Jared Chapman speaks about the importance of clear communication and how to implement correct safety precautions to give customers full confidence as cafés reopen.
With the rollercoaster ride that 2020 has been (and continues to be), many café owners are turning their attention to how to navigate reopening or refocusing.
While many people have been quick to adopt a relative sense of normality, it is no surprise that many others are still quite nervous about venturing out to their local restaurant or café. It is likely that some of your staff may be feeling the same way, even if they haven’t mentioned it to you. As a business owner, the most important thing you can do is have a strong and clear plan for how you are going to operate in this new reality.
A good place to start is checking out health.gov.au as well as your state government website. Not only do they have some great resources such as posters to print on social distancing protocols and how to use hand sanitiser correctly, but checking in regularly with these websites will ensure you are always aware of the latest legislation so you can avoid the hefty fines that come with breaking the rules. Given how often the rules are changing, I recommend having a quick look each day for updates.
Once you’ve checked out the latest regulations, the focus of your plan should be to keep your staff and customers safe, and give them confidence in their safety. When building up your plan, consider how you will comply with social distancing, keep a record of customers, implement hygiene practices, clean daily, and maintain the health of your staff. These considerations are also spelt out in detail on the government websites. Some things you should think about include:
- Mapping out the area of your café and ensuring you’re complying to the latest regulations on number of people within your space.
- Making hand sanitiser available at the entrance for your customers.
- Marking out 1.5-metres spacing in the areas where your customers line up and wait for their takeaway orders.
- Having customers wait at the front of the café to be seated.
- Ensuring staff who are unwell know they need to stay home. You may need to speak to your staff about being a little more flexible to cover shifts last minute. A small sniffle that wouldn’t normally make someone stay home will at the moment.
- Separating staff breaks as well as start times.
- Having an easy-to-follow process for tracking customers who come into your café – creating a Survey Monkey with a QR code is an easy way to do this.
- Increased cleaning of surfaces using disinfectant and putting in place measures to avoid customers and staff having to touch surfaces where possible – for example, by propping a door open.
- Removing shared table items such as sugar jars and encourage staff to ask when taking orders.
- Insisting on cashless payment transactions.
- Providing gloves and face masks for all staff to wear should they feel more comfortable to do so.
- Installing glass protective shields at the order counter to prevent direct transmission of germs.
As you create your plan, it is important to ensure you consult your staff so that you are able to address any of their concerns as part of the plan. By doing this, the team will be more likely to take it seriously and follow the guidelines. At a time like this, your staff will look to you for leadership and guidance, and it’s important you take their trust seriously and do you best to accommodate their safety, and that of your customers’, which is of upmost importance. Once you’ve put the plan in place, check in regularly with the team on what is and isn’t working, and make adjustments where needed.
When it comes to your customers, clarity and consistency are key. Having plenty of posters that clearly display the restrictions in your café will help educate your customers. Make sure your staff know that there are no exceptions to the rules. You should also be sure to let your customers know the measures you have in place around cleanliness and sanitation to help build their confidence. It’s a good idea to also post this on your social media page or website if you have one.
If you’ve made changes to the way you operate, let your customers know about it. If you’ve changed opening hours, make sure you have a sign displaying the new opening hours and update it online/social media. It’s frustrating for a customer when they check your Facebook page and see you’re open until 3pm only to turn up at 2pm and find you’ve packed up.
If you are implementing a time limit on seating, make sure you let people know while they are waiting for a table. Once again, it’s a good idea to update your online presence to reflect this information and promote booking ahead, if possible. If you’ve got a long wait because of limited seating, let people know when they arrive. Maybe suggest a nice park nearby that they can grab something from your takeaway-friendly menu, and go and sit in the sun.
Last but not least, now is the time to deliver amazing customer service, every time. People will remember the way you made them feel at a time they may not be feeling their best. Some of the restrictions you put in place will inevitably impact the customer experience, but if you’re friendly and upfront about them, people will understand.
I recently had a poor experience when eating at a restaurant with my wife and a friend. We arrived, were seated, and told that the waiter would return with some water. Five minutes later, the waiter returned with water and asked if we were ready to order. When we let him know we didn’t yet have menus, he told us they weren’t providing them, and we could find the menu online. Ok, no problem. He left us again and we chose some tasty sounding margaritas, and a few dishes to share. When the waiter came back again to take our order, it turned out we were looking at the wrong menu on their website, not the ‘restricted COVID-19 menu’ they had up on Facebook. What could have been a simple and enjoyable experience with some clear communication ended up leaving us frustrated.
A smile and a look of sympathy of understanding goes a long way. We don’t have a crystal book to predict the future. We don’t know what’s next, but we do know what we can control. As a business owner, it’s important you do your part to ensure your staff feel comfortable in coming to work, and your customers are confident in your cleaning precautions. In fact, if I saw a waitress wipe down a table with Glen 20 disinfectant or wait an extra 30 seconds for my takeaway coffee after watching a barista apply hand sanitiser after each cup they handed to the customer, then I’d be happy to wait.
Normally, as baristas and café owners, we should be more worried about the cleanliness of our coffee machine and making a regular preventative maintenance plan, but now the health of our coffee shops are just as important.
Take it one day at a time. Cafés around the country are at different stages. Some in regional and suburban areas have flourished and tripled their sales. Others in CBD locations or in some towns, are struggling with lockdown 2.0 and takeaway service only. Whatever stage you’re at, know that this is unique journey you share with the coffee community.
You may be sick of hearing it, but we are one big coffee community, and we really are all in this together.
This article appears in the August 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.