How to Shut Down a Restaurant the Right Way

Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-orders have been extended through April and beyond.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on Friday of last week. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) goes into effect tomorrow.

Taken together, these developments mean our social, business and legal situations have changed. Some owners who have remained in operation will now have to make the choice to close their businesses temporarily.

Closing isn’t as simple as turning off the lights and locking the doors. There are calls to make, partners to contact, utilities and services to address, and employees to keep informed and safe.

Because this is a difficult decision to make, many owners will understandably feel overwhelmed by the ramifications, emotions and sheer number of tasks related to this choice. To help give owners, operators and managers a clear path to shutting down properly, I spoke with Chef Brian Duffy about what to do once the decision to close the doors has been made.

For operators not planning on closing temporarily, Chef Duffy’s advice provides valuable insight into conducting a deep clean and sanitization—a “full scrub” as he calls it—communicating with staff, and preparing for business to return to normal (or a semblance of it).

Settle in—there’s a lot of important information to unpack.

Inform Your Team

“The number one thing you want to do is sit down with your entire staff,” says Chef Duffy. “Let them know exactly what’s going on. You need to be open, you need to be clear, and you need to be concise with letting them know that they’re going to be laid off for a period of time. Almost indefinitely at this point—we don’t really know.”

Even if they’ve been expecting you to close the bar or restaurant, hearing it out loud and the realization that it’s really going to happen will probably still surprise and frighten them. This is why you need to plan out what you’re going to say, expect emotions and questions, and be transparent.

“We don’t want to have any surprises with anybody,” Chef Duffy says. “Be open and be honest with your staff, first and foremost. Answer any questions that they have. If you do not have an answer for them at that point, then you need to find the answer and get back to that person. They’re scared shitless right now—they don’t know what to do. It’s not like they’re getting fired from a job and they can just go and apply for another one somewhere—that’s not the case.”

Once you’ve answered their questions and let them express their feelings and concerns, tell them they still have the opportunity to earn a paycheck.

Read this: View from the Bar: How to Help Employees Weather the COVID-19 Storm

“Let them know you’re going to have work for them over the next couple of days because we need to close the kitchen down,” Chef Duffy says. “They don’t have to stay if they don’t want to. At this point, you’re already letting them know that they’re going to be laid off. But you’re giving them the opportunity to have a couple more days of work, of money to come in. “

Inform Your Guests & Followers

Your staff aren’t the only people with whom you must be open and honest. Regular guests, people ordering delivery, takeout and curbside pickup, and those in the community who are showing their support for the industry by giving local bars and restaurants their business need to know that you’re closed.

“Make all of the changes that you can on your websites,” suggests Chef Duffy. “Change your hours, let people know that you’re closed, let people know what’s going on, keep updates happening on your social media over the next couple of weeks. Keep your brand fresh in their minds while you’re not being open.”

Inform Your Partners

If you’re not open, you aren’t ordering. Not only do you need to contact your food, beverage and service providers if you need to work out an agreement for deferring payments, you need to let them know you won’t be ordering or using their services for a while.

“Contact all of your purveyors. Let every one of your purveyors know that you’re going to be closing down,” Chef Duffy advises. “They’re already are aware of this, but let your food purveyors know, let your beer, your liquor, everybody know that you’re closing down and you’re going to reach out to them a week before you open up again.”

Think about every supplier and provider with which you work. Make a list and reach out to them. If you need to go through all your bills to ensure you contact every partner, do it. You have an enormous amount of stress and pressure on you—there’s no shame in not remembering everybody you pay off the top of your head.

“Make sure that you’re canceling all of your subscriptions that have to do with the restaurant,” says Chef Duffy. “I have an automatic delivery every single week for my towels. So, cancel your towel service, your dish service.”

He continues: “You don’t want to pay for a preventative maintenance program for the month of March when you’ve been closed for that entire month. So, negotiate with your subscription-based services. When it comes to Spotify or Pandora or your POS company that you’re renting the equipment from, make sure you’re contacting them.”

There’s another reason for reaching out to these partners: some of them will come out to perform maintenance before you shut off any equipment machines. In some cases, they’ll show you the best way to shut off and store the equipment they maintain.

Read this: Not Sure What to Say to Your Landlord? Check Out this Cheesecake Factory Letter

In the case of utility providers, it’s wise to reach out to them about their shutdown policies. Some may walk you through how to turn off their equipment, some may want—or need—to send out a technician to do it. In addition, the last thing you want to deal with is not shutting down a utility like gas completely, creating a potentially dangerous or deadly situation.

