While many industries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the food service industry has been hit particularly hard. In March, The New York Times predicted that two-thirds of restaurants in the USA will not survive the pandemic, and 11% of restaurants anticipated a complete and permanent shutdown by the end of April. This translates to over 7 million layoffs and direct losses of over $225 billion.
While chain restaurants and franchises might have access to bailouts from their parent companies, independent restaurants are not so lucky. Even with the government’s stimulus package, 60% of restaurant owners predicted the support would not be sufficient to keep employees on payroll during the downturn.
Nobody could have anticipated this situation at the beginning of the year. But as consumers and patrons of our favorite restaurants, we can help ensure our local and independent eateries survive. Here are some ways your company can support restaurants during the pandemic.
1. Treat Your Employees
Are your employees going above and beyond to keep your business going during the pandemic? Whether they’re working additional hours or simply staying positive through the challenges of working from home, a gesture of appreciation goes a long way.
Since you can’t take the team out for a meal or happy hour right now, how about treating everyone to a meal from a local restaurant to enjoy at home? The easiest way to do this is to send them a gift card. If the restaurant you’d like to support doesn’t have gift cards available on their website, call them. You might be able to come to an arrangement, like setting up a tab or employee meal fund on your company credit card.
A little treat in the form of an employer-sponsored meal will keep your employees’ morale up and let them know they’re appreciated. This makes them more inclined to go beyond the call of duty again in the future. Plus, your favorite restaurant will still be there to welcome you for a team lunch when it’s safer to dine in groups. Everyone wins!
2. Give Back to Restaurant Workers
Even before COVID-19, many restaurant workers barely made a living wage. Now, they’re lucky if they have jobs at all. It’s time to give back to the chefs, waitstaff, and receptionists who make our dining experiences memorable.
One of the best ways to show your solidarity and support right now is to give a donation to Giving Kitchen or a similar organization in your area from the company profits. Giving Kitchen provides small grants to food-service employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are quarantined after coming into contact with the virus. Giving Kitchen also signposts workers to organizations that help with housing, mental health, and family services.
If your business is doing well and your employees’ jobs are secure, you could also arrange a company-wide giving drive and ask everyone to consider donating whatever amount is comfortable for them. One way to make this a collaborative effort is to offer matched funding from the company for every dollar raised.
Your company can contribute directly to workers, either by leaving larger tips when you order takeout or through GoFundMe campaigns. By the end of March, there were over 90 San Francisco restaurants with GoFundMe campaigns to support their laid-off staff and struggling small businesses. These campaigns collectively raised tens of thousands of dollars for food-service workers.
As a business owner, you might have more influence than you realize. If you want to take your support for food service workers to the next level, write to your local representative or state officials. If enough people demand better wages, benefit packages, and health insurance for these workers, our elected officials will have to listen.
You might be shocked to learn that only 13 states guarantee paid leave, which means restaurant employees often have to work even if they’re sick. The pandemic has proven that it is past time to make paid sick leave a basic employer responsibility. Use your influence and platform to help bring about much-needed change.
3. Offer Discounts on Takeout Orders
Takeout orders have been a lifeline for many restaurants over the past few months and will continue to be so until customers feel safe eating out again.
There are now more restaurants offering delivery, takeout, or curbside service than not. If your favorite places are still open in any capacity, chances are that they are offering delivery or collection, even if they don’t during ordinary times. HR leaders in charge of finding these discounts for your company can use a corporate perks platform to easily request and secure discounts to local restaurants in your area, removing the headache of finding and negotiating discounts.
HR leaders can also reach out to their favorite local spots to see if they’re open to a business partnership. Use your corporate perks platform to arrange a discount code (such as 10% off or no delivery fees) for your employees and customers. This will encourage your team to support the restaurant and bring in more business at a time when it is badly needed.
If you miss getting dinner from your go-to places, they miss seeing you just as much. Reach out, make it easier for customers to purchase from them, and keep their stoves firing through COVID-19 and beyond.
