The businesses most affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic are the ones where social contact is hard to avoid and a great deal of these businesses are dominated by franchises. The shelter-in-place orders have turned a steady cash flow into a trickle overnight in the hospitality industries and nothing seems truer as we push through 2020 is that tomorrow is uncertain. However, this seems to me much like the ramp up for Y2K, when all of the tech industries were working on being ready for what “might” happen… and just like in that time, we must do the same and anticipate what best practices that franchising can put in place to lead by example to bring Hospitality into this new normal.
Despite the need for hospitality businesses to reopen as soon as possible, the decision on when is not directly in anyone’s control. Like other businesses, hospitality franchises must follow federal, state and local health and safety guidelines. In addition to these guidelines, most franchisors will develop and impose new brand standards as systems adapt to the COVID new normal.
Franchisors are keenly aware of these challenges, and have the opportunity to provide critical leadership, support, communication and information to help franchisees navigate this changing environment, and in turn, set the stage and standards for the industry.
Communication is going to be key to getting hospitality businesses back up and running. Communications internally between franchisor and franchisees as well as communication with the public.
Hospitality Franchises have a lot of moving parts so the communication frequency will vary widely. Larger franchises will rely on committees to monitor national, state and local mandates and send out communications to franchisees based on anchor stores and locations, where smaller franchisors will have to rely on their team of franchisees and field agents, with constant internal communication to be filled in on what each individual location is going through. As a franchisor, you really cannot have enough communications with your franchisees during this time. “What barriers do you see to reopening your location, once the “shelter-in-place” has been lifted?” “Will you have enough employees to open immediately when the mandate has been lifted or will you need time for a hiring process?” and similar questions must be addressed to each of the franchisees.
It seems right now that the rural areas will start opening slowly and progress to the urban areas. The governors of each state (and in some instances county and local governments) have been charged with developing their own reopening timelines, plans and restrictions. From a timing perspective, franchisors will need to collaborate with franchisee leadership to adapt a national brand’s reopening plan to conform to the reopening timelines determined by each state and local governments.
The International Franchise Association (IFA) announced that it has published the Franchise Reopening Blueprint earlier in May. This Blueprint – which focuses on the automotive, commercial services, education, fitness, hotel, residential services, restaurant, salon, and senior health services sectors – is a recommendation of best practices, such as staggered work schedules, limited occupancy, and disinfecting work areas, as well as other industry specific recommendations. You can download the Blueprint here. Franchisors have the unique position to integrate all the governmental recommendations into a system-wide standard of operating procedures to maintain consistency. This will not only ensure legal compliance and safety, but also give the customers a peace of mind, knowing that they will be safe when they return to the all of the branded establishments.
Communications with the Public:
How these changes are communicated to a fearful public may be as important as the changes themselves. Hospitality businesses need to send the message to their customers that they are taking the situation seriously and implementing appropriate measures to keep them safe. A comprehensive and structured plan for relaunching the enterprise as having the best practices in place will deliver on customer expectations around safety. The Franchise structure is well suited to develop this type of comprehensive marketing and communications, as well as reopening collateral with standardization across the brand. These communications should be launched in multiple formats, both digital and physical, to give customers and the public the assurance they need to return to the business.
The customers need to know what the new changes will be and here are some ways that they should be communicated:
- New customer-facing signage displaying changes to the customer experience.
- Occupancy limitations and physical distancing requirements.
- Modification or termination of product or service offerings, including, for those that serve and sell food and beverages,meal, and food kits.
- Installation or modification of shields and barriers (typically plexiglass) where appropriate. These may include barriers between customers and employees (e.g., a barrier between a customer and clerk) and barriers between customers (e.g., table separators).
- Controlling foot traffic in and out of their space.
- Analyzing traffic patterns within their space.
- Adopting some form of online and social media sales strategies, including, where appropriate, adding photographs of menu items, service offerings and the premises (displaying the adoption of new hygiene and sanitation methods).
- Requiring and expanded use of delivery and third-party delivery services together with utilizing tamper evident packaging and adapting the physical space to accommodate new third-party pick-up and delivery service providers.
- Requiring and expanded use of contactless and “curbside” delivery and pickup.
- Utilizing online portals and electronic communication to minimize physical contact.
- Eliminating high touch items such as shared coffee makers, vending machines,magazines, and brochures in waiting rooms and sampling stations.
- Requiring both employees and customers to wear face coverings.
- Requiring employees to wear gloves.
- Temperature monitoring.
- Adding signs and floor marker reminders for physical distancing.
- Hygiene and sanitation requirements.
- Closing common area gathering places, such as lounges and hotel offices.
- Adding disinfecting stations and hand sanitizers.
- Exclusive visit times for at risk populations.
- Providing face coverings and single use items to customers.
- Contactless payment methods.
- Deploying health questionnaires.
- Reducing use of restrooms and changing rooms.
As of the date of this writing, most states have started to reopen. With unemployment at very high levels, closed businesses are understandably under enormous amount of pressure to reopen. With no effective vaccine or treatment in immediate sight, Covid-19 has inserted itself into the new normal, and with that, businesses, especially Hospitality businesses must pivot to accommodate. This added responsibility of safety puts an added financial burden on the hospitality industry. Franchisors are in the position to assemble the necessary data and are able to standardize the best practices across the board, and franchisees provide this standard to the community. This collaborative relationship between franchisors and franchisees will help lead the way into the reopening of the hospitality industry.
Information provided by:
-Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP attorney Angela Hsu as written on Forbes.com
-Shelton Law & Associates as written on betheboss.com