How Businesses Can Learn to Live, and Thrive, During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The great Albert Einstein famously said “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” and this quote is very apt for the situation we find ourselves in as we move towards the next phase of living with the coronavirus.

As a whole we have had to adapt to a new ‘normal’ and though for some this has proven challenging, more than 100,000 restaurants and bars have permanently closed due to the pandemic,  it’s a necessary shifting of the routine which many have dealt with varying degrees of success.

In the world of business, and specifically in the retail sector, it has been a necessity to shift the way things work, especially when taking into account interactions between employees and customers.  

How Businesses Thrive During COVID-19

The Scale of the Problem

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact that is makes on all of us, is so beyond any scale that generations of us have faced before, it’s very much the case that those looking to set guidelines and rules that are designed to protect us are doing so in as carefully a way as is practical to do so.

This means that stark decisions, especially those that impact workers and companies that employ them, are not taken lightly and those decisions were always likely to have an adverse effect on a huge proportion of the population. 

There was never going to be easy decisions ahead and it may be fair to say that those who act in the most severe fashion now, may well feel the benefits in the longer term. The coronavirus was never going to be defeated by one quick ripping off of a band aid, more a considered attempt to remove it step by step.

The industries that stand to suffer the most are those that see customers and patrons come into close contact, the hospitality industry being one that has suffered unimaginably over the past year.

Design and Adapt

Guidelines and restrictions in the restaurant and bar spheres have bitten hard. These are of course important mitigations placed on establishments so that they can remain, on the whole, open to the public as much as is practical to do so.

These rules have meant that sites and stores have had to go through a prolonged period of redesign, leading to some very creative ways of using space both inside and out. 

Different states have different guidelines, making these realities all the more problematic to approach, but in a way it’s a marvel to see how business owners have risen to the occasions.

Some sites have repurposed existing designs, others have refitted restaurant booth tables, changed the way inside areas work to suit their clientele AND adhere to regulations.

The way with which some bars and restaurants have redesigned their outdoor areas has proven most intelligent, helping to boost overall capacity as well as keeping customers in areas outside, which offer better protection from the virus.

Make the Most of Key Periods of Business

Clearly restaurants and bars have always operated within the boundaries and vagaries of their busy hours and a good manager will look to staff and plan accordingly. This whole idea of being ready for key periods of business is likely to get far more pronounced in the coming months and even years.

Given that the lion’s share of business will be deliveries and that those deliveries will happen around lunch and dinner ‘rush hours’, your business shop staff accordingly, both in terms of those who produce the food but also those who make sure the food gets to the customers.

The scale of takeaway and takeout options, as part of the overall offering, is likely to be as high as 80% and that won’t necessarily reduce even when everyone gets the green light to return to normal.

This relates again to how those restaurants who’s business model was centered around eat-in, may have to completely reconfigure their business plans.

Make Protection Against the Virus a Selling Point

Businesses who have managed to avoid closure during these tough times will have done so chiefly as they have been able to adjust to new ways of working, basically learning how best to live with the virus could be key in more ways than one.

Customers are rightly very concerned about the cleanliness of any establishment right now and the merest hint that the restaurant or bar doesn’t adhere to the strictest of regulations will lead to instant loss of custom.

Making it clear just how much your business has done to meet guidelines, even making that fact known in the very menu you provide, could give you the much needed brownie points that keep you ahead of your competitors.

Look After Your Employees, Now More than Ever

It’s well known that the turnover of staff in the hospitality industry is high, in many ways that’s part and parcel of the market, but now more than ever a company will want to cut down on the wastage related to having to continually hire new staff.

You’d do well to offer your younger employees key benefits, some even offer tuition support, four-day weeks and cash bonuses, all to show that in these tough times, and as front-line workers in daily contact with the public, they are well respected and well treated.

Of course paid sick-leave and healthy benefits are even more explicitly important in this time of the pandemic.

The long-term benefits of this will be felt in the costs saved from having to constantly re-hire and re-train and also could have the additional benefit of boosting the reputation of your brand itself. 

It’s Not About Space, It’s About How You Use It

Clever use of space, whatever space you have, is the order of the day. This is a lesson that bar owners and restaurateurs are learning on a daily basis. Whereas previously the plan of action was to fill up all areas, maximize occupancy, now spacing is key.

