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By Katie McCann
Amid the rapid spread of COVID-19, preparing for a restaurant closing has become an unfortunate reality, even on a temporary basis.
Some restaurant owners have decided that staying open isn’t worth the risk, while others have their hands tied with strict government regulations that have come into place – or will soon.
But properly preparing for a temporary restaurant closing isn’t as simple as locking the doors and double checking that all the lights are off. There are many areas of your business to consider when closing down, both to minimize the financial bleed of being closed and make it a smooth transition when you can reopen.
We’ll go over everything you’ll want to consider if you’re closing your doors temporarily, to ensure reopening goes as smoothly as possible.
As much as you’re able to, choose a specific date to shut down your operations. Since the regulations around what’s allowed and what is not changes every day, the choice of the day may fall out of your hands or end up feeling rushed.
If you can choose a date, it gives you time to better plan your communications, get rid of inventory, and discuss rent with your landlord. You’ll also be able to better plan your budget – how much will you be saving on inventory orders if you’re closed? How do your monthly expenses shift when you won’t be doing payroll?
Keep in mind that you’ll essentially have to be choosing two dates – a date to close to the public and a date you close operations. The main difference is that one date will be the end of serving food, whereas you may want to keep staff on longer to help with closing everything down.
Next, communicate with your guests and staff. Both need to know the date that applies to them, but what you communicate to each group will look a little different. Once you have a date decided, it’s time to plan your communications with the different parties involved.
Here’s what you’ll want to make sure each group knows.
You’ve likely been communicating with your diners a lot more than normal – sharing reduced hours, changes in operations, and assurances you’re keeping your operation safe according to new standards.
With this communication, you’ll want to let them know the exact date you’ve decided to close, why you’re doing it, and what you will offer until then. Make sure to also thank diners for their continued support up until this point – and beyond. If you want some inspiration, check out this email Mildred’s Temple Kitchen sent out to diners (which included the recipe for their famous pancakes for guests to enjoy at home in the meantime!):
While you’re closed, you can also consider some regular communications while you’re closed down through email or social media. Just like Mildred’s did, you could consider sharing a recipe to stay top of mind.
Just like this restaurant is your livelihood, it is for your staff as well. Communicate with them as early as you can when you decide to close so they can plan for the future, based on the income they can expect.
When you give them notice, arm them with resources for success, like information on government funds, relief programs, or unemployment insurance, to support them as best you can during such uncertainty.
Getting rid of inventory – especially food inventory that will go bad – is important for a restaurant closing, especially a temporary one. You don’t want to get the go-ahead to return to the kitchen only to find it full of spoiled food or pests.
To start, you’ll want to do a last inventory count to see what you actually have. What you have available will help you determine what to actually do with that food. Depending on your stock, here are some options of what to do with inventory you won’t be able to use up before you close down:
Once you’ve cleared out or repurposed your inventory, you can start cleaning without having to work around full fridges and pantries.
Now that you’ve sorted through inventory (and hopefully gotten rid of a good amount of it), it’ll be easier to clean out the rest of your restaurant.
Here are some areas to look at when cleaning:
It can seem daunting to do a deep clean, but think of it this way: leaving a restaurant in a clean state is only going to set you up for an even smoother re-opening. It will help you get back up to speed faster and more easily when everything is already spotless.
As millions of people across the U.S. lose their jobs and applications for unemployment reaches record-breaking numbers, rent has become somewhat of a hot topic. There’s been a call from the American working class, asking for a rent freeze until the coronavirus pandemic subsides. This same cry has been echoed in Canada.
If you’re closing down temporarily, let your landlord know and see if they are open to a discussion on a reduced rate or complete freeze. Go into this discussion prepared to negotiate – which may be the case.
People are sharing their different stories of conversations with landlords, and some have stories of super receptive landlords. Some have chosen to suspend rent payments this month and others have reduced rent prices with the promise to negotiate the following month. You never know what they’ll say, so it’s always worth asking.
However, negotiating your rent under these circumstances is unfamiliar territory for both renters and landlords. If you’re not sure how to start this discussion with your landlord and what to cover, here are some of the top tips:
If any changes end up being made, make sure to come out of this conversation with something signed that you can reference later. This is especially important if COVID-19 ends up impacting more than one month of your lease agreement.
The materials available in this post are for informational purposes only. We are not lawyers and do not propose to provide you with legal or business advice. As such, the information in this post should not be used as a substitute for obtaining such advice. In particular, we would suggest you contact your attorney to obtain legal advice with respect to the matters discussed in this post.
While rent definitely does fall into this category, there are other recurring payments you make every month to keep operating. Since you’ll be temporarily closing down your restaurant, you’ll want to revisit your monthly expenses and see what you can cancel entirely or put on hold.
Not sure where to start? Here are some of the recurring payments you’ll want to consider for your restaurant closing:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the monthly charges will vary from restaurant to restaurant. The best way to find these expenses for your restaurant is by going through your statements from previous months and seeing exactly where your money went. That will help you ensure you don’t miss anything, and have no surprises on your next statements.
It’s probably one of the least glamorous parts of your temporary restaurant closing – maybe a close second to cleaning everything – but you might have to do a decent amount of paperwork. Even if you’re closing temporarily, you’ll still want to take a look at the required paperwork and determine what applies to you.
We’ve outlined below what paperwork and resources to look at when you’re closing your business, and the top paperwork to file as an individual to ensure you still have some form of income.
Just like there’s a lot that goes into opening your business, there’s a lot that goes into closing, even temporarily. If you’re temporarily closing, here are some places to start:
As much as you’ve been taking care of your business up until this point, you need to also take care of yourself.
Take the time to look at paperwork required for United States Unemployment Insurance so you can have some income throughout these uncertain times. The full coverage varies state by state, so look into what you are entitled to based on your location. Careeronestop offers resources for Americans to get this information and ensure you know what you’re entitled to. You can apply for unemployment benefits here.
There’s no simple way to put it – the restaurant industry is taking a major hit due to COVID-19. But different government and nonprofit organizations have stepped up big time to help give business owners in the industry a fighting chance.
And now is the perfect time to do your research and take advantage of these funds. As you ride out your temporary restaurant closing, look for different grants, loans, and funds to help you stay afloat. There are new relief programs coming out constantly and government funding seems to be updated on an hourly basis. Research what’s best for you and your business, to ensure you’re able to open your doors again soon.
You’ve let people know, sorted your inventory, filed what you need with the government, and cleaned your location spotlessly. Now, it’s time for what may be the hardest step of them all – actually closing your doors.
Before you leave, do a final walkthrough to ensure that everything you have to be on-site to do is complete. Check that lights are off, food is cleaned out, and everything is organized. Ongoing conversations with your landlord, communications with staff and customers, and other legal paperwork can all be done from the comfort – and safety – of your own home.
Deciding to close your restaurant, even temporarily, may come with a bittersweet feeling – or maybe just bitter for now. It might be the right decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Remember that as eager as you are to return to work, your diners are just as eager to come eat with you again. By closing down temporarily, you’re saving money now so later you can go back to doing what you love. And in the meantime, you’re helping to keep yourself, your team, and your community safe.
In the meantime, you can take a look at TouchBistro’s Restaurant Recovery Navigator for more tips on coping with COVID-19, or email us at [email protected] if there’s anything specific you need more resources on.
Katie is a former Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.
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