The coronavirus has forced many restaurants to lay off or furlough staff.

The coronavirus has forced many restaurants to lay off or furlough staff.

How to Take Care of Restaurant Staff Through the COVID-19 Crisis

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, experts consider how to help employees.

The coronavirus gave restaurants little to no time to create strategies for keeping their doors open, let alone provide job security for dozens (and sometimes hundreds or thousands) of employees.

The massive size of the U.S. foodservice industry—around a million restaurants and 15.6 million employees, according to the National Restaurant Association (nra)—resulted in overwhelming negative effects from the pandemic. In March, the NRA estimated that COVID-19 could result in losses of at least $225 billion and 5–7 million jobs for the restaurant industry.

When restaurants shuttered by the masses, industry executives scrambled to find the best ways possible to take care of staff members who found themselves laid off in droves. Still processing the unprecedented events, two restaurateurs and one CEO of a workplace management software company share how operators can prioritize safety and still help their people.

Nick Liberato

Chef and restaurateur, The Venice Whaler and The Pier House | Venice, California

Due to this global pandemic, we closed the doors on our four restaurants. We did think through the takeout and delivery model, but it wasn’t sustainable for us to pay our rent and keep ourselves afloat with takeout. We also wanted to follow government regulations and look out for our team. Furthermore, our locations heavily depend on tourists; we build in tourist-friendly locations with beautiful views. That tourist traffic stopped due to the virus.

We donated all of our food to our employees. We did have to cut their paychecks. We continue selling gift cards online. The hospitality business was unfortunately the hardest hit during this pandemic. I saw a number of concepts handle it in different ways, and handling something like this all depends on your model. You have to understand what your overhead is, and you have to understand the risks.

Now, the focus is reopening our restaurants. Every one of our employees has their job secured with us. That was clear from the beginning. Everyone has to stay positive, and people just have to push forward. After we get through this we will all have to reassess our businesses and figure out new ways of doing things. It’s almost like starting over; we have to find a way to rebuild. Sometimes that builds a structure that’s much stronger, more sustainable, and more consistent.

Cameron Mitchell

Founder and CEO, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants | HQ: Columbus, Ohio

At first, we kept a couple of restaurants open around the country. Then, one by one, they all shut down. We tried to keep a few restaurants working with carryout and that sort of thing, but it just wasn’t viable for us.

There were government orders to close restaurants in a vast majority of our markets. Plus, we wanted people to be home with their families. So, in 17 days, we went from 4,500 employees systemwide down to six in corporate.

I use an analogy: If I were shaving, and I cut my jugular, I couldn’t put a Band-Aid on it. Looking at all of the closed dining rooms across our markets, we couldn’t try to do 50 percent or 30 percent business at an individual restaurant when we’re losing so much money. We knew we needed to batten down the hatches and try to live to fight another day.

Everyone asks, “What’s your contingency plan?” I didn’t have a contingency plan for the unimaginable. We really couldn’t do much for our employees, but then we thought we would sell gift cards and 100 percent of the proceeds would go to an Associate Relief Fund. A lot of our guests are worried and want to help. We will have to redeem all of the gift cards we sell when we reopen, and we’ll be fragile then. But we wanted to get some money and some groceries on the table for our people.

Will Eadie

Global VP of alliances, WorkJam

When an epidemic like the coronavirus arises, restaurants must be able to react quickly to potential location closures and concerned employees. To avoid further confusion and panic, stores must be prepared with the right strategy and tools to keep staff informed about updates to location hours, staffing, scheduling, and any new health and safety training.

The simplest and fastest way to ensure staff is well-informed of these changes is to create a direct line of communication from the head office to frontline workers. Fortunately, new digital workplace technology enables organizations to communicate with their workforce in an instant.

We will see restaurants adapt operations to accommodate ghost kitchens. For employees, this means their roles and the tasks they do in these roles will change. Streamlined communication, including the dissemination of training and task-related resources will be instrumental to restaurants as they adopt new workflows and change operations. In addition, enabling frontline workers with flexible scheduling reinforces employee safety measures while also protecting their economic well-being.