Some have cleverly converted parking bays into eating/drinking zones, others have looked for even more ‘out of the box’ options, such as these clever space age pods in New York. Indeed gimmicks like this serve two purposes, they cover guidelines set and offer a brand new eating experience.

Clearly those local government officials that have relaxed zoning rules to allow outdoor dining options in areas which wouldn’t usually be permitted, have also done their bit to keep a vital part of their local economy alive and well.

For some the lack of space has proven something of a bonus, such as those small outlets who are more focused on take out options, or small occupancy eateries, who are now somewhat ahead of the game with their takeaway menus and already have a business model that isn’t reliant on foot traffic.

Indeed it’s projected that 70% of customers plan to do most of their dining and drinking at home for the foreseeable future.

Changing Where We Work 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic some businesses had already started to rethink their business model when it came to their employees and specifically where they worked. Some sectors had actively moved to having a proportion of their work-force work from their homes instead of having them come to the office.

Some found this situation to be cost-effective and the advent, and use of, technology to keep those workers in the loop via apps like Zoom and Skype made that shift all the more palatable. 

The coronavirus outbreak has certainly increased the level of home-working, either due to a need to meet guidelines set by authorities and councils, or because some individuals just don’t feel comfortable working among others due to the perceived risks.

It’s inevitable that the amount of home-working will increase and as long as a work/life balance can be struck, there are certainly positives to this option. 

Key among the issues that must be considered when moving to a  home working scenario is making sure workers have the necessary tools to do their jobs  as well as the support needed to make sure that productivity isn’t affected. This is harder, clearly, to implement in the hospitality industry but there are still some areas that can adopt this option to a limited extent.

Maintaining Safety, Being Vigilant

In the coming year we can expect a cycle of openings followed by lockdowns, both on an individual or collective basis and as such the retailers in the restaurant and bar industry need to be on their toes.

Making sure that all facilities are in top shape, levels of sanitation and cleanliness are at their most vigilant, and ensuring workers who are displaying any symptoms at all, are all key ways to making sure that closures are kept to a minimum.

When life moves towards some level of normalcy we will see establishments start to open services more similar to how they were before, and avoiding any potential setback is key.

Stop, Start, Stop, Start

It is safe to assume that mitigations as to the spread of the virus will go through a series of ups and downs as the effectiveness of these becomes clearer. States and cities may find themselves locking down, opening up, locking down on a repetitive basis and a business that best copes with this is one that caters for these ups and downs.

Employment opportunities will of course suffer and part-time working will become more prevalent and businesses should do what they can to best support those who are struggling to adjust to a more shift base system.

The key for restaurants and bars is to always be ready to open when it’s possible to do so, and that means making sure that facilities match guidelines that are fluid. 

While the fluid nature of the guidelines will of course consternation it’s worth noting that this is clearly an exceptional circumstance and one that we will get better at managing the more we live within the days of the virus itself.

Living With the COVID-19 Reality

While a vaccine is around the corner the lasting effects of the virus will be with us for some time to come and it is incumbent on business owners, especially in the retail sector, to retain the same level of vigilance for the coming weeks and months to come.

Businesses would do well to continue to offer as safe an environment as possible for the coming future as the virus will not be eradicated.

The hospitality industry, within which restaurants and bars make up the largest portion, has been severely hit by COVID-19, so much so that a recent report suggested as many as 60% of businesses that have shut down in the past year were directly due to the ramifications of the pandemic, but now is the time to adapt in order to survive.

Any newcomers to the scene should plan accordingly as they produce their business models and layouts and those who have battled through 2021 shouldn’t get complacent.

If the COVID-19 pandemic can be thought of as a marathon then right now we may have gotten through the hardest miles, but we are not at the finishing line just yet.

Now the Good News

Though, as discussed earlier, businesses in the hospitality sector and eateries of all types have been closing down with alarming regularity in recent months there is one major positive to keep at the forefront of one’s mind. 

People will always need, and want, to visit their favorite bars and restaurants. These are more than just luxury establishments, they are part and parcel of life for pretty much everyone and anyone.

Restrictions will be lifted and a move towards business as usual is only a matter of time and the best any business can do is to effectively mitigate until that time arrives while also being ready to react when the green light is given. 

As with the five-star meals and high-brow cocktails that your restaurant or bar may serve, preparation is everything.

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