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Advice and actions for cafes regarding temporary closures due to coronavirus

With cafes closed or working as takeaways we spoke to Café and Restaurant Management Consultant Angela Lyons who has worked in the industry for over 17 years.


4 min read

There is no escaping that this is a stressful time for any business, but the small cafés and restaurants which are so heavily cash reliant are struggling to cope. The following is some information these businesses may find useful.

1. Closing up Temporarily

This will be difficult for any business owner but there are certain things that should be addressed. Firstly the stock, if you have perishable and or frozen items that will go out of date within 2/3 months they need to be removed. In this current climate nobody wants food items to go to waste so offering all your staff the option to take anything they will use is a good place to start, if you still have perishables left after this there are many charities and food banks that are crying out for donations and will be happy to accept what you have to offer.

The above should clear out all your fridges and freezers which then means these will need to be defrosted and cleaned out thoroughly. Along with this all fryers if you have any should be emptied and cleaned, plates, cups, coffee machines should be put away clean. Tables chairs cleaned and stacked, bathrooms and floors left clean and disinfected, any unattended food premises not cleaned as you can imagine is only going to invite unwelcome visitors in your absence. This will also mean that on the other side when we can reopen again a once over clean and restock will make for a speedier start up.

All other stock items that will hold ie cleaning products and many dried goods should be packed away (in air tight containers where needed) for easy access when you reopen.

It is important to know that it is suggested the virus can live outside the human body on hard surfaces anywhere from 9 days and possibly up to 28 days. While the information is unclear and changing almost daily it would be worth making enquires now about a deep clean to disinfect your premises before reopening.

2. Takeaway / Deliveries

You will need to check the official guidelines before you proceed. Many businesses are looking at alternative ways to maintain cash flow and keep staff and customers. Offering a Takeaway service is a popular choice for a reason, as you have a functioning kitchen. For this I suggest to look at your customer base and menu, choose limited popular items from your menu or create a new sustainable cost effective menu that you can offer which may be better received in the current climate. Some people are collaborating with other small business to offer home delivery and free delivery to NHS and other front line workers and or vulnerable people ie elderly. I can only encourage adapting, but I would say that you should be very clear about what your offer is, you will need to develop a clear plan in order to execute efficiently. I suggest you work out a weekly budget and forecast to have an idea what you need to turnover to ensure it is feasible. Figure out what staff you have, how many you will need daily, how many days are you offering the service (5/7), what will you trading hours be, is it sustainable? What are your suppliers offering in order to maintain continuous supply, have they reduced their product list, delivery days etc. If this is not done you are running the risk of being unreliable.

3. Communication with Customers

Keeping in touch with your customer base is vital at this point. Using all your social media outlets to keep your customers informed of what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Whether it is that you are closing or offering takeaway and or deliveries tell them, engagement will help get the word out to a wider audience with changes you are making or challenges you are having, along with regular updates to let them know about progress, people are responding to this and seem very willing to support their local small businesses during this unpredictable time. Keeping your customers informed and engaged will mean a higher chance of their support and business when you reopen. You may find this guide to using digital channels to communicate with customers useful:
Along with this 5 point plan:

4. Online Sales

Some cafes are lucky enough to have had retail space and potentially the ability to trade online. This is another area to look at to potentially keeping things ticking over in the absence of your day time café trade. You may want to look at what it is you are offering and amend to the current demand. Lots of your customers will want to support local businesses in any way they can, so if you are supplying some of what they need in a friendly, less crowded, local environment there is a high chance they will spend their money with you before the big supermarkets. This Online Tutorial on switching your business to trade online might help:

5. Employees

We all know that our staff are the back bone of any business. They want you to succeed in order for them to have a job to return to, so often when asked can have amazing ideas for takeaway menu options/deliveries, so ask and listen as they know your customers well. You also need to keep them informed on what you can offer them, sadly some may have to be let go and others may be furloughed. Please check the different options the Governments are offering re grants, loans and the 80% wage contribution schemes. Communication with staff via regular updates will be greatly appreciated as it is uncertain and unsettling times from them also.

Here is a guide to coping with stress and anxiety during this time:

It is important to remember you are doing your best, be kind to yourself, these are unchartered waters for everyone so it is ok to just figure it out as you go along.

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