How to reopen and rebuild after COVID-19 restrictions


This is an opportunity to make the changes you’ve been wanting for a while – but before you were too busy, or there wasn’t an urgent need. Remember the saying ‘don’t waste a crisis’ – it’s time to get busy!

Understand Government Guidelines on Service Restrictions & Opening - most are State-based, so consult the relevant links:

NSW ... Queensland ... Victoria ... South Australia ... Tasmania ... Western Australia ... Northern Territory ... ACT

Review the reopening guidelines recommended by Restaurant & Catering Australia (peak body representing cafes & restaurants). They include recording customer contact information, social distancing, cleaning practices, queues and waiting areas, ordering, table service and a wide range of measures to reduce customer contact and risk.

Manage your Capacity and Maximise Sales

* How many seats can you use, and where will they be? It’s good to have a plan on the wall for customers to see, plus marks on the floor – this can help avoid arguments and confusion.

* How will you handle customers who want to bend the rules, particularly groups? Do your staff know how to handle this?

* What’s the queueing and waitlist system for your limited number of seats? Systems like NowBookIt, Obee,, Quandoo, OpenTable and The Fork have these as part of their features – now more important than ever.

* Consider minimum charges for table seating, especially if you’re a small space. You can’t afford one person sitting on a single coffee anymore. Make the new system clear with signs on the menu and wall, and make sure staff understand and will defend it.

* How will you enforce minimum spend and maximum occupation time? Plus some states expect you to record customer names and contact details - do this in your diary, or with apps like VisitSafe, MyGuestList or GuestHQ .

* Use our Guide to Best Apps & Ordering Systems to upgrade your ordering system – for now and the future.

Streamline your Menu and Kitchen Operations

* People have less money after this crisis, so fancy pricing is a thing of the past. But they still want great flavours and someone else to cook – your new menu will be careful with expensive proteins and maybe focused more on carbs and lower-cost vegetables. As always, recipe costing is essential to check profit margins – you can make very good money on value meals.

* Delivery and takeaway can be a much larger part of your sales mix, and needs care with menu design, packaging, ease of delivery and the sales process.

* Look for pre-prepared food that will meet your quality standards – is there are way to employ 3 people in the kitchen when you previously employed 4? There are manufacturers who will cook to your recipes and specifications.

* Upgrade kitchen equipment to make cooking easier and faster – don’t leave the cooks out of the change process. Check our Certified Used equipment for items that have been on your wish-list for a while.

Radically Improve Cleaning and Hygiene Practices

It’s not just doing it, but also showing that you do it – sometimes called ‘hygiene theatre’, and you are very serious about it. Issues to consider:

* Remove multi-use items like condiments on the table, shared water jugs and menus. Let people take the printed menu with them – good marketing material for their next visit.

* Tables and chairs to be sanitized after every use, with different cloths for each. There’s a lot of unconscious wiping that people think is cleaning – it’s not, and needs to change. Watch how methodically supermarkets are doing it.

* Do a ‘touchpoint audit’ to see how often customers need to make contact with surfaces – from the moment they walk in to when they walk out. It's another version of the customer service cycle.

* Display posters and checklists about how you clean and sanitise – in the bathrooms, near the counter and even in the window. Good posters available from Safe Work Australia and free design service Canva.

* Put your staff through hygiene and COVID awareness programs like the one from Restaurant & Catering Australia. Make it a pre-condition for new staff you hire, just like they need Responsible Service of Alcohol certification.

Improve Customer Connections and Communication

* It’s about relieving their anxiety, and bringing them back again and again. Upgrade your social media posts with more human faces and less boasting – we love your food, but also show us the cook who made it and the guy who delivers.

* Take on the role of leader in your area – be the ‘mayor’. As a cafe or restaurant owner, the locals have given you that role, but most operators are reluctant to embrace it – look fresh and tidy, be kind and share generously. Need to start sending SMS or email to customers - our Guide will show you how to start.

* The way people order and receive their delivery or takeaway is also a powerful part of the communication mix – include a friendly flyer with the menu and some local news. Include another flyer from a non-competing business that may need support – a local hairdresser or tradesman.?

* Add community posts to your Facebook Page – a list of local services, a shoutout to health workers and teachers, and photos of local scenery or attractions. People with pets will always get a strong response. Use our Guide to Staying in Touch with Restaurant & Cafe Customers .

Improve Employee Management and Recruitment

There are going to be a lot more people looking for work, and the ones who are energetic and positive team players will still be in short supply. Good staff love a well-organized workplace – improving systems will not only reduce costs, but also keep them productive and motivated. It’s time to upgrade your systems for:

* Recruitment – better ads that emphasise the benefits of the work you offer

* Online rostering that shows you the exact cost of staff, day by day

* Efficient payroll processing that conforms to Single Touch Payroll requirements

* Good internal communication systems, through a private Facebook or Whatsapp Group, keeping everyone in touch and up to date.

Monitor and Protect Employee Health

* Who will do this, how often and how will it be recorded? An extra issue for daily supervision.

* If an employee has a high temperature, what steps will be taken? Touchless thermometers are readily available.

* Are staff entitled to sick leave, and how will you know that they’re ready to return to work? Research these issues with your industry association, and on the Fair Work website.

* How will you handle the news if one of your staff become sick with COVID-19?

Negotiate for Permanently Lower Rent

You’re probably using the Mandatory Code of Conduct for a temporary rent reduction, and now it’s time for some serious negotiation to get occupation costs that are affordable over the long term. Landlords will find it much harder to fill an empty shop.

This is definitely the time for professional help – the few hundred dollars you spend on a lawyer can translate into tens of thousands over the next few years.

Make the Best Use of Government Assistance

It usually goes first to people with well-organised bookwork who can prove their case – how sales have been lower, employee costs are too high, or the need for apprentice and trainee subsidies. At other times there are business improvement grants or low-cost loans that can help with technology upgrades or installing more economical equipment. Use our Guide to Winning a Government Grant.

When your numbers are ready at the click of a button, you can make a powerful submission for assistance. Make sure you have a bookkeeper who knows the industry and watches out for opportunities and policy changes.

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