Coronavirus: Actions Operators Can Take Today

If operators and managers don’t act immediately to ease guests’ minds about coronavirus, the industry will feel the ramifications for years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to reshape the hospitality industry. In fact, it’s already doing so.

Communication is key: with guests, the community, and team members. Operators and managers will find actions they can take today to give them a fighting chance to survive this pandemic.

Put Guests at Ease

People fear the unknown. Transparency neutralizes fear, so show people what you’re doing to protect them against the spread of coronavirus at your bar, restaurant or nightclub.

At the time of publication of this article, nearly 30 states have declared either states of emergency or public health emergencies. Some declarations have either outright imposed limits on public gatherings or recommended limiting gatherings to between 100 and 250 people.

Barry Gutin, Nightclub & Bar Show advisory board member and CEO and president of GuestCounts Hospitality (Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar), recommends that operators remove tables that put them over recommended gathering size capacities.

New York has ordered restaurants to cut their seating capacities in half. Restaurants with capacities of over 500 people are required to reduce to 250. Even if such a restriction hasn’t been imposed officially, operators can follow Gutin’s advice to show guests they’re being proactive.

While social media can certainly be used irresponsibly or outright maliciously, it can also be the fastest tool for communicating and being transparent. Operators can document their reductions in capacity and explain why that action has been taken.

Social media can also be used to show the cleanliness of bars and kitchens. Operators can show their kitchen teams wearing gloves while handling food, cleaning kitchen surfaces, and otherwise following healthy and safety guidelines through videos on Facebook, Instagram and other platforms.

Machine, a restaurant in Chicago, has sent out an email to guests whose data they’ve collected to outline their health and safety measures. The email shares WHO and CDC guidelines that guests can follow, including washing their hands frequently and using hand sanitizer. Other restaurants and hospitality groups have sent out similar emails, highlighting the importance of maintaining guest email databases. Machine’s email was also shared via social media:


A post shared by Machine Engineered Dine&Drink (@dinemachine) on

A March 12 Instagram post from Bobby Heugel, operator of Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, explained that dirty plates and silverware are being cleared with disposable gloves, all tables are sanitized after each seating, and door handles are being sanitized every 15 minutes. Disposable glove use is being tracked and carbon credits will be purchased to offset usage.


A post shared by Bobby Heugel (@bobby_heugel) on

2020 Nightclub & Bar Award winner Bar-Bill Tavern posted what they’re doing to address coronavirus concerns today via this post:


A post shared by BarBill (@barbilltavern) on

Communicate with Your Staff

Michael Tipps and his partners at Invictus Hospitality are addressing coronavirus with their team members via email and team meetings. The tone is serious but not dire and leadership is encouraging employees to remain calm and rational, stay informed through reliable sources and avoiding gossip, and making fact-based decisions.

"Implement SOPs for front-of-house cleaning as well as back of house," says Tipps.

Leading by example, Invictus included up-to-date information about COVID-19. In an attempt to assuage team member fears and avoid panic, the hospitality group addressed slowed traffic and how shifts and staffing may be affected.

On a more granular level, Invictus leadership provided team members with the following procedures to help everyone stay healthy, not just at work but throughout their daily lives:

  • Replacing handshakes with fist bumps, elbow bumps or slight bows.
  • Touching switches and buttons with a knuckle rather than a finger, and lifting or otherwise handling dispensers and other items with paper towels or gloves.
  • Opening doors with closed fists or hips, particularly bathroom doors and those leading to commercial buildings.
  • Washing hands for 10 to 20 seconds with soap and/or using a hand sanitizer that’s greater than 60 percent alcohol-based.
  • Report fevers, coughs or difficulties in breathing to management immediately, do not go to work, and seek medical attention immediately.

Transparency and calming fears isn’t just for guests, it also pertains to staff.

Protect the Business

Tipps also suggests being transparent with landlords. Now is the time for operators to review their leases and be proactive.

"Confide in them and be transparent with your business position," says Tipps. "It's vital as the landlord wants to make it work."

Generally speaking, landlords aren't interested in replacing their current tenants. The reason is simple: If one operator is struggling due to coronavirus, why would another do much better in that same location? It's smarter to work with their current tenants than risk having no tenant at all.

Operators should be clear about what's happening with the business and negotiate new terms that work for them and their landlords.

Support Team Members & Industry Professionals

On March 12, the Spotted Owl, which operates two locations in Ohio, announced via Instagram they would be closing both bars for one week. In making their announcement, the Spotted Owl cited that health experts have repeatedly encourage those who can stay home to do so.

“We can, so that’s what we’re doing,” read the post. The message came from Will Hollingsworth, proprietor of the Spotted Owl.

The image on Instagram was text-based and included this line: “Both teams are going on full paid leave.”


A post shared by The Spotted Owl (@spottedowlbar) on

Not every operator is in the financial position to offer employees paid time off. But those who are confident they can survive temporarily closing their doors or paying staff members to stay home to avoid contracting and spreading coronavirus may want to consider doing so.

Referencing Bobby Heugel’s coronavirus post again, the operator pointed out that team members have had access to health insurance options for years.

Hospitality industry recruitment service Industry is assisting hospitality professionals who have been laid off due to coronavirus. Operators who have job openings can text ILL HELP to (619) 313-5235 so Industry can send affected candidates their way. The service has stated that there will be no fees or costs associated with sharing these job openings.

Embrace Delivery

The severely slowed traffic many operators across the country are experiencing can be frightening. Along with communicating enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures with the public, adding in-house delivery can help operators survive this pandemic.

Jainine Jaffer, executive chef of Shiraz in Las Vegas, NV, implemented in-house delivery in response to coronavirus. Jaffer made the announcement March 10. Orders are placed via the Shiraz website and fulfilled in house. Free delivery is offered for those within a five-mile radius of the restaurant and there’s a flat-rate delivery fee of $10 for orders outside of that designated area.

“No matter what’s going on in the world, we still have to eat, and should be able to continue to eat well,” says executive chef Jainine Jaffer. “This is something new for us to live and work through as a community, so I felt it was my duty to find a solution to accommodate my customers. I feel that heart-crafted food should still be readily available, even during times of uncertainty just as this.”

The Takeaways

Fear dies in the light of transparency. Today, after reading this article, operators can communicate to their guest databases, social media followers, local press, and teams to address coronavirus concerns. Seating capacities can be reduced in accordance with direct orders or public health guidelines, in-house delivery can be considered as an additional revenue stream, and industry workers can be supported in multiple ways.