Reopening Lessons from Two Independent Restaurateurs

How the COVID pandemic forced them to update operations, sanitation, communication and much more

Recently, we were fortunate enough to be able to sit down to a virtual chat with two independent restaurant owners who are trying to navigate the re-opening process in the world of COVID. David Cash, owner of Dallas-based Smoky Rose and Dan Fugman, owner of Denver-based Max Gill and Grill, shared their experiences and how they are preparing for the new normal. 

The full interview is recorded here, and a few suggestions from the conversation are below.

Stay in virtual touch

Everyone knows that finding top talent fit your culture, training them and retaining them is not only hard work, it’s costly. To protect that investment in time and money, you must keep them engaged even if they are temporarily furloughed or laid off.  

Dan stated, “We have been in constant contact with all of our employees, checking in on them multiple times a week to see how their unemployment benefits are working out, if they have another job, and if they have the desire to come back. We worked really hard to create a great culture and don’t want to lose that, so we work really hard to let them know that we care about them and want them back.”

Don’t just increase sanitation – make it highly visible

Consumers are hesitant to go out and may be even more so with smaller restaurants that are perceived to have fewer resources to put towards safety and sanitation. Restaurants have to show them the heightened expectations you have for your team and that you are committed to creating a safe haven for both guests and staff. 

In order to prep for opening day, the team at Smoky Rose really drove the logistics and appearance of increased sanitation. David said, “We overstocked on hand sanitation stations and it helps people know that we’re taking this seriously. The TX Gov came out with rules of engagement guidelines and I immediately printed it out. We keep it at to-go pick up so our customers know we’re dedicated to these new rules and procedures”.

“Designate a single employee per shift—ideally with a clearly identifiable uniform or badge for customers to recognize—to oversee safety and sanitation measures.”

David added, “If on a normal day, a server has 5-6 tables we essentially half that. We have groups of servers assigned to a cleanliness zone, and if they aren’t at capacity then they go into a support role with nearby zones in order to maintain sanitation. Guests have seen that and appreciate the aggressive approach.”

Don’t forget the 3 Ps

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. These loans will be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. 

David, said, “One thing I’ve done with the PPP money, and forecasting it on my budget, is we are having the FOH and BOH come in an extra hour in the morning, and stay later whenever we break down at night to make sure the place is at a high standard of cleanliness. We can apply it to get the numbers up.”

Dan added, “Obviously we will abide by the CO regulations: temperature checks, masks, gloves. We will also be streamlining our menu and reevaluating the way we’re scheduling/staffing.”

Now is a good time to become more efficient

One thing that stood out to both operators was how the pandemic forced them to take a hard look at their operations and devise new and inventive ways to become more efficient. 

Dan said, “How do we cross-utilize more of our ingredients, and streamline what we’re doing? How can we better use the reports to figure out what’s working with to-go vs dine in? We get this opportunity to focus in on the guest’s experience and hone in on what’s working.”

David added, “We made a to-go menu based on availability of products we could get in house. In addition, we’re now working with QR codes. We don’t have to drop menus on the table, and in TX right now all menus have to be disposable anyway so we don’t have to waste any money on paper.”

QR codes not only allow you to eliminate costly disposable paper menus, but also allow you to edit menu items on the fly, when supply of a particular product may be in question. 

The full interview contains many additional topics, tips and suggestions, so be sure to catch the full interview to learn them all!

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