COVID-19 Restaurant Survival Guide

Mar 31, 2020 10:00:00 AM / by Jacey Lamb


This guide outlines everything you need to know about disaster relief funds, preventative measures, and ways to keep the orders coming through delivery services, take out options, and other creative deals. Keep reading to learn how your restaurant CAN and WILL get through COVID-19 successfully.

covid-19 restaurant sales survival guide

Disaster relief resources:

Here’s a list of disaster relief help for restaurants, employers, and employees. 

There’s all sorts of different funds to help those in need during this time. 

Take a look at each one, pass the information along if you know someone who could benefit, and apply for anything that could help you or your restaurant!

  • Another round, another rally fund: $500 relief grants for hospitality workers who lost their jobs or had their hours slashed because of COVID-19. 

  • USBG Emergency Fund: Bartender emergency assistance program available to all bartenders and their spouse and/or children. 

  • RWCF Crisis Relief Fund: A crisis relief fund to direct money to organizations leading on-the-ground efforts in the restaurant community, to provide zero-interest loans to businesses to maintain payroll during closure or re-open once this crisis has passed, and to establish a relief fund for individual workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of COVID-19.

  • CARES Act: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The plan provides $349 billion in cash flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations during this emergency. 

  • OFW Emergency Fund: Providing cash assistance to restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and other tipped workers and service workers who are seeing their income decline during this disaster, or aren’t able to work because of quarantine/health concerns. 

  • CORE Gives: Grants support to children to food and beverage service employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • Rent Assistance: Provides a directory of rental assistance agencies and organizations that can help you pay rent. 

  • U.S. Small Business Administration: Offering low interest loans up to $2 million through the Small Business Administration for states impacted by COVID-19.

  • Facebook: Offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries. 

  • ROC United: Provides resources and financial assistance to restaurant workers impacted by COVID-19. 

  • Spill the Dish: A database of financial aid options for restaurant owners and workers. Users can search by state and job position to find resources from government agencies or nonprofits. 

  • James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund: Is gathering donations from everyday diners as well as corporate donors to distribute micro-grants to independent businesses.

Checkout this website for more disaster relief funds. It's updated every business day and includes all sorts of fund available to several different countries!

Preventative measures to implement:

There’s always been cleaning and sanitation protocols you have to follow, but now’s the time to go above and beyond. If you want to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep your restaurant running, follow the guidelines below. 

  • Accept all sick requests without a doctor’s note required
    • If an employee says they’re feeling sick, let them stay home. It doesn’t matter if it’s a common cold or potentially COVID-19 - they need to stay clear. 

  • Put up posters about proper hygiene
    • Such as washing hands, avoiding touching eyes, mouth, face, and properly sanitizing

  • Keep employees 6’ away from each other if possible

  • Enforce short quarantine periods for any staff returning from travel 
    • Symptoms should be monitored for 14 days after returning home

  • Send announcements to your team about any updates on the local situation or new protocols in the workplace

  • Maintain restaurant cleanliness and hygiene
    • Put sanitizing dispensers in prominent areas around the restaurant
    • Ensure that face masks and/or tissues are available at all times
    • Supply your staff with gloves while working

  • Create a proactive cleaning/sanitation schedule for the kitchen areas for employees to follow throughout the day

  • If any employee exhibits symptoms of being sick, send them home (fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties)

  • If any employees simply feel uncomfortable working right now, respect their concern and let them stay home

Cleaning protocols

  • Enforce strict cleaning protocols to follow each day
    • Properly sanitize all surfaces and tables several times a day
    • Clean the floors several times a day 
    • Staff should have a regular hand washing schedule throughout each shift
    • Staff should wear gloves while handling any food 

  • Consider having yourself and staff take additional courses on safe food handling through ServSafe 

Review more online resources provided by state and local health departments

Reduce costs as much as possible 

Many landlords have stepped up and have already forgiven April rent payments for their restaurant tenants. Remember that your landlord doesn’t want an empty space to lease - so ask if there’s anything they can do to help you stay in business. 

Another way to reduce cost is to reduce your inventory. It’s time to be smart about forecasting and only buy what you’ll use. You don’t need to stock up the kitchen for a full dining room anymore. Are there any menu items you can temporarily eliminate? Focus on your highest performing meals and best meals for takeout. Simply get what you need for delivery and take out orders. 

Start or revamp your delivery and takeout services:

It’s time to refocus your restaurant to provide exceptional delivery and takeout options. Delivery and takeout are the only ways you can retain sales during this time. 

If you don’t already offer these services, here are some steps to get setup and get more orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

        1. Get takeout supplies 

Get everything necessary to get food from your restaurant’s kitchen to your customers' tables. If you don’t have the items needed, Sysco is a great place to order from and is very experienced serving restaurants with all sorts of supplies. 

What should be on your list:

    • Food containers
    • Dressing and sauce containers
    • Takeout bags
    • Wrapped plastic utensils
    • Condiment packets

  • 2. Adapt your menu
    • Focus on making foods that are most likely to entice your biggest group of customers to make orders
    • Best selling menu items should be front and center, with an emphasis on comfort food
    • Consider offering family platters or combo orders
    • Create fun kid-friendly options

    3. Alter your staff and scheduling 

While your back of house staff may not need to change too much, your front of house staff will be taking a hit. 

