now have five years to repay any amount that was not forgiven. Before, this was a measly two years. You can qualify for a new loan at the five year mark.
Deferrals of payroll tax.
You can now defer 6.2 percent of 2020 Social Security taxes. Half of this amount will be due in 2021, and the other half will be due in 2022.
We’ll keep you apprised of further PPP developments.
Our last news piece concerns president Donald Trump. The president has proposed a tax credit for individuals and families who take a vacation. To qualify, taxpayers would also have to spend money on the hospitality and restaurant industries. The tax credit would translate directly into a lower tax bill for those who can make use of it.
But the proposal is drawing criticism from organizations and individuals who point out that the measure would disproportionally benefit the wealthy. After all, folks on Capitol Hill are discussing a second stimulus payment for most Americans. Yet this proposal hinges on Americans being able to go on vacation. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a disparity there. However, if implemented, the tax credit could in theory help bolster an ailing hospitality industry. So there’s that.
Critics dismiss the proposal as grandstanding or hot air, pointing out that a sitting president has incentive to make lots of proposals in an election year. No matter how outlandish they may be.
The White House is also doling out details on a so-called payroll tax holiday. Details are sketchy at the moment, but the gist seems to be that businesses would pay less in taxes. This could, if it moves forward, provide direct stimulus to business owners. However, when pressed on how the government would afford this tax cut, White House spokespeople were less than forthcoming. We do know that the proposed tax reduction would last through this year and possibly longer.
That’s it for the news. Now let’s get on to the good stuff.
Restaurants, Reopenings & You
When navigating the current crisis, and when wondering about reopening, a big question faced by most restaurant owners is when. An even bigger question is how. In this section, we’ll provide you with no nonsense advice to get you up and running as quickly as possible. First, a word of caution: around the world, businesses are reopening with mixed results.
San Diego County alone has reported 8,000 cases, with 288 documented deaths. Yet the county plans to reopen many of its businesses this week, including boardwalks and other attractions. The reality is, if reopening causes a worldwide spike in COVID-19 cases, we may go back to delivery and take out only. Expect this to be the case until a vaccine is announced. After loosening restrictions, South Korea had to re-shutdown many businesses, including night clubs. In Hong Kong, bars have been shut down again after a spike of new cases.
It’s important that restaurateurs encourage safe social distancing and mask wearing.
There’s no doubt that restaurants that have spacious outdoor seating will be in better shape come summer than those that do not. Gitano Garden of Love, located in New York City, is one such establishment. The tropical-themed bar boasts an impressive 24,000 square feet. But even with this boon, James Gardner, founder of Gitano Group, isn’t limiting himself. According to Gardner, all of his six NY bars will continue to consider takeout and delivery options while the crisis is ongoing. The lesson: don’t get complacent, and don’t count on a return to pre-COVID dine-in numbers.
And what does the Centers For Disease Control have to say about restaurants reopening? They don’t seem outright opposed to the idea, but they’re not enthusiastic either.
If you’re thinking about remaining closed for the time being, you’re not alone. According to David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser, many restaurant owners are thinking along those same lines. Opening only to be forced to close again may take a heavy emotional toll. Then there’s the health risks associated with having employees working in close proximity to each other. If you’re thinking about reopening as soon as possible, you may want to consult this safety checklist published by the FDA.
The coming summer months are being batted around as a potential boon for restaurant owners. The idea is that outdoor seating can provide a safer alternative to indoor lobbies. This may, in turn, get governments to loosen capacity restrictions. Of course, the issue here is that not every restaurant has access to outdoor seating. What’s more, in some areas, it’s possible to get permits for outdoor seating and serving, but these can be expensive. However, there are proposals in some cities to ease the application process.
But outdoor seating isn’t a foolproof way to limit the spread of the virus. Outdoors is better than indoors, but as long as people are congregating, there is an opportunity for the virus to spread.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS is a collection of respiratory symptoms brought on by severe corona virus infection. These are zoonotic viruses, meaning that they originated in animals and then jumped to humans.
Coronaviruses spread primarily through close contact between individuals.
The reason that outdoor seating for restaurants would be safer for consumers is quite simple. Coronaviruses spread via the mucus produced by coughs and sneezes. Mucus droplets can remain suspended in air for several minutes—indoors. Outdoors, however, the fresh air can whisk these tiny droplets away.
But each of these tiny mucus droplets can contain hundreds of thousands of viral particles. Inhaling them gives the virus easy access to the lungs. It’s these cases, where the virus gains deep access to the lungs, that can easily progress to severe symptoms such as pneumonia.
No-Nonsense Advice For Reopening
There are several simple steps you can take to make the public more willing to do business with you while this crisis is on-going. Let’s dive right in.
#1 Get New ServSafe Certifications
Make sure that at least one of your managers has up-to-date ServSafe Manager certification. Display this certification where customers can see it. Now more than ever, customers want to know that you take their safety seriously.
#2 Conduct ServSafe Food Handler Training
Task your ServSafe certificate holders with training staff on common sense cleanliness tactics. Keep surfaces sanitized and wiped down. Make sure employees understand the difference between clean and sanitary.
#3 Use Current Technology
If you’re still using an old POS, it may be time to upgrade. Migrate to a system that allows you to use contactless payment systems and automated ordering. A modern point of sale system will also give you access to mobile ordering. Other modern restaurant technologies can give you access to SMS blasts, email marketing and quick website updates. These technologies together can limit your need to conduct business at close physical distance. This can in turn make customers more willing to do business with you.
#4 Stay in Touch
Stay in touch with your customer base as you get closer to reopening. Tell them about your hours, reservation policy and menu items. Let them know that you support social distancing and sanitation measures.
#5 Focus on These Four Elements
Cleaning & sanitizing
Employee health and hygiene
If you demonstrate a steadfast focus on these four aspects of COVID prevention, your customers will notice and they will spread the word.
#6 Manage Employee Health
Your establishment is only safe for consumers if your employees are healthy. An infected employee can easily spread the virus to customers. To that end, it’s imperative to stay on top of employee health and hygiene. You must ask any employee—no matter how vital—to stay home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s guidelines on home care.
If you come across an employee who seems sick, send them home immediately. Then thoroughly clean and disinfect their work area. It can be challenging to fill gaps in a busy shift, but the alternative is to possibly spread the infection to other employees. It’s not worth it.
#7 Use Advanced Tactics
If you want to limit the possibility that COVID will get a foothold in your restaurant, there are certain techniques you can use.
Take each employee’s temperature before they start working.
Depending on where you live, employees may have the right to refuse this procedure. If your employee has an elevated temperature, send them home. They may not have COVID-19, but they probably have something, and you don’t need them around customers. Sickly employees will affect how your customers perceive your restaurant.
Frequently clean surfaces.
Step up your sanitation of surfaces. Pay particular attention to any surfaces that delivery people touch.
Practice social distancing where possible.
Six feet between each employee in the kitchen is probably impossible. But practice it elsewhere. For instance, don’t send two people to clean the dining room if one can get the job done. Small efforts like these can add up.
#8 Insist on Good Employee Hygiene
Inform employees that they’ll be expected to adhere to a stricter hygiene regimen for the time being. At minimum, employees should:
Wash hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds each time.
In addition, they need to wash hands before eating, after going to the bathroom or after blowing their nose.
Always use soap.
Water and oils don’t mix. The hands produce their natural own oils throughout the day. Soap strips these oils away and carries bacteria and viruses with it. But merely washing the hands with hot water doesn’t do much. Always have alcohol-based hand sanitizer available too, and tell employees to use it if soap is not available for whatever reason. If you do run out of soap, get more ASAP. In fact, it’s a good idea to stock up.
Employees should avoid touching their nose, hands or mouth.
If they do, they need to wash their hands.
Employees should use gloves so they’re not making direct contact with foods.
Cover any coughs with a tissue.
Then discard the tissue and wash hands.
The Importance of Social Distancing
No one seems to agree on when restaurants will reopen for good. But most experts agree that things won’t immediately return to normal. Indeed, as we reported in an earlier post, many large chains are planning on building new restaurants with smaller dining rooms. Overall, industry experts suggest relying more on delivery and takeout going forward.
The fear is that officials could propose and enforce ongoing dining room restrictions. The most obvious of these would be reduced seating, or capacity. Here are a few common sense steps you can take now to demonstrate to the public that you take the COVID-19 threat seriously:
Update your floor plan.
Redesign your space to ensure at least six feet between tables. Limit party sizes to no more than the CDC’s recommended maximum accepted figure. Note that the CDC’s recommended maximum party size may differ from what your local or state government suggests. Defer to whichever is smaller.
Consider physical barriers.
Physical barriers make customers feel safer, especially between booths.
Consider a reservation business model.
Accepting dine-in orders by reservation allows you to control the flow of patrons into and out of your restaurant.
Think about your entire space.
Don’t just space out your tables. Think about how your employees can practice social distancing in your service areas too.
Enforce social distancing practices universally.
Delivery drivers and suppliers should wear masks while on your premises, and they should observe social distancing practices.
Post signage at the entrance.
Post a sign informing patrons that they cannot enter if they have a fever. This may seem harsh on the surface, but think about it: it demonstrates to your patrons that you’re taking their health seriously. COVID-19 is extremely contagious.
Limit contact between guests and wait staff.
Now more than ever, do everything you can to reduce the amount of time that wait staff are moving between tables. Upgrading to a modern POS that allows mobile order-taking solutions can help. A mobile POS that displays vibrant images of menu items can help guests make decisions more quickly. Consider requiring wait staff to wear masks or face coverings.
Provide hand sanitizer at all tables.
This is another small gesture that can really pay off. Show guests that you understand their concerns. Some restaurants also offer sanitary bags within which customers can place masks while they eat.
Discourage congregating in bars or lobbies.
Try not to take on so many dine-in customers that people are standing around or talking at the bar. This can turn other patrons off. To maintain an organized flow, you can use floor markings or outdoor distancing. You can also politely ask patrons to wait in their cars.
Rearrange your kitchen layout a bit so that employees are not standing opposite each other when doing prep. The CDC recommends face masks for restaurant employees, and face masks are mandatory in some areas. Check with your local chamber of commerce.
Thank guests for working with you.
Thank them for their patience and understanding.
How to Explain the Importance of Masks to Employees
There’s a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 out there. One such tidbit is the idea that masks make no difference in whether a person contracts the virus or not. While it’s true that not all masks are created equal, a mask is much, much better than no mask at all. If you have employees who are questioning the utility of masks, tell them that masks can mean the difference between becoming infected or not.
As mentioned, the virus travels from person to person via mucus droplets. Without a mask, it’s very easy for these droplets to enter the mouth and go down the throat. They can then end up in the lungs, where the infection can become severe. With a mask, you may still inhale a few copies of the virus, sure. But quantity matters. Whether you become infected depends in part on how many viral particles you inhale and how far into the lungs the viruses land.
A mask provides a solid barrier between your mouth, which is a relatively large entrance, and the viruses, which are tiny. In 100 percent of cases, you are better off wearing a mask when in public, especially indoors.
We hope this short guide helps you reopen with more confidence. We’re all in this together, so share the tips in this post to help flatten the curve! The sooner we bring the virus under control, the sooner things can return to normal.