Create a Cleaning Plan

Now it’s time for you and your team to get down and dirty, literally. But before you just send everybody into the kitchen, take the time to come up with a detailed plan of attack.

 “You need to have a cleaning party. You need to go through your entire restaurant,” says Chef Duffy. “It’s an opportunity to give your staff a little bit more revenue before they get laid off. Give them an opportunity to come in. Build the same shifts but now they’re not going to be prepping, washing dishes and cooking, they’re going to be cleaning. Have them do the full scrub.”

That full scrub really can’t be executed if there’s product everywhere. It’s difficult to clean shelves and counters when food is sitting on them. So, now’s your chance to help your staff and avoid wasting perishable food.

“Set up a program for your staff outlining what it is that you’re going to do with the food that you’re currently holding,” Chef Duffy advises. “If you’re not selling that food, offer it up to the employees that are no longer going to be working. Give them an opportunity to take home a case of burgers that they might be able to keep in a freezer. Offer up all of that opportunity. Any of the really perishable products, make sure that you’re getting rid of them. Don’t hold onto them. If you have a big enough freezer, yeah, you could throw a case of ribeyes in a freezer if you have to. But if you’ve never served a frozen ribeye before, why are you going to start now? Take the ribeyes, break them down, cut them up, and offer them up to your staff—give them the option to take four ribeyes home with them.”

The community can also benefit from you being philanthropic and feeding them. Of course, you should reach out to food pantries, care facilities and shelters before showing up with food to make sure they can accept it first.

“If you don’t have a huge staff, reach out to some of these shelters—women’s shelters, domestic violence and abuse shelters, homeless shelters—that are out there and find out if you’re allowed to feed these people. Reach out to the community,” says Chef Duffy.

When Chef Duffy first got into ArdmoreQ, his barbecue restaurant in Ardmore, PA, he encountered a bunch of products he knew he would never use. Rather than toss it out, he donated it to a local service that provides meals for the elderly.

Shelves, counters and other storage areas cleared out, it’s full scrub time.

“All the product, if it hasn’t been given away yet and it needs to be either frozen or thrown away, do it now. And then, every single container, run it through the dishwasher,” instructs Chef Duffy. “Take your six-pans, run them through the dishwasher, wrap them in plastic, put them on a counter. Once all of your product is removed from your refrigeration, go to the back of your refrigerators, the compressors, and vacuum them out. Get rid of any of the dust that’s in there—now is the time to do this. It will extend the life of your product, plus it will help with them sitting a little while.”

Chef Duffy makes it clear that he’s “in no way” a refrigeration expert. He freely admits that he doesn’t know if refrigeration specialists are advising owners to shut their refrigeration off—if it’s empty, of course—or keep it running. With that in mind, take this next bit of advice with a grain of salt: He would shut utilities down if he were closing a restaurant down for an extended period of time. Again, it’s smart to reach out to your utility providers, inform them that you’re closing temporarily, and see if they’re sending someone out to shut off their services or will walk you through the process.

“So, we shut down the refrigerators. We scrub them, we clean them, we sanitize them across the board, and then we leave the doors open,” Chef Duffy says. “We prop it open, whether it be with some tape or something like that, because you’re now shutting that refrigerator off. Let it air out for the next couple of days, next couple of weeks. Don’t keep it closed and then stifled in a warm area—it’s only going to get musty and smell like shit when you come back.

“Clean all the sinks out. Get rid of any of the product that’s just laying around. If you have Japanese breadcrumbs that are sitting on the line, put them in a storage area and close that storage area. Make sure that every single container of dried food that you have is fully closed. Your dried herbs, make sure that you’re wiping all the containers off.”

Using onion powder as an example, Chef Duffy advises the removal of any form of bacteria and buildup that’s on the container.

“Take the lid, run it through the dishwasher. Take it out, fully dry it. Put it back on top of that container and then wrap that container with plastic. Then put it back on the shelf that you just cleaned and sanitized,” he says.

Look at the storing of dry items from the standpoint of bacteria, rodent and bug infestations. Even the cleanest restaurant should anticipate rodents and bugs making themselves at home in the search for food.

“We don’t want to leave them with the option to move in fully while we’re away,” says Chef Duffy.

Cold side sorted, it’s the hot side’s turn.

