The novel Corona Virus (COVID 19) is still a challenge to the whole world; even countries with the best health systems are struggling to contain the disease. Lockdowns are still being imposed across many countries of the world; with activity only allowed for essential services. In Zimbabwe, the tourism industry is one such industry which was classified under non-essential services and was closed and ceased in March 2020. Borders were closed, airlines were grounded and travel was severely restricted. Restaurants closed as well due to lockdowns. This was done to contain the spread of the disease as well as giving an opportunity for the nation to capacitate its health systems and response strategies to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic. The Government of Zimbabwe has made a pronouncement to the effect that restaurants can reopen for business and operate within the prescribed times as per their respective licenses and operating times. And the pronouncements further ordered restaurants not to allow their clients to sit in the restaurants. With social distancing remaining one of the non-pharmaceutical interventions to manage the spread of the Corona Virus, restaurants will certainly face problems recovering given that inherently they operate under conditions of constrained liquidity and small profit margins.
This instalment presents proposed recovery strategies for restaurants during and after the COVID 19 pandemic. The proposed recovery strategies for restaurants include;
· Restaurants should set systems and structures to switch to take away or home deliveries or company deliveries of food.
· Restaurants should shift from buffet service to plated service exercising and practicing social distancing when serving clients.
· Restaurants should be innovative by providing meals to company employees of those organisations that are operating; the food can be delivered to the companies or the company can make arrangements to collect the food from the restaurant.
· Restaurants can make use of mobile food vans that can move around selling food to customers, individual and corporates, at their premises conveniently, whilst practicing all the necessary preventive measures against COVID 19 pandemic.
· Restaurants must make the safety of staff and clients the number one priority through the provision of sanitary facilities such as hand washing facilities, temperature testing before entry into the restaurant and provision of face masks to staff as well as sanitisers.
· Restaurants should create new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their operations that take into consideration the new operating realities brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic.
· Restaurants should design and put in place proactive action plans and procedures for dealing and handling guests and staff when they feel sick.
· Restaurants should work cooperatively and collaboratively with local council and Ministry of Health authorities in promoting and ensuring a COVID 19 free environment for serving food.
· Restaurants should upgrade and enhance cleanliness level and sanitation measures for the health and safety of clients and staff. Thus, restaurants must carry out sanitization of their premises twice or thrice a day to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus.
· Restaurants, in some cases, should actually remove tables and chairs to remove every slightest temptation of serving sitting clients; alternatively when serving sitting clients remains the only viable option, tables should be arranged at least one and half metres apart and only one client must sit on each table as a preventive measure against Corona Virus.
· Restaurants should move away from shared food service to individual food service whilst enforcing social distancing and wearing of face masks at all times.
· Restaurants should do everything possible to inspire consumer confidence in their operations through transparent, truthful and factual dissemination of information as well as adhering to high standards of cleanliness at premises all the time.
· Restaurants should work collaboratively and cooperatively with local COVID 19 taskforce team and other health authorities to minimize the spread of disease.
· Restaurants should train their staff to serve clients in line with COVID 19 prevention guidelines and equip them with knowledge and skills that help the staff not to contract or spread the disease.
· Restaurants should promote effective communication with all relevant stakeholders regarding operations in the wake of COVID 19 pandemic. Communication remains key to recovery from the unprecented impacts of COVID 19 pandemic through spreading COVID 19 prevention information at their premises in both print and audio format as this gives assurance and reassurance to customers about their safety when eating out at the restaurant.
· There is also the need for both central and local government to consider tax holidays for a period ranging from six months to twelve months to give restaurants enough grace period to breathe and recover from the destructive effects of the Corona Virus.
· Restaurants should also make efforts to utilize and benefit from the $ZW 500 million tourism fund availed by government to help finance tourism recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic.
· Restaurants can also use this reopening period to launch and introduce new meal recipes and dishes for the market in line with health eating trends.
· Restaurants should consider reducing the prices of their dishes to stimulate increased demand from the market.
· In relation to the point above, restaurants should consider charging very affordable meal prices in foreign currency such as the United States Dollar and the South African Rand to generate as much foreign currency as possible which they can use to finance operations considering the hyperinflation in the country at the same time COVID 19 pandemic is threatening to destroy the industry
· Restaurants should buy their raw materials and inputs from local farmers and local producers to stimulate the local economy as well as prevent the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic as this restrict distant travel in search of inputs.
· Restaurants should be prudential and very frugal in terms of managing the available cash resources by implementing effective cost cutting measures by all possible means necessary. Presently the focus should be on survival; so all non-essential expenditure must be suspended forthwith.
· Failing to plan is planning to fail. The restaurants sector sector needs to plan. Thus recovery is a function of good effective planning, implementation and control. This calls for regular frequent business planning that involves management and staff and in some cases must involve clients for the benefit of the business.
· Restaurants should strive to offer excellence in their service to build a good name and brand image that is based on the foundation of excellent customised service experience.
· In order to remain competitive without losing key staff, restaurants can introduce flexible working patterns, send staff on leave instead of terminating their contracts, introduce two weeks in two weeks out work program to reduce work hours and multiskilling their staff to handle different work tasks.
In conclusion, restaurants with dedication, commitment and right attitude, can make a strong and sustained comeback as they reopen for business during this COVID 19 pandemic by implementing some of these proposed recovery strategies. The restaurant sector needs to think outside the box to ensure survival and recovery from the unprecented impact of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Phanos Matura is a Tourism Lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture in Masvingo. He is the Chairman of Masvingo Great Zimbabwe Publicity Association. He is a Tourism Consultant based in Masvingo City. He can be contacted on 0716350675 or [email protected].