Surviving a Pandemic: Reopening the Doors in a New Era
by Janette Blanco | March 9, 2021
Wow, what a year 2020 was. Now that we are beginning this new year, filled with optimism and hope, business owners in the hospitality industry must understand that though the worst appears to be over, COVID-19 still exists.
With the Tampa Bay area being a popular tourist destination, it is time to prepare for the height of tourist season and how to successfully navigate it, during a pandemic.
Here are six keys to success when re-opening the doors this year.
Safety is a Priority
As a business owner, it is best to err on the side of safety – not only for your customers, but for your staff as well.
It is important to establish protocols within your business that minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Follow current Center for Disease Controls (CDC) guidelines as a base, and create new protocols if needed for your particular business.
Common protocols in the hospitality industry include:
- Check and record temperatures of staff as they report for their shift.
- Check and record the temperatures of customers as they arrive for their reservation.
- Have a checklist of common symptoms that you ask guests and staff as they arrive.
- Make sure staff wears masks at all times, especially when handling food.
- Ask that guests wear masks when in common areas.
- Avoid customers and staff gathering in large groups to try to maintain the recommended 6 feet of distance.
- Ensure that staff is washing their hands frequently.
Communication is Key
After the protocol is in place, it needs to be effectively communicated, not only to staff but also to clients. First, the business owner must make sure that the staff understands fully what the safety protocols are and how to respectfully implement those protocols with the customers. Having frequent meetings with staff can ensure that they understand what is expected of them during this time.
Here are three ways that the business owner can successfully communicate these protocols to their clients:
- Hang signage, with clear verbiage, in several places around the establishment.
- Include a dedicated page on the website and make sure that page is featured on the home page where it is easy for visitors to spot.
- Frequently post protocols throughout social media channels, essentially giving a behind-the-scenes look at the establishment and what it is doing to ensure safety.
Communicating what the business is doing not only maintains a level of health and safety for all involved but also helps alleviate hesitation for those who are sensitive to the pandemic and who may be actively choosing to avoid all restaurants and travel during this time.
Business owners must be empathetic at this time. There will be times where an employee may have to miss work due to symptoms. They may be over-worked covering other’s shifts. They may be anxious about the unknown or the risks they are taking by holding a position in which they interact with so many strangers. Whatever the case may be, the business owner must have a willingness to show empathy and offer solutions to whatever the employee may be feeling during this time.
This leads to the next important key to navigating this current pandemic.
To capitalize on empathy, the business owner must be flexible and be willing to adapt to the new norm, not only with employees but also with clients.
Be flexible with employees regarding their schedules if they have been exposed or if they are showing symptoms. If employees in the service industry are sick, business owners should not make them come to work.
Many employees are in a position in which they cannot afford to lose the hours, so the business owner should not simply cut hours. Instead, the owner should try to find new ways that the employees can work from home. This may seem like a challenge at first when most positions in this industry are so hands-on, but there are many opportunities business owners may be overlooking.
Here are a few examples of some items that staff can conduct at home:
- Scheduling and administrative work
- Running the social media channels
- Various marketing efforts
- Data entry
- Professional development, in which they learn new skills for when they return
- Seek out certification opportunities that will be beneficial to the business
When they are doing these things from home, they are being trained to do something else that will benefit the business. A business owner should have a running list of things to do from home so that the transition is smooth every time.
It is key to be flexible with customers during this time. The industry is struggling at the moment, so the business owner does not want to risk customer loyalty by not being flexible with reservations and operations.
Allow customers to break reservations. Instead of implementing fines, develop a system that encourages rescheduling at a later date without increasing the price. It is more cost-efficient to maintain current customer loyalty than it is to try to recruit new customers.
Look into technological advancements that will aid you in the current climate, whether it is offering more to-go dining opportunities, offering more virtual classes, or providing a new online shopping experience. Whatever the case may be, look into all technological advancements that will help you adapt to the new norm.
The Pandemic is Not an Excuse for Bad Service
You can’t allow the pandemic to excuse bad service, bad food, or bad products. Customer service should be better than ever because the majority of people are experiencing high levels of anxiety right now. From being quarantined, to local, state, and federal mandates, to losing loved ones, it is hitting everyone and some are being impacted more than others.
So, business owners should go the extra mile. This means ensuring that their staff is happy. The owner should take the time to get to know their employees and understand what their current needs are. Make sure they are not over-worked or under-trained to deal with the high demand. Maybe cut down the menu to only include a few items that the establishment does well. This will also save on overhead costs.
When the business owner ensures their employees are not over-worked and their needs are being met, the employees’ attitudes will trickle down to the customers, ensuring a great experience and encouraging them not only to become loyal customers but also tell their friends, creating opportunities to gain new customers.
Do Not Cut Marketing Efforts
It may be instinctual to cut marketing efforts in an order to save money, but eliminating marketing is one of the most common mistakes business owners make. The business owner cannot give up during a time like this but instead, should look for new opportunities and creative strategies to increase marketing efforts.
Many may not realize the potential to create cost-effective campaigns, including:
- Organic Marketing – creating a more organic marketing strategy that includes using SEO best practices
- Community Engagement – get involved with the local economic development centers and chambers of commerce to seek out marketing opportunities in the community
There are plenty of cost-saving ways to market during this time, the owner must take the opportunity to seek out new resources.
It is important to remember that we are all in this together. Everyone is struggling in a variety of ways, and we are all trying to navigate the pandemic successfully.
Business owners cannot treat the pandemic as if it is the end of the world. Do not give up, press pause, or treat it like a vacation and temporarily close-up shop. Those who are adapting to the new norm are going to be the businesses that thrive and grow. Those who press pause need to realize that they may actually be pressing stop instead.
There must be an understanding that the things we are doing now are here to stay for the foreseeable future. There can’t only be hope in things returning to normal, because “normal” may never return. Following the guidelines above can help keep you stay afloat as vaccinations continue throughout the Tampa Bay region, and beyond.
Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County Economic Development Department
Specialty: Construction Industry Regulations and Licensing, Contract Compliance, Strategic Planning
Janette Blanco has extensive knowledge in doing business with the government and specializes in assisting minority and women-owned businesses with the government bidding process. She also teaches workshops, provides one-on-one consulting assistance to business owners in English and Spanish, and does community outreach throughout South and East Tampa. Prior to joining the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County, Blanco was a cost estimator on engineering projects as well as owned and operated her own business for 15 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts. She is a Master Compliance Administrator, a Profit Mastery Facilitator, certified in Strategic Management Performance Systems, and a Lean Six Sigma White Belt. Blanco earned Florida SBDC at USF Regional Consultant of the Year honors in 2016 and 2017. Blanco is also bilingual.