Your COVID-19 Survival Strategy: It Starts by Building Trust

Prior to COVID-19, I would have told my clients that the most important key to success in the restaurant/bar/hospitality business is customer service. But COVID-19 has turned our industry on its head. The things that were important 15 months ago don’t seem so crucial now. 

As more operations open and more people get the available vaccines, the most critical thing that we can do as owners is to entice guests to walk in our doors. In the old days, great customer service, excellent food and positive social media reviews were the key to making that happen. But how do we get guests to walk into our operations today? One word: trust. 

First and foremost, before they will return, our guests need to trust us in a number of respects. Specifically, they need to:   

  • Trust that we as owners/managers are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
  • Trust that our entire staff is doing its part to keep them safe.
  • Trust that we are following CDC and OSHA COVID protocols.
  • Trust that our washrooms are constantly maintained to new sanitation standards.
  • Trust that everything they touch has been COVID sanitized. 

If we don’t gain the trust of guests, they will never walk in the door and give us the opportunity to show them a great experience. 

Building Trust through Training and Transparency

Certainly, conducting real, in-depth COVID-19 training is especially important right now. However, if no one knows that you have devoted time, money and energy into COVID-19 training, then your investment is wasted. In today’s social media world, you need photos, videos and owner interviews of every aspect of COVID-19 training. Be prepared to post every step for the public to see. 

For those of my clients who have had the opportunity to reopen in the past few months, this strategy has been highly successful. You can begin executing it prior to opening—or if you are lucky enough to be open now—then to do so as soon as possible. It breaks down to four basic steps:

Step 1 – Setup a classroom-style training session for ALL staff and managers. Your 90-minute session should cover: 

  • The science of COVID-19
  • How it is transferred from person-to-person
  • The importance of wearing masks and gloves, and
  • The difference between how we sanitized in the past and how we must do it today, based on CDC and OSHA guidelines.

Step 2 – Once training is complete, assign every employee an area in the dining room to clean and sanitize. Work with them, train them and correct them as if your operation’s life depends on it…because it does! Then, have the team move to the washrooms and kitchen. It is important for everyone to see how each area needs to be thoroughly sanitized.

Step 3 – As you go, arrange to take photos of every step—from the training, to the cleaning, correcting and final results. Owners or managers should provide short video interviews as each step is conducted, explaining how it’s for the safety of the guests and staff. 

Step 4 – Post Two to three of the photos and videos each day for at least 10 days. When my clients have done this, they’ve received incredible feedback from their regulars—and best of all, they generated huge positive reactions from folks who have never been to their restaurant. One common refrain we hear is, “I have never been to your restaurant, but you’re doing such great things, yours will be my first stop.”

This is a pretty foolproof way to get customers to trust that you truly care about their health and safety. However, there is one important caveat: once guests arrive, you and your staff need to practice the same standards you have shown them prior to their arrival. 

When guests walk in, they should see the host wearing a mask and gloves. I recommend taking temperatures of each guest and logging each person’s name and number, so contact tracing can be done if needed. 

Ask guests keep their masks on until they get to their table. Once seated, present them with either a paper or laminated menu. But if you use a laminated menu, set up a cleaning station where the menus are sanitized after each use (make sure it’s within the guests’ sightline). Some of my clients have switched to plasticware, but others use actual silverware. If you use silverware, have it delivered in a wax/paper holder, placed by a staff member wearing a mask and gloves. 

This may seem over-the-top at first, but this is what it takes to get guests back into your door. I hate the term “new normal,” so let’s just call this what it is: implementation of our industry’s new best practices! Continued training, follow-up and daily application of these new standards will not only bring your customers back, but bring ones through your doors.