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How Franchises Can Focus on Communication Amid a Pandemic


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Craig Heide is chief people and culture officer at Border Foods, a large Taco Bell franchisee that operates more than 200 Taco Bell restaurants in seven states.

While scientists scramble to find a treatment for COVID-19, unprecedented quarantines and social distancing measures urged by the CDC have prompted closures of restaurants, bars, fitness clubs and other franchising sectors. This means a lot of business activity is grinding to a halt—except for drive-thru and delivery services.

Craig Heide is chief people and culture officer at Border Foods, a large Taco Bell franchisee that operates more than 200 Taco Bell restaurants in seven states. The company sends out information to managers and employees every day through emails and its app to keep staff well-informed of any news affecting the business.

“We certainly focus on people first. There’s uncertainty, fear and stress with all employees and all restaurants,” Heide said. “We think it’s important to make sure employees know what is going on at all times.”

Will Eadie, global vice president of alliances at WorkJam, a digital workplace platform, agreed that communication should be a huge priority for businesses now, and the businesses that had a plan for communication in place already are a lot better off than those just figuring it out now.

“Obviously, anyone in the foodservice side of franchising is scrambling to figure out what is going to happen next,” said Eadie. “The most successful franchisees we’ve seen are figuring out how to communicate with their employees who are at home…their employees are their first focus because they’ve been their lifeblood.”

Research from WorkJam found that for hourly workers, missing even a single shift could throw their lives into financial instability. Forty-nine percent of hourly workers would be unable to pay utilities on time, and 25 percent of hourly workers would need to forego groceries for a week.

Border Foods recently implemented a new sick leave policy to make sure employees who feel sick, are diagnosed with COVID-19 and anyone exposed who needs to be quarantined will have two weeks of paid leave based on their regular scheduled shift hours. However, they’re encouraging employees to stay connected with the restaurant and try to avoid taking vacation time if not needed for health reasons.

“There’s power in that community at each restaurant, so we’re encouraging people to come to work and be with coworkers and friends,” Heide said, as long as they’re feeling healthy. “We’re all in this together.”

Even though in many states all dining rooms are closed in restaurants, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants are still seeing drive-thru traffic. At this point, it looks like drive-thru and delivery services will continue at Border Foods’ restaurants as long as there aren’t any COVID-19 cases. 

“As social distancing is becoming more prevalent, drive-thru is one avenue people have to actually leave their homes and get some food to take back,” Heide said. “We’re trying to make it business as usual. People are still applying, we’re still doing interviews via Skype, we’re still training and still promoting people.”

Eadie is seeing a lot of franchisees get creative to keep their businesses open. One group moved labor from a business that had slowed, hotels, to a business that had increased, grocery stores. A pizza franchisee decided to advertise a pre-packaged deal for parents to take pizzas home, then make and bake them with their kids.

“They’re enabling customers who are stuck at home to have activities to do while still protecting their revenue,” Eadie said. “A lot of them are pivoting in a fast way, and it’s keeping them open.”

His advice for businesses that were forced to close? “The most important thing you can do now is be ready for when the customer comes back…you need to be ready for when things return to normal, because you don't get a second chance to impress the customers.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration is working with state governors in an economic injury disaster loan program to provide targeted, low-interest loans of up to $2 million to small businesses and nonprofits severely impacted by COVID-19. The Federal Reserve also announced it would buy up significant amounts of short-term loans that businesses rely on to pay their expenses in an effort to keep credit flowing.

In a briefing on Tuesday, White House Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration is talking to Congress about sending cash payments to Americans over the next two weeks to cushion the economic blow from COVID-19. Rather than a payroll tax cut that would potentially take months to reach people, this form of direct payment would be available to Americans almost immediately, an idea that originated in Congress as part of an $850 billion economic stimulus package.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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