Restaurant Crisis Communication: Hard Conversations in Tough Times
The first reported case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was from the Chinese province of Wuhan on December 31st, 2019. From there, it escalated quickly. The virus spreads primarily through person-to-person contact, and as cases have mounted, extreme social distancing measures were enacted to flatten the curve of transmissions. The first case in the United States was in early January, with the rest of the world following soon after that. To curb the spread, many countries around the world closed restaurants and other places where people congregate. This shutdown has put the hospitality industry in a bind, not only financially, but logistically. Crisis communication is integral in reassuring your restaurant staff during hard times while guiding them during a pivot in business models. Here’s our guide on effective crisis communication, especially as it relates to your restaurant staff during this pandemic.
Let’s be clear: there are many reasons to have anxiety right now, and that’s okay. We’re all there together. The sky absolutely feels like it’s falling, but it’s not. Remember that this has happened before, and we got through it then, just like we’ll get through it now. Businesses were affected, but they got through. Think about it: just about every single on the planet will experience a lifestyle change because of COVID-19, and we all want each other to succeed. That includes the community that you’ve fostered in your restaurant. Trust us when we say that your guests definitely want to be there with you right now, and not at home social distancing.
There is a lot of news every day, sometimes too much to follow. It’s easy for anyone and everyone to see a news item, and share that. Before you do that, make sure to vet your news. Cross verify it with a variety of sources. If you’re worried about bias, there are third-party resources for that too. In a nutshell, though, don’t share anything that’s alarmist. Now is the time for problem-solving, not panic, and your staff needs that reassurance. Keep an even keel and an open mind.
This Changes Everything
What do in-house closures mean to your restaurant? In all likelihood, you’ve probably already transitioned to an off-premise model, whether that’s in providing curbside, delivery, or takeout options. Again, everyone is experiencing this problem at the same time. It’s a massive challenge that’s not unique to any one industry. Let’s look at a few measures you can quickly take to pivot to an entirely off-premise solution, securing a future for your restaurant and keeping your staff on the payroll.
Takeout or Curbside
This is undoubtedly the easiest pivot. You already have what you need to make takeout work, at least in terms of your basic functionality. Your best bet here is to ensure that you have suitable to-go containers and a no-contact policy in place. Clean everything and clean it often. Make sure that you offer meals that don’t require anyone to get too close to one another in the preparation process. And then advertise that. Send that message out into the world. Let them know your cause marketing and move from there.
If you aren’t offering delivery, there is literally nothing stopping you now. Train your staff on what they need to know about delivery. Consider contactless delivery options, meaning that you will need to secure payment in advance to avoid the need to touch anyone or anything. Again, make sure everyone knows what your restaurant is doing. Communicate your efforts to minimize contact while ensuring that your business survives to see tomorrow. People understand and want to help.
Spread The Good Word
You know you need to let people know about your efforts, so let’s look at how to to do that best. Perhaps more than at any other moment since its inception, social media is an incredible resource. Update your menu any time there is a change. Let people know about your specials.
Most importantly, let your guests know about your successes. Now is a great time to inject some levity into your brand. Show off your efforts to keep a clean and tidy house with a short Instagram video. Have a funny in-joke to stave off the anxiety? Share it on Twitter. And if you have any news about the world, share it on your Facebook after vetting it.
Keep in mind that part of your crisis communication is training. There are tools out there to help with any menu item shifts, which can mitigate anything in the kitchen. Specifically, though, you will need to be consistent in retraining your staff on any internal changes, whether that’s pivoting to off-premise or new cleaning techniques. Whatever you do, make sure that you are clear, concise, and offer solutions, not more problems. Point staff to resources as needed and find silver linings wherever possible.
Take this time to refocus and re-energize. There is no intrinsic value in panicking, which at least increases anxiety, and at worst, can cause people to make rash and dangerous choices. There is a power in calmness that you shouldn’t dismiss. As a restaurateur, you are a leader of people, whether it’s a big or small staff, and you can give them something to work with. Now is the time to come together, even if that is six feet minimum away from one another. Every team is stronger when they feel heard and work toward common goals.
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About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. He’s at home like the rest of the world right now but finding time to play with the kids and create art.