Black Box Intelligence surveyed more than 200 restaurant operators last week to get their take on the coronavirus and its initial impact. This was pre-March 13. Naturally, much has changed. But here’s what COVID-19’s early arrival was like for many brands nationwide and where restaurateurs think it’s headed.

Here are some early findings:

Close to 70 percent of restaurant companies said they experienced a drop in traffic as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Upscale casual and fine dining felt the harshest impact, with 85 percent reporting a decline in traffic.

About a third of restaurants first perceived a drop in their traffic as a result of the outbreak during the week of March 7. Roughly a third first experienced slower traffic a week later (March 14).

By March 13, the industry was not yet foreseeing a dramatic traffic hit. Half of the companies said they expected their future traffic declines as a result of COVID-19 to be less than 10 percent.

The most commonly implemented measure or procedure in response: Enhancing sanitization protocols (96 percent implemented this measure), followed by implementing protocols for employees who have been ill or exposed to the virus to return to work (78 percent of respondents) and training employees on dealing with potentially ill customers (55 percent).

Consistent across all segments, about a third reported they were already having additional staffing challenges due to the virus. These included employees calling in sick or not coming to work.

By March 13, nearly half of respondents said they had already banned or restricted travel for employees.

While 80 percent or so of these companies have paid sick leave policies for restaurant management and corporate staff, about half (41 percent) offer paid sick leave to their hourly employees.

Many said they were already preparing for a potential escalation. By March 13, 60 percent noted they had established contingency plans for potential restaurant closures.

However, the percentage of upscale casual and fine dining restaurants with closure contingency plans was the lower of any segment—only 33 percent of restaurants in those segments said they were prepared for closures.

Consumer Trends, Feature