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How Restaurants Can Prepare for (& Survive) Coronavirus

The Coronavirus that started off in China near the end of 2019 is now breaching country's borders across the world, and people in the U.S. are starting to wonder how to prepare. Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has spread to nearly 90,000 people and has caused 3,000 deaths worldwide as of the beginning of March, with 100 reported cases in the United States. The news is full of headlines about what consumers can do at home — frequent and proper hand washing, covering your cough, and the usual tactics — but what about restaurants? For hospitality business owners fearing the worst (like the Chipotle scandal a few years ago) now is a good time to call a staff meeting and review proper sanitation etiquette (and laws) with your staff, and find ways to remind your customers about good hygiene.

Regardless of whether your restaurant stays open for take-out or decides to close during the pandemic, take the time to think about what you want things to look like when things get back to (or as close as possible to) normal. Rather than be idle, consider starting some new Social Media ad campaigns or local programs so that you stay in the forefront of customer's minds. Both Google Ads and Facebook (including Instagram) ads are relatively inexpensive, especially now while many businesses curb spending. Take advantage of the free time while closed to learn a bit about how to run these campaigns (which you can usually even do from a smartphone) and put a little money behind them. You can go the easy route and simply sponsor one of your popular post, or go with the slightly harder (but much more effective) re-targeting ads that get in front of potential customers. That way, when the smoke clears, people will already have you on their food craving list and be ready to help jump start your business post COVID-19.

If you aren't sure what content to post, consider offering a special for when you reopen (maybe offer a significant discount to groups), or you can conduct a social media contest to generate buzz and help keep your customers entertained at home. A great idea might be to ask customer's to recreate their favorite dishes from their menu, and then you pick the best photo. Or ask viewers to submit their best quarantine recipes and pick your favorite. Either way, you'll be giving your viewers something to do while also promoting your business.

The best way to prevent spreading any kind of sickness, be it coronavirus or simply a common cold, is to keep sick and infected people out of your restaurant. That starts with your staff. Although it can be a major headache when someone calls in sick, especially with little to no notice, being one person down for a day or two is a better option than having a sick employee near your customer's food. This is an easy and simple way to keep a virus at bay, just limit exposure. Assure your staff that they will not be punished if they have to take a sick day or two, and consider offering some amount of sick leave. It'll keep your employees happy, and keep their germs out of your restaurant.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent getting sick, or spreading a sickness, is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. Most restaurant owners and staff know you should wash your hands after using the restroom, touching raw meats, and in other common cases. Out of an abundance of caution, you should consider washing your hands even more often than that, such as every time you touch your smartphone (which can be notoriously dirty). We often forget when we're sneezing, those germs are going all around us. Anything on your face, like glasses, can end up picking up a lot of germs (another great tip is to avoid touching your face altogether). The CDC recommends washing your hands with water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds (make sure you get between your fingers and under your nails). While that may feel like a long time, it's a lot shorter than the recovery period for the illnesses that hand washing can help you avoid!

If your restaurant offers take out or delivery, play up those options! The fewer sick customers you have coming into your restaurant, the less likely that other guests or staff will get sick. It might be best to avoid associating your promotions with coronavirus, but it's OK to remind guests that when they're feeling under the weather, you can pack their order to go or bring food to them. If you partner with a delivery company such as UberEats or GrubHub, consider playing those up as well (or even offer a special that is delivery-only).