4. Buy from Local Farms and Restaurants
While all restaurants were hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent recession, small and independent restaurants bore the brunt. We’re not saying you should boycott your neighborhood McDonald’s or Burger King, of course. However, patronizing local restaurants will help them immensely, and they need your support more than the corporate chains. Take this opportunity to try a new cuisine or dish from a local vendor.
Many local farms and producers are helping to keep the supply chain running by offering grocery items. Many crop growers, fruit farms, and meat producers have moved online and are offering produce subscription boxes or pre-orders with curbside pickup. Would any of your local suppliers be open to an arrangement where they offer a small discount to your employees or customers? Anything that encourages people to purchase from them is likely to be welcome at this time.
If you’re a business owner or manager, you could reward your top performers with gift cards or order a gift to be delivered to everyone in your team to say thank you. Both your employees and your local restaurants and suppliers will appreciate the gesture. Just remember to take any dietary needs into consideration — for example, some employees might be vegan or may choose not to consume alcohol.
You can also continue to support your local farmers and food producers when you’re back in the office. Why not switch out donuts from the supermarket for cakes from a local bakery for your next team birthday celebration? You can also buy your office coffee supplies from a local roasting company.
5. Support Your Favorite Restaurants on Social Media
Money is tight right now for many people. If your business is struggling, making large donations or buying takeout for your team might be beyond your budget. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help! Social media is a wonderful way of fostering a sense of community, showing your loyalty, and supporting local businesses during the pandemic without spending any money.
Chances are, your company has official channels on at least some of the major social media platforms. Support your favorite places by following them and sharing their content. Many restaurants are sharing recipes, throwback photos, videos, and cooking tips. Engaging and sharing these posts helps to get the word out that they’re still in business.
Did your business celebrate important occasions, such as employee birthdays, project successes, or product launches at a local restaurant? If so, why not share some throwback photos of you and your employees having a good time in these restaurants? Tag the establishment and say that you can’t wait to visit them with the team again when the pandemic is over.
If you are making a company donation to restaurant workers through channels such as The Giving Kitchen, share the links on your pages and encourage your followers to donate too. Many people would happily donate to these initiatives if they knew of their existence, so boosting the signal is hugely valuable.
Finally, don’t be afraid to shout about your support for restaurant and food service employees on social media. If you’ve written to your elected officials or signed a petition to help secure better conditions for these workers, declare your support publicly and encourage your followers to do the same.
6. Buy Dining Bonds
Dining bonds work very much like savings bonds: they offer something that can be redeemed for a higher value at a later date. Many restaurants are currently offering dining bonds. For example, you might purchase a dining bond for $75 today and redeem it for a $100 meal at a later date. One way your company can support restaurants during COVID-19 is to purchase these bonds. Use them as incentives for your top-performing employees, prizes in a raffle or giveaway, or save them for a celebratory team dinner when you are allowed to return to the office.
The idea of dining bonds was conceived by two New York PR professionals who had restaurants in their client bases. They launched The Dining Bond Initiative in March 2020, which now has over 600 restaurants participating and more signing up every week.
The bond is non-refundable if the restaurant closes, but if you’re willing to take that chance it will give them some much-needed cash to keep paying their workers, maintain their facilities, and stay afloat in these challenging times.
Buying dining bonds and making reservations in advance will ensure that your local eatery’s restaurant scheduling software will still have your favorite waiter or chef’s name on it in a few months’ time.
Helping Restaurants Through the New Normal
The food and beverage industry will never be the same after the pandemic. There will be more stringent rules for dine-in customers, more demand for takeout and delivery, and restaurants will be forced to think outside the box if they want to thrive. We do not yet know what the long-term repercussions will be.
This struggle is being faced by restaurant owners and food service staff across the United States and the world. Small, local, independent, and family-owned restaurants are being hit the hardest.
It’s time for company leaders to step up and help their fellow business owners survive this pandemic. Everything you can do to help — ordering takeout or gifts for your employees, donating, buying a Dining Bond, writing to local lawmakers, or just sharing a post on social media — will ensure the continued survival of the local restaurants at the heart of our communities.
Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at Zoomshift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising.