Looking ahead: 12 key tasks for restaurant owners faced with downtime

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working at tableIf your restaurant is closed or at reduced capacity as a result of coronavirus concerns, you’re likely beyond worried. You may also be feeling far less productive than you’d like to be.

Your best remedy may be vowing to remain a source of strength for employees, continuing to plan and moving forward on tasks that are still possible to complete.

“Don’t waste energy on something that is out of your control," Avery Black tells small businesses in Forbes. "Accept that you will have a new way of life for a period of time, and use your energy on what is in your control. Be smart with your energy so you remain productive.”

Depending on the level of isolation dictated in your state, there may be plenty you can do at your restaurant as we all wait for life to return to some semblance of normal. Here are some suggestions.

Re-evaluate your finances

In Entrepreneur magazine, lawyer Mark J. Kohler offers these tips for immediate financial triage. “Don’t plan too far out and remember things are changing often,” he writes. “Make a plan for the next few weeks, then the next month.” You should also be aware the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest disaster loans of up to $2 million for small businesses suffering losses due to the coronavirus. The money can pay debts and cover payroll and other bills during the crisis.

Create or expand take-out and delivery trade

If those services are entirely new to your restaurant you may need to create a marketing plan, refine your workflows, train staff, devise a strategic menu that will optimize add-on sales, order branded take-out containers, contract with delivery services and otherwise prepare for success.

Show support for your staff

Brush up on what everyone is entitled to through your benefits package and any government allocations. Communicate early and often on your plans for the restaurant and how they’ll be affected. Show that you care about their welfare and safety and provide a sympathetic ear as needed. Consider free meals for those who need them.

Research ways of cutting costs

Now is a good time to think about replacing underperforming vendors, looking for more cost-effective suppliers, changing or eliminating unprofitable menu items, combining jobs or otherwise improving your bottom line.

Perfect new menu items

Research trends in food preferences and consider whether they might apply to your customer base. If so, work with your chef to introduce new dishes to your menu. You could also make standard menu items fresher, tastier or better-presented.

Consider your competition

Evaluate those in your region you consider to be your closest competitors and think about how you might adopt their strategies.

Upgrade your technology

This may not be the best time to invest in an entirely new system, but you might move forward with those affordable upgrades you’ve been putting off — especially if they’ll further your take-out and delivery trade.

Review your advertising plan

Look through data and consider anecdotal evidence to determine whether your marketing and advertising is helping you meet your goals. Are your competitors having better luck with other kinds of messaging or promotions? Is a new campaign in order that better fits your new objectives?

Tune up your equipment

Perform routine maintenance of your HVAC, cooking, freezing and refrigeration systems.

Deep clean everything

Tackle everything from floors and carpets to appliances, walls, ceilings, furniture, storage areas, office spaces, parking lots, exterior surfaces and landscaping. Also consider ways you can further help or automate your cleaning efforts in the future, like AutoMist® or Grease LockTM.

Complete your own health inspection

Prepare for the real thing by examining your building using the forms from your last inspection (or from your city government). Start at your back entrance and follow the flood of food from receiving to preparation to serving, identifying potential threats to food safety. Now would be an excellent time to address any pest issues.

Arrange for an energy audit

With this process, a trained professional conducts an interior/exterior examination of your business’s energy-efficiency levels and recommends a customized improvement plan. Some areas offer free audits, and rebates, tax credits or other incentives may be available to pay for improvements. Contact your local utility company or the U.S. Small Business Administration to learn more.

Finally, attempt to lead the way when it comes to helping others in your community.

“The more you help others worse off than you, the better you’ll feel,” Kohler advises. “As even a short history of the United States has shown, this too will pass and we should do all we can to help one another through it while we all learn and grow from this trial.”