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How Restaurants Can Survive the Pandemic

How Restaurants Can Survive the Pandemic

By Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, government officials will decide when and how dining establishments can reopen. But reopening your doors is one thing. Convincing people to come through them is quite another. Here’s a checklist for what restaurant owners can do and say now to help ensure that customers will return.


  • Express compassion, empathy, sympathy and understanding for what your customers may be feeling or thinking during this national public health emergency. As tough as things may be for you, others may be having an even worse time. People tend to remember how they are treated when times are bad — do what you can to ensure the memories they have about your restaurant are positive ones.
  • Tell customers and the public what you have done, are doing, or will do to help guarantee their health and safety. This includes meeting the latest guidelines from health officials; redesigning work areas and customer seating plans to ensure proper social distancing; taking the temperature of arriving guests and staff, etc.
  • Share your updates on a regular basis via websites, email, social media, text messaging, and mainstream news organizations.

Learn from Others

There are important lessons to learn from how companies and organizations outside the restaurant industry are responding to the pandemic, and what you can learn from their successes and failure. They include:

  • Deliver on your commitments and promises. United Airlines failed to do that recently after saying they would enforce social distancing on their planes by leaving middle seats vacant on flights. A picture showing a crowded United flight with a passenger in every middle seat went viral.
  • Act quickly. As soon as the severity of the pandemic became clear, Apple closed all of their stores to help protect employees and the public from the disease.
  • Be responsive to people’s concerns. Students at the New York University Tisch School of Arts asked that their $58,000 annual tuition be refunded when in-person classes were replaced with online courses. The school’s non-responsive response: The dean sent students  a video of her dancing. She immediately had to defend and explain herself, telling The Post, “What I meant to demonstrate is my certainty that even with the unprecedented hardships of social distancing and remotely-held classes, it is still possible for the Tisch community to make art together.”
  • Demonstrate empathy. Bank of America said they would allow customers who were having problems paying their mortgages or other loans to defer making payments.
  • Deliver bad news the right way and the compassionate way. Weight Watchers was criticized for the cold and inhumane way they fired thousands of employees via a recent Zoom call.

Follow the News

  • Keep track of the latest news about the pandemic so you can take appropriate actions as quickly as possible. In any crisis, you cannot afford to be the last to know about an important development.
  • Set up alerts on Google for key words associated with the pandemic — such as infections, COVID-19, and coronavirus — so that you are immediately notified when there are stories concerning any news about these or other topics that affect your restaurant.

Monitor Social Media

  • Follow what is being said about your restaurant on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social media platforms. • As necessary, respond immediately to any posts and correct misinformation that others may be spreading about your company. This includes past or current workers who, if they believe you are treating them unfairly or are not adequately protecting them from the coronavirus, may not hesitate to express and share their opinions or accusations with as many people as possible.
  • Unfavorable comments on social media can create their own crisis situations for restaurants, sparking mini crisis situations for owners and managers that should be dealt with quickly.If left unanswered, negative comments or inaccurate information can become conventional wisdom — and harder to correct or dispel later,

Pay Attention to the Lessons from the Pandemic

  • There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to successful and effective strategies and tactics for combating COVID-19. The pandemic has been raging for so long that there are several examples of what works and what doesn’t.
  • We know that social distancing, masks, and frequent hand washing are effective deterrents. We also know what doesn’t work: denying there is a problem, hoping it will go away, and ignoring the facts of how the infection spread— or could re-spread in the the coming months.


Work Closely with Your Staff

  • Be sure all employees are trained to follow the latest health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and other health authorities.
  • No one likes surprises — especially during a crisis like this one. Keep your workers in the loop about your plans for the days ahead and be available to answer their questions or concerns about their future with the restaurant, the status of their benefits, etc.

Prepare a Crisis Management Plan •    Most restaurants likely did not have a written plan for dealing with any crisis, much less a pandemic. You should prepare a plan now to help get through the coming months.

  • Your plan should cover the basics for how you will respond to and manage this or any other crisis:when the plan will be activated, what actions will be taken and in what order, the procedures and protocols that should be followed, clearly defined responsibilities and timelines for implementing the plan, and the resources that will be necessary to carry out the plan.
  • Update the plan as necessary to reflect new developments or realities about the pandemic.
  • Prepare for worst-case scenarios. As bad as things may be now for your restaurant, get ready just in case things go even further south. What’s the worst things that could happen? What can you do now to help prevent or mitigate those scenarios? Then prepare contingency plans that you would implement if those scenarios become a reality — and practice activating all of the plans so you are confident they will work if and when they are needed.

The Bottom Line

The bad new is that we have no idea when and how the pandemic will end. Unexpected events — such as the nationwide protests over the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd — could contribute to a resurgence of the disease.

The good news is that every crisis eventually comes to an end. By following the advice and guidelines above, you can help ensure your restaurant survives COVID-19.


About the Author

Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant, and author of the new book on crisis management — Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey) that is now available as an ebook from Amazon at this link: Crisis Ahead will be released as a paperback on June 16. For more information about Segal and his book, visit