What is very clear, as restaurants in certain states sense a desire to lift stay at home restrictions and return to business is that guests will remain leery of any interaction with others in public places. A lack of trust will apply to everyone and every place as those once enthusiastic patrons give pause to any thought of dining out. Re-opening businesses when the virus is still clawing towards its peak is very risky, of that we are sure. All reputable predictions point to an upswing in cases and severe cases once the stay at home requirements are eased. Time is not the only answer for pulling the rug out from underneath Covid-19 – the only real answer is a vaccine which is not likely for more than a year from now – if at all. So, we open our businesses to the reality that aligns with these predictions. TRUST will be, and should be, our first order of business.
“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”
Look at your restaurant reopening through the eyes of the employee and the guest. They will both have trust issues that will determine whether or not you are successful beyond this first phase of transition. There will be mandated restrictions on capacity, physical distancing, sanitation protocols, use of masks, etc., but it will be your commitment to the safety of all involved that is the key to rebuilding a level of trust that will carry your operation through this tenuous time and on to an eventual renewal of prosperity. Please note: IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE THAT IMPACTS ON THE SAFETY AND WELLBEING OF GUESTS OR EMPLOYEES IT MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE TO RECOVER AS A BUSINESS.
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
-Stephen R. Covey
It doesn’t make sense to reopen without a well thought out plan on how to keep all stakeholders safe, how to communicate your commitment to everyone, how to live that commitment, and how to rebuild a level of trust that alleviates fear and anxiety. We see this already in various businesses that have rampant cases of Covid-19, yet are expecting employees and guests to carry on with business as usual. Consider if you were an employee in a senior center, a hospital worker, or a line worker in a meat processing plant. How would you feel about walking through that employee door to a day of uncertainty? How about a patient or visitor to those facilities? What would your level of trust be?
As a restaurant operator, a business person with strong operational skills but very limited understanding of viral infection aside from the mandates from the government and what you decipher from an equally poorly informed media – how prepared will you be to communicate a high level of trust in your ability to keep everyone safe?
When your employees walk through that kitchen back door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? When your guest walk-through that front door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? Your plan must include not only the details surrounding safety and sanitation, but an effective communication strategy that will help to alleviate some of the concerns that people will have. Forget the connections that you had with all of those stakeholders in the past – this is new, uncharted territory. You will need to prove yourself all over again, and with stakes that can mean life or death. Scary isn’t it?
If you fail to plan, and as a result make a mistake that leads to serious illness – you may forever violate that trust that will be so important to a thriving business. Think about restaurant chains that had well publicized safety issues in the past and how dramatically those incidents impacted their business. Those incidents pale in comparison to the threat posed from Covid-19. Take the time now, don’t leap at the opportunity to reopen simply because it is allowed – PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.
“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”
So, how do you approach the process of planning for reopening when there is so much uncertainty associated with any decisions that you make? Here are some thoughts:
 EDUCATE YOURSELF:
You can’t be effective as a crisis manager if you are not well informed. Study information about viruses and how they spread, what can be done to control them, how to properly sanitize and how to keep the potential for transmission down. Before you insist that employees wash their hands frequently with hot soapy water and use sanitizer – make sure understand why 20 seconds is important and how the virus is impacted by proper procedures. Before you insist that all products coming into the restaurant be sanitized before moving items to cooler and storerooms – build an understanding of how the virus is transmitted on cardboard, metal, and plastic. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WHY YOU ARE DOING IT!
 TEACH AND TRAIN YOUR STAFF
Make it a requirement for your employees to complete a virus-training program that builds on an understanding of the role that they play in keeping everyone safe and healthy. Include an understanding of signs of infection that should send up a red flag of concern and consider some sick day compensation model so that employees don’t feel compelled to work through early signs that may just be a common cold, but could be worse.
 INSTITUTE A REGIMENT OF SAFETY – MAKE IT PART OF YOUR DNA
Institute a “no exception” protocol when it comes to sanitizing surfaces, washing hands, wearing masks, keeping safe distances, and proper handling of food, utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and glassware. Enforce this consistently so that it becomes second nature to all who work in your operation. This applies to EVERYONE.
 PARTNER WITH LIKE MINDED VENDORS
Take a look at the vendors that you currently use. Talk with them and discover how seriously they are taking their role in prevention. Are their drivers wearing masks and gloves? Are they sanitizing their trucks? What is their protocol for entering your kitchen? How committed and knowledgeable are their employees who handle product, load trucks, and care for the safety of ingredients on their hand carts as they roll orders across your kitchen floor? Make this one of your most important criteria in deciding from whom to buy the ingredients that you use.
 GO BEYOND WHAT IS REQUIRED
State governments will likely mandate certain precautions during the first two or three phases of reopening businesses. This will include limiting capacities, distancing tables, and protective equipment for employees, and even masks for guests who enter your restaurant. First it is essential that you are the enforcer, but in building that level of trust it is even more important to go beyond what is required. Signage, dialogue with service staff, floor markings that point to proper distancing, sanitary packaging of utensils, on-going training sessions with staff, sanitary bags for guests to store their masks during dinner, etc. Everything helps to build trust and protect all involved.
 START COMMUNICATING NOW – BEFORE YOU OPEN
Use your website and social media outlets to communicate with your potential guests while you are going through the planning process. Start Today! Let everyone know about your training program, your focus and commitment to safety, how you will be working with certain vendors, and your breadth of knowledge about the virus. Trust begins long before employees or guests walk through the door. Be proactive during this planning phase.
 WALK THE TALK
What you say you will do must be what you actually do. Comfort and trust is validated when it is obvious that you walk the talk.
 MEASURE YOUR OWN PERFORMANCE
Debrief with your staff on a regular basis. Where are there kinks in the system? What isn’t working and how can it be fixed. What problems need to be solved and what potential problems need addressing before they get out of hand.
 DON’T PUT ALL OF YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Nobody knows how successful reopening might be. We project that cases of infection will increase as restrictions are loosened, but we don’t know to what extent. To be proactive – it is important that your restaurant look at continuing alternative measures that build new business along with the opportunity to open up our dining rooms. Take out, delivery, mini-markets, on-line cooking classes, etc. Keep the creativity engine working at full steam.
 MODIFY AND ADAPT – CREATE A NEW BUSINESS MODEL
Do not assume that what worked in the past will work again. Every restaurateur knows that restrictions on restaurant capacity will make it impossible to survive, yet – this may be the model that we will face for some time. Rather than succumb – think about new models that will help during these transitions.
 STAY FLEXIBLE
Most importantly – stay flexible. If cases of the virus increase exponentially as a result of loosening requirements then be prepared for a re-enactment of those requirements. This is nowhere near over – so let’s plan for future scenarios rather than face unplanned change that cripples our industry even more.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
We are in this together