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Under Phase 2 of Governor Brad Little’s four-phase “Idaho Rebounds” reopening plan, restaurants in Idaho will be able to re-open their dining rooms beginning Saturday, May 16th. Unfortunately, given that the United States still lacks sufficient testing or a vaccine for COVID-19 and the virus continues to pose significant threats to the population, businesses will still need to follow certain protocols in order to ensure the health and safety of customers and staff. 

Because such protocols can vary between local, state, and federal levels , there’s still a lot of confusion about exactly what businesses need to do in order to comply. And because recent shutdowns and changing consumer habits have dealt a huge financial blow to many small businesses, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether these businesses will be able to recover in time to avoid going under. 

On Thursday, May 14th, Gravity CEO Dan Price joined Boise City Councilmember Patrick Bageant, Boise Metro Chamber VP of Government Affairs Mat Erpelding, and Bardenay Restaurants and Distilleries Founder Kevin Settles to discuss the plan to reopen, share trends and strategies they’re seeing, and offer clarity and guidance around safety protocols. Since information is always changing, we encourage any business owner to visit coronavirus.idaho.gov or rebound.idaho.gov for the latest updates. In the meantime, you can view the full panel discussion below or read on for some key highlights.

Safety Guidelines

According to councilmember Bageant, Boise will follow Idaho state guidelines for reopening unless there’s a reason not to. For example, if Boise begins to experience an increase in confirmed virus cases while the rest of the state sees a decrease, the city may decide to tighten restrictions or slow down reopenings in order to prevent further spread. For more information, visit the Boise Metro Chamber’s COVID-19 resources page.

  • Maintain social distancing. If you’re going to reopen your dining room, guidelines encourage you to operate at no more than 50% capacity while also ensuring six feet of separation between patrons. Depending on the size of your dining room, maintaining proper social distancing may require you to operate at less than half capacity. For example, Settles said his restaurants would be able to accommodate no more than 33% of their usual clientele. 
  • Use PPE properly. While the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is not required by law, it is highly recommended. Before reopening, train all employees in the proper use of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, and ensure you have plenty of these things available. Employees should change their gloves and wash hands frequently and avoid touching their masks, even with a gloved hand. If you need help acquiring PPE, you can request assistance from the state by visiting supplies.idaho.gov
  • Take advantage of training. The National Restaurant Association is currently offering its general food safety trainings for free (through May 31st). If you’ve had to start offering different services like takeout or delivery and/or are training new employees on these services, now is a good time to use these resources. 
  • Monitor employee health. Check with employees before each shift to see if they’re exhibiting symptoms. Check and record their temperature, either manually or using an app. If they’re running a fever or exhibiting any other symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste and smell, send them home immediately. If you don’t have a paid-time-off policy in place, develop one now–even if it’s just for employees who exhibit symptoms or test positive for the virus. 
  • Require reservations. In order to better control the flow of people in and out of the restaurant, consider requiring all patrons to make reservations in advance. This will also help you ensure proper staffing and inventory levels since it can be difficult to know exactly busy the restaurant will be during this transition phase. Settles, for example, says he never took reservations at his restaurant previously, but in preparation for reopening, they’ve started. 
  • Sanitize properly. Although some guidelines recommend using only disposable dishes and flatware, Settles says standard dishwashing protocols should be enough to kill the virus on reusable surfaces. In order to reduce the chance of transmission, however, he recommends switching to either a reusable menu or one you can sanitize between uses. In addition, be extra vigilant about wiping down tables and chairs and consider single-use condiments.

Business Practices and Financial Resources

In addition to safety, restaurant owners need to consider what changes they need to make in order to keep their business afloat until things return to normal. For instance, many restaurants have begun relying on takeout and delivery while their dining rooms are closed or switched up their offerings in order to cater to the changing needs of their communities. If you haven’t already, there are several things you can do to adapt that will not only help your restaurant thrive now but also well into the future.

  • Consider different payment options. The less physical contact you have with customers, the better. In the past, this has been tricky when it comes to payment, but thanks to new technology, there are several options available so you can run a transaction without ever exchanging cash or a card. Consider mobile payments, text-to-pay, or touchless payments like a tap-to-pay or QR-code-based card reader. Not only do these reduce the chance of viral transmission, but they also provide additional convenience for your customers. 
  • Forego third-party delivery apps. Apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats have done extremely well in the wake of COVID-19. But while they provide a convenient way to get delivery, they charge extremely high commissions that can destroy a restaurant’s profits. Part of the problem with this is lack of education and their ubiquity; Customers think they’re supporting small businesses by ordering delivery, but they don’t realize that it’s better to order directly from the business. Instead of relying on these third-party apps, set up a low-cost online-ordering system like the one offered by Gravity, which is free, no-commission, and can be set up within 24-48 hours. Share the service on your website and social media so customers know they can order their favorite dish directly from you.
  • Explore financing options. Many small businesses have applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for restaurants to meet the requirements for loan forgiveness since the vast majority of the money must be spent on payroll within just eight weeks of the loan being disbursed. If a restaurant isn’t operating at full capacity, they may not be able to spend enough of the loan on payroll, which means they’d need to pay the balance back within two years. If you don’t want to take this risk, consider an alternative financing option, like a cash grant from the Idaho Rebounds program. 

Bottom line: while there is still a lot of uncertainty and it will likely be a long time before businesses are operating normally, there are a lot of resources you should take advantage of to ensure you’re in the best position to reopen. Price also urges all owners to advocate for small businesses in their communities, as this crisis has exposed the deep inequality of resources and power between independent businesses and large corporations in our society. Gravity Payments has always existed to stand with small businesses, and we need them now more than ever in order to maintain the health and vibrancy of our communities. For more information on how Gravity can help your business visit our website or call 866-701-4700 to schedule a call with one of our Boise-area merchant specialists. 

by Brooke Carey, Lead Storyteller

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