Well, July 4 – Independence Day and a major national holiday in the US – also promises to be one of the most momentous occasions of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic so far for the UK.
Outlets from pubs and restaurants to cinemas and hairdressers are being allowed to open for the first time in almost four months, as the Government seeks to balance safeguarding the future of our economy and individual livelihoods, with vigilance over what is potentially the biggest public health emergency of our lifetimes.
We’re not out of the woods yet – even as the Prime Minister urged people to act responsibly over Saturday’s re-opening, the city of Leicester was having a local lockdown re-imposed due to a surge of fresh COVID cases there. Its schools and businesses are not allowed to re-open yet and residents are being urged not to travel.
So, how do business owners themselves – not to mention their employees and customers – actually feel about this situation? How should they interpret and act on the advice and guidance coming from government? Feedback we’re receiving from our customers and other contacts suggests that the answer is, at best, mixed. They’ve had an open door placed in front of them, but choosing to go through it is fraught with challenges and a huge weight of responsibility, as they balance the obvious commercials with keeping everyone involved safe.
This also begs fundamental questions, for some, about whether it actually seems worth it. For example, owners of a restaurant with capacity for 50 covers that can only operate a third of those safely, allowing for social distancing, will have to calculate whether they can still make enough margin from the whole exercise to keep the lights on long term. For many, their greater impetus here and now is to continue with the emergency sales measures many introduced to survive through lockdown, of take-out orders – certainly until measures permit their restaurant to operate with a greater, more viable number of sit-down diners.
And many are asking, if and when they do start offering this again, will the customers actually come?
A view, from experience
I was moved to write this blog to try to address some of those questions and fears, with a little insight and – dare I say it – common sense advice from my years of experience. In my opinion, it’s all doable if, fundamentally, businesses take responsibility for their own decision-making and do what’s right for them. Myself and my family have lived and breathed good hygiene for more than three decades and, for us, the current situation is nothing new. It has always been vitally important, and commercially sensible, to follow safe and responsible practices that keep employees and customers healthy and productivity high even against more usual illnesses like the seasonal flu or norovirus. Okay, the stakes are certainly higher thanks to the coronavirus, which at its worst can put lives at risk, but the principles are the same: work out and implement your hygiene plan; educate your workforce; ensure you have the right chemicals and equipment and constantly re-affirm the importance of everyone playing their part, on a daily basis, in making it happen. In this video on our homepage, I describe my simple five-point plan to ensuring your organisation or business is COVID-secure. And in this other recent blog, we outline the steps you need to take in more detail. We also have a free download to help you identify the specific actions for your business to help you get to grips with this particular coronavirus problem. And here, we look specifically at what HORECA sector bosses need to do.
However, if there is one single piece of salient advice I can give to you, it’s ‘do what’s right for you and your business’.
We’ve fielded a fair number of calls recently, from people asking questions like ‘is it safe to move from two metres to one-plus when it comes to social distancing?’ and, more broadly ‘the Government has said I can open from Saturday but I’m concerned, I don’t feel ready’.
The answer to all such questions is, in business as in life, follow your heart. Given our experience, at Elliott’s we firmly believe that it is wise to maximise the amount of distance between your people and your customers as far as is practicable. If you can manage two metres, stick to two metres. However, if the only way you can operate profitably is to reduce that to one metre-plus, we can help you put additional safeguards in place that will give you and those you are responsible for the added protection and confidence they need. And actually, though you might not think you have room to apply the two-metre rule, with a little careful planning it might be possible, something we also offer hints and tips about in our blog.
Trust your own instincts
Nor do you have to treat 4 July as your ‘D-day’ for opening. If you’re not ready and two more weeks would make all the difference, set your own date and work to that – many of our customers are taking this ‘more planning, less rush’ approach.
As to whether your customers will come, in my opinion that all comes down to confidence and that, too, stems from you making the decisions that are right for your business, and not being swayed off course by others’ expectations or what is happening ‘out there’. Keep communicating with your customers, tell them what you’re doing to prepare for reopening and why you’re making the decisions you are, be strong and clear in what you say to them and this, in its own right, will give them faith that you know what you’re doing and are working in their best interests, and, when you’re ready, they will come.
The same goes for your employees. Treat them well and safeguard their needs in a time of crisis like the current one and you’ll have their unflinching loyalty forever, and no doubt they’ll be prepared to go the extra mile for you and your customers when you do all return to work.
And let’s not forget that this isn’t all doom and gloom. We’ve witnessed some amazing examples, over recent weeks, of organisations getting closer to their customers through outstanding communications and pivoting their businesses to adapt to the new normal – for example, restaurants adding or extending an existing takeaway function. We firmly believe that the best businesses out there will emerge stronger from this situation than they were when they went in, with fresh relationships and additional, profitable arms to what they do.
I hope the above thoughts have given you some useful pointers and, above all, reassurance. As always, I and the rest of the Elliott’s team are here to help you in any way you need us to, even if that’s just a little no-obligation advice to ensure you’re on the right track. You can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephoning 01482 327580.