Make sure to alter your scheduling, adapt, and try to keep your employees working. 

    • See if front of house staff would be willing to:
      • Make deliveries
      • Facilitate orders from third party delivery services
      • Work as a dishwasher
      • Take phone orders
      • Monitory online orders 
      • Counter work and giving guests their takeout orders
    • Ensure your back of house staff is prepared for online and take out orders and consider cutting back on dishwashers since you won’t be seating any guests for the time being  

    4. Choose your delivery platform 

There’s two options you can choose from - either third party services or in house delivery.

Here are some third party delivery options:

Third party delivery services are a great option, but could still be a bit costly given the current circumstances. Restaurants would still owe a percentage based fee to these platforms for connecting them to the customer. 

That’s why in house delivery may be a better option for you. 

You could do this by employing willing waiters and waitresses as delivery drivers, walkers, or bikers. 

You can charge a delivery fee on each order to go to the restaurant, plus deliverers can benefit directly from tips. 

Make sure your insurance covers delivery drivers, and have employees notify their insurance of the situation as well. Many insurance companies are being very lenient and helping restaurants stay active however they can.

Direct delivery can be implemented almost immediately, and you can keep current employees involved before paying third party deliverers. 

It’s a win for your restaurant, your customers, and your employees until you can open your doors to the public again! 

        5. Set up curbside pickup for takeout orders

To help address health concerns and avoid contact with customers, offer curbside pickup and give customers the option to pay online or over the phone. Setup a designated drive up spot for customers to easily pick up their food without ever leaving their car. 

        6. Optimize your kitchen and order process

If you’re new to third party online ordering and delivering, you probably won’t have an integration setup to send orders directly to your POS. If this is the case, it’s totally doable to send them to the kitchen manually! 

Encourage employees to enter orders only when the driver is within cooking distance. So if it takes 10 minutes to cook what is ordered, make sure the kitchen starts making it when the driver is 12 minutes away. That way you can ensure all food leaves the restaurant fresh so your customers get as close to a dine in experience as possible. 

        7. Spread the word 

The most important thing is for your customers to know about these services you’re offering! 

Spread the word on as many platforms as possible so everyone knows you’re open for business and ready to make amazing meals. 

Update your website, notify your email list, try online ads, and social media to communicate with your customers. Always link them to the best place to make orders, whether that be online, over the phone, or through a third party service. 

Since people are understandably concerned about sanitation right now, make sure to include in your ads and posts all the ways you’re keeping your kitchen properly clean beyond the normal standards.


covid-19 restaurant sales survival guide

Other great ways to retain sales: 

  • Dining bonds

It’s no secret that restaurant sales are taking a MAJOR hit, even with functioning delivery and takeout services. It’s time to get creative to keep sales moving. 

A Dining Bond is like a savings bond, where you can purchase a “bond” at a value rate to be redeemed for face value at a future date. 

These bonds can bring in some much needed revenue for restaurants. 

Basically dining bonds are like gift certificates that are sold at a lower price but are redeemable at normal prices once restaurants open again. 

If you’re not currently getting in on the dining bond trend, it’s time! 

  • Discounted menu items

While people are having to stay home, they still need to eat - remember that. Some people don’t want to cook for themselves every single meal every single day, and maybe they’re missing their favorite restaurant. 

Offer discounted menu items of popular dishes! Have a new dish discounted every day to boost take out and delivery sales. 

If you have an email list, now is the time to USE IT. 

Update your customers on current offers and keep things interesting by changing them every day if you can. 

  • Offer a free appetizer or extra sides entrees

Another popular way to increase sales is to offer a free appetizer or extra sides with the purchase of entrees. You can make it a minimum of two entrees and create a package deal out of it. This is a great deal for customers, because who wants to say no to free food?! 

  • Kids eat free

Don’t neglect the families out there that are stuck at home finding ways to entertain themselves. Offering FREE kids meals with any adult entree purchases is a great way to increase sales and provide value to your family customers. 

  • Meal kits 

Put together meal kits for customers to pick up (curbside, of course) and cook themselves! Advertise these as a fun activity to do as a family. People can cook their favorite restaurant quality meals, all from the comfort of their own home! 

  • Grocery items

Some restaurants are offering common grocery items for delivery or pick up with meals. Think bread, gallons of milk, coffee, etc. Test this out before creating too high of an inventory though. 

  • Sell merchandise 

Do you sell tee shirts, bottled dressing, beer glasses, sauces? Make sure you focus on advertising and posting on social media if you do! It’s a great time to promote revenue options other than your great food. 

Communication is vital

This is definitely a hard time for restaurants, and sales will be low. Just remember, you DO have loyal customers that want to support you. 

Make sure you communicate all offers and services, as well as the precautionary measures you’re taking to keep your restaurant extra sanitary and safe. 

The restaurant industry will survive this by adapting and getting creative with sales strategies.The best way to overcome these next few weeks (or months) is to come together. 

Team communication has never been so vital within your business. 

Do everything you can to help support your team and your community, and your loyal customers will stick by your side!


Jacey Lamb

Written by Jacey Lamb

Jacey is the Inbound Marketing Specialist for ShiftNote and is passionate about helping businesses grow. She loves all things digital marketing - especially social media. She makes sure to continue learning every day to build on her knowledge. Outside of her career, she enjoys going to the gym, eating delicious food, and spending time with friends and family (and pets, of course).

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