The coronavirus crisis: The importance of adapting and reacting

Weathering the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge for businesses of all sizes and the situation is continuing to change by the day. The food, hospitality and leisure sectors have been hit hard by the need to close restaurants and there is widespread concern over how these businesses will manage, particularly the small independent businesses operating on a local level.

During this time, it’s important for businesses to be reactive, adaptive and keep health and safety as a top priority. Businesses must decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not they stay open and they must be considerate of the individual needs of employees and customers. For some businesses, temporary closure will be necessary and unavoidable.

The Elite Fish & Chip Company, an award-winning fish and chip chain which has been in business in Lincolnshire for over 30 years, operates four restaurants and takeaways across the county. The company initially closed all its restaurants as instructed by the government, while its takeaways remained open. 

Safety measures were introduced, including reduced opening hours, a new call and collect service allowing customers to have their orders brought to their car was implemented, and social distancing guidelines were put in place for customers visiting the takeaways. However, ensuring staff adhered to keeping two metres apart from each other became increasingly difficult and as footfall fell, the company decided to temporarily close their takeaways in the best interests of staff safety.

Some businesses will already be prepared to offer a zero-contact delivery service or pick-up; others will have to develop a new strategy to continue operating during this difficult time. Following their recent closure, as per government guidelines, the Elite’s co-director Rachel Tweedale shares her advice on how businesses can navigate the current situation and protect themselves where possible.

How can businesses adapt?

As foot traffic has continued to fall, businesses that have opted to remain open need to investigate alternative ways to serve their customers safely and still provide the same great food and service. Following government guidelines is the most important factor before any service changes are made, closely followed by allowing staff and customers to follow social distancing guidelines.

Making changes to service

Some takeaways that are operating a relatively normal service have introduced the simple but effective method of using tape to mark out the two metres distance that should be kept between customers. Businesses can also get creative with this option and brand the markers used to add a fun visual element to their queuing system.

Offering a call and collect service that can be brought to a customer’s car or a delivery service to the immediate local area is a great way to increase customer retention as it reduces risk and still allows customers to have their usual takeaway in the comfort of their home.

Making use of contactless payment technology is a simple way to avoid infection spreading. From 1st April, the contactless limit for in-store spending will also be increased from £30 to £45 to allow customers more flexibility.

Making cuts where needed

Reducing opening hours will cut costs and accommodate for lower staff levels should members of staff fall sick or need to self-isolate. For those offering delivery, the area the delivery option serves can also be reduced to address these issues.

It’s wise for businesses to consider where they should be cutting back on their menu options based on shortfalls in supply or lack of demand from customers. Many fish and chip shops are likely to see disruption to supply, so minimising waste is important when it’s not clear what volumes might sell.

Keep marketing

The current situation may encourage some businesses to think they should be cutting back on the costs of marketing. However, customers can’t be expected to stick around and come back after radio silence from a company. It’s important to maintain communication with customers through social media as part of customer relationship management. Putting out the right messages to update customers on the business and how it is considering the safety of customers and employees will be welcomed. 

What help is available?

Government assistance is available through loans, grants, business rates holidays and the furlough scheme, and the Chancellor has set out a package to assist businesses through this period of disruption. Businesses should be taking advantage of any help they are entitled to and protect themselves where possible.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows all UK employers to access support that will pay 80% of wages for any employees that have to be laid off because of the crisis. A Valued Added Tax (VAT) holiday has been introduced, meaning the next quarterly VAT payment has been deferred for three months. 

Grant support is now offered for businesses that pay little or no business rates, providing a one-off grant of £10,000 for businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme supports SMEs with a loan, overdraft, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million and for up to six years. The government will also cover the first 12 months of interest payments so smaller businesses will still benefit.

The current situation remains uncertain for businesses and consumers alike as the effects of the virus on the economy are yet to be seen. The tenacity and determination of business owners remains strong and the support of loyal customers is now more important than ever.

Contributed by Rachel Tweedale from the Elite Fish & Chip Company

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