“Your hot stuff. Go through, clean out your fryers, empty them. Take your grill, break it apart, clean the grates, scrub the insides, scrub the outside. Detail your convection ovens: pull your racks out, get some degreaser or oven cleaner on them, scrub them down, wipe them up, get them super clean,” advises Chef Duffy. “Then get over to your ovens, clean the racks, scrub the inside and outside, wipe them, put everything back, close the doors. You don’t have to leave them open, just close them up. Then, once all of that is done, you’re going to shut the gas off because a lot of these pieces of equipment utilize a pilot light. Shut the gas off so that you’re not wasting gas anymore. We’re trying to save money here—we don’t want to just waste it through utilities we’re not using.”

As one more reminder, see if the gas company wants you to shut off the gas or is sending out a tech. In the case of equipment with valves, it may be best practice to at least shut off those valves to kill the pilot lights. Another smart move is to create a list of the pieces of equipment on which you’ve closed valves and that will need to have pilot lights lit again. Leave as little to chance as possible for when you reopen.

Read this: How to Prepare Draft Systems for Cleaning and Temporary Closure

“The final part is going through, starting at the back of the kitchen, and getting your walls clean. Scrub everything down that you possibly can,” says Chef Duffy. “Make this as sanitary as possible so that when we do have that green light to come back, we can literally walk in, turn the gas on, light our pilots, close the refrigerator doors, get everything set and ready to go. There should be nothing in your walk-ins. This is an opportunity to clean your walk-ins out. Scrub the walls, scrub the floors, scrub the racks and the shelving that’s all in there. And then start at the back, work to the front, and go right up to the front doors, close the doors, and walk away.”

Keep Your Staff in the Loop

The FFCRA and CARES Act going into effect will likely dictate your decisions to remain open for takeout and delivery, close temporarily, lay off staff, or terminate staff. Before you make any decisions related to closing your business and retaining, laying off or terminating staff members, consult an attorney and an accountant, preferably that specialize in hospitality and who understand FFCRA and CARES. Depending on what directions they advise you to take, stay in contact with your employees.

“Check in on them every couple of days. Let them know what’s going on,” says Chef Duffy. “Let them know what your plans are: ‘Based on the COVID rules, based on the government rules, this is where we are.’ Find out where people are, if they’ve applied for unemployment. Or, if they don’t know what to do, walk them through the process. A lot of these people have never applied for unemployment before—the don’t know what to do. So, we’ve got to still be there for our staff. It’s not their fault—they were hit just as hard as we were at this point.”

Another powerful and optimistic reason to perform a full scrub and keep in contact with laid-off employees? Being prepared to reopen the restaurant or bar with a kitchen, of course.

If Chef Duffy were in government, he would give business owners a week’s notice before lifting the restrictions on dine-in service and rescinding stay-at-home orders. A deep clean and sanitization now ensures that owners are prepared to reopen their doors later. That readiness allows you to focus on other tasks, like contacting utility providers if you chose to turn off gas, electricity and/or water; reinstating any subscriptions that were paused or canceled; and bringing your staff back to work.

To that end, Chef Duffy recommends food operations return with a limited menu at first.

“Realize that you’re not going to be able to get that specialty-cut steak tomorrow to bring in-house when they haven’t been selling it to you for 45 days,” says Chef Duffy.

He advises a similar approach to scheduling, operating lean when first reopening.

“Open up smartly. Start with your staff. Be communicative with your staff: ‘Hey guys, we’re going to open up. I’m going to need five people to come into the restaurant. First five, let’s go. Sign up right now,’” he says. “A great way to keep in communication with your staff if you’re not already doing it is an online scheduling service. I use OpenSimSim in the restaurant. OpenSimSim is a free service that I use that absolutely love.”

Not only is OpenSimSim free scheduling software, it allows owners, operators and managers to communicate with staff. When a schedule is posted, team members are alerted. Staff can set availability and the time clock function prevents unauthorized early punches. Users have the option to integrate it with some payroll and POS systems.

Read this: COVID-19 Planning: 90 Ways to Survive the Next 90 Days for Bars and Restaurants

The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves because of the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing people to make difficult and painful choices. Hospitality workers are losing their sources of income and their work families. The decision to close temporarily is not one that’s made lightly. Use this article as a guide to close and reopen as efficiently as possible with a team that’s excited to return to work for you.


Chef Brian Duffy website

ArdmoreQ website

OpenSimSim website