We all know the challenges facing restaurants right now – there is little benefit in reiterating the problems. The question is: “What’s the answer?” Of course the pandemic is the cause and the effects are either a direct result of that or the necessary restrictions that evolved from Covid. What needs to be addressed is: “ How do we build trust among customers, trust that the restaurant will keep them safe, and how do we generate enough sales and in turn – profit, to keep the operation moving forward? Ask your staff!
Your staff members are vested in the success of the restaurant, just as you are. They may not be encumbered with as many critical issues as you – but they know the customer, they see the operation through a less cluttered lens, and they are able to tune into immediate changes that might just pull you out of the weeds. Engage them, trust them, encourage them, excite them and give them an opportunity to help far beyond preparing a plate of food or delivering it to the table. Behind the mask and the social distancing each one of those employees is home to that next great idea – sometimes obvious, and sometimes hidden beneath the surface.
WHAT THEY KNOW:
 Your employees know that the essential challenge is TRUST. They see those hesitant customers walking into a restaurant (or not) while scanning the environment for masks, distancing, and proper safety protocol. Your employees know that this is not the best way to start a dining experience. They know that at this point their primary job is to make the customer feel safe. Ask your employees: “What else can we do to bring about that trust?”
 Your employees know that preparing and serving food is only a part of what has kept customers coming back on a regular basis. They know that the ability to attract new customers lies not with just flavorful food and speedy service, but rather with a deeper experience that can and does create memories. Ask them how you might bring back an experience in a world of masks and 6 feet of distance.
 Your kitchen employees know that the wall that separates the kitchen from the customer creates a level of uncertainty: “What are they doing back there to ensure that the food is safe, the plates are sanitary, and the process of preparation is designed to keep Covid at bay?” Pose these questions to your employees – who is better positioned to find the answers that would lead to a higher level of trust among customers than those who interact mask to mask?
 Your kitchen employees know that 25 or 50% occupancy caps on restaurant dining rooms will never be sufficient to sustain an operation. They fully understand the rationale that the top line (sale) drives the bottom line (profit). They can see the concern in your eyes over the certainty of failure when a full dining room is not allowed. Ask them for ways that you might increase check averages, improve costs, become more efficient, or build menus that contribute more to the bottom line. You might just be amazed at what they have to offer. They live every day what you simply oversee. Who is better prepared to understand the cause of problems and potential solutions than those people who are closest to the challenge?
 Your employees know that one confirmed case of Covid stemming from your restaurant will result in temporary or even permanent closure. Any trust that was built will be set aside when fear takes over. Ask your employees about your protocol and how to best protect them, the guest, and the business. Who lives closer to the challenge than employees who are shoulder to shoulder in the operation? What should be done to protect this?
 Your employees know that typical marketing in the midst of a pandemic is very ineffective. That ad in the local paper or radio commercial that helped to fill a dining room in the past is frivolous at best when fear and uncertainty are the norm. Ask them how to best promote a restaurant experience when so many people are simply saying: “No, I’ll just wait until this whole thing is over?” Ask them about creating word-of-mouth, and a social media buzz that quells fear and builds anticipation for that experience once again. Your employees are more than just a name on the payroll – they are ambassadors and salespersons who, when they trust what you are doing, will invest in creating that buzz. Get them engaged.
Your greatest asset in business will always be the employees’ who clock in to your front or back of the house. All of the investment in décor, menu, tabletop, and marketing are far less significant than the quality of committed staff members. Solicit their ideas and engage them in the process of success. Don’t rely on government to solve our problems and overcome our challenges – rally your troops to rise up and find the opportunities that will always exist even in the most difficult times.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC