How to Reopen Is Top Topic on Today's How-to Webinar
Talk turned to reopening plans in today's Restaurant Recovery Week webinar, with Georgia set to lift lockdowns on Monday.
With restaurants cleared to reopen Monday in Georgia, the first state to loosen the lockdown, talk turned to that more hopeful yet still daunting challenge amid COVID-19, as panelists on today's Restaurant Recovery Week webinar discussed.
"The most important thing is to be flexible during the reopening process," said Kay Ainsley, with Atlanta-based MSA Worldwide, located in the midst of the first experiment.
"There is no doubt now that it is not going to be turn everything on at one time," she said. "There's been some discussion among restaurateurs and fitness businesses as to whether or not it's too early to open, but starting Monday, restaurants can reopen if they choose to" in that state.
"Franchisor Solutions for Franchisees Now" was the topic of the webinar, the fourth in a five-part series, moderated by Franchise Times Editor Laura Michaels and presented by Food On Demand, Franchise Times, Foodservice News and the Restaurant Finance Monitor. Tomorrow's topic is "Immediate Cash Flow and Refund Opportunities from the Government Stimulus Programs and Tax Changes."
MSA Worldwide is helping franchisor clients write reopening plans, but just as quickly they're ripping them up as things change, Ainsley said. The Centers for Disease Control, for example, is set to issue new guidelines on food safety and payment methods.
Ainsley advises franchisors to "expedite the decision-making process, whether we push it down to the field consultant level or the franchisee level. We're not going to have the luxury of time for putting these decisions into practice."
Christine Specht, CEO of Cousins Subs and a panelist, said her brand's initial focus was on concise communication with franchisees, sent twice daily at first and now daily. All emails come from the brand's president, to cut down on confusing clutter.
That's still continuing, but she is also working with her teams to look at the longer term. At first, she thought now was not a good time to hold quarterly goal-setting meetings. But then she decided, "this is a perfect time," and they recently spent about five hours using Microsoft Teams to do so.
"I will tell you, it worked. Not only did it give the leadership a sense of control, their teams were delighted. They thought this was great, because it wasn't just…'we have no idea what is going to happen,'" she said.
"We don't know exactly how it's going to turn out, but we still have things we want to accomplish. We're not going to allow this coronavirus to completely derail this. I think that provided a sense of comfort for our teams and even franchisees. We will continue on," she said.
Panelist Bill Strout of Intrepid Direct Insurance advised operators to consider direct insurers, vs. an agency or broker, for potential savings of up to 20 percent. Business owners should re-do their forecasts for sales and labor, as well, because premiums can be reduced if those numbers will be down.
"Expect an adjustment. Ask for payment help. Most insurance companies want to help you," he said.
Michael Smoot of Moss Adams advised operators to conduct robust cash flow projections, for three months, six months, a year and even longer. Don't assume maximum capacity in restaurants, either, as social distancing rules in restaurants and other businesses will continue. Model a "best case and worst case" scenario.
Smoot also addressed a question from a multi-unit operator in the audience about the M&A environment—will private equity firms and others be interested in buying out franchisees who want to sell?
"We do expect that activity to pick up," Smoot said. "What I would say to those operators is to make sure you have all that documentation in order. Make sure you have at least two years of accurate information."
Specht of Cousins Subs had the last word. "I really believe if you want to build sales after we come out of this," restaurant brands should develop a bona fide strategy around social responsibility. "How can you help your community and serve your community? I totally believe that Kay was right, that can often make the difference between a restaurant that survives and those that don't."