Tips for Reopening: How to Communicate with Customers and Staff

Open communication is more important than ever. Learn how to communicate effectively before and after reopening.
June 15, 2020

As many food service businesses within Australian states and territories begin reopening, communication with staff, customers and suppliers must be considered. Clear and open communication is extremely important during this time, so it is imperative that all food businesses implement a communication plan. The following are important areas of communication that must be considered as a food business reopens:

Pre-opening communications

1. Communicate with staff

As your food business prepares to reopen, it is essential that all staff are contacted and informed about the reopening. This is the time to determine how many of your staff will be returning to the business, and whether or not you will need to hire additional staff.

Staff must also be informed of all the regulations, rules and restrictions that the food business must adhere to in order to reopen based on your state or territory. These regulations involve requirements that all staff in a food business must abide by, so it is essential to communicate to your staff what they will be required to do upon returning to work. If any staff members feel unsafe or uncomfortable with the rules they must follow to work on the premises, this allows them an opportunity to address these concerns with management and decide whether they would like to return to work or not.

Use the time before reopening to communicate with your team and ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to operate safely. Ensure employees receive COVID-19 specific training before re-entering the workplace. Communicate on the following topics:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Instructions for calling in sick if COVID-19 symptoms are experienced
  • What to do if someone is displaying COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace
  • Proper hand washing technique (including the use of hand sanitiser)
  • Correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Workwear rules including laundering requirements

This is also the time to ensure that all of your staff have completed food safety training and have valid Statements of Attainment. If any Statements of Attainment are expired, enrol those staff members in a nationally recognised food safety training course such as the AIFS Food Handler course.

2. Communicate with suppliers

Now that you are reopening, you must communicate with your suppliers. Inform them of your reopening and confirm that they are still operating at this time. Some suppliers are still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so do not simply assume that you will be able to use your regular supplier. Also, some suppliers are dealing with shortages due to the pandemic, so they may not be able to meet your required quota or certain food items and ingredients may not be available. If this is the case, contact new suppliers and communicate with them to determine if they can meet your required quota and provide the types of items needed. Also ensure that new suppliers meet food safety requirements and criteria.

If you do end up using a new supplier, you must communicate with them to determine if food items contain unexpected ingredients or allergens. If new food items contain different ingredients or allergens, this must be communicated with all staff (both front-of-house and back-of-house) and customers. All documentation such as labels and menus must be updated with this new information.

3. Communicate with customers

As you begin to reopen, take the time to communicate with your customers about the reopening. Explain when you are expected to reopen and what your business is being required to do in order to reopen. Informing customers of the steps you are required to take for reopening will help make customers feel comfortable about returning for meal. You can communicate with customers in a few different ways:

Use your website. Use your online presence to let customers know that you’re taking their health and safety seriously. Let them know when you’re reopening and any changes you’re making to your business operations. If customers know beforehand what to expect when they enter your business, they will feel more comfortable and willing to dine in your establishment.

Post on social media. If you have a business social media account, now is a great opportunity to use it efficiently. Use your social media accounts to inform customers of your reopening and to share information about what to expect when dining at the premises. Social media is also a great way to share photos of menu items (both new and recurring) in order to remind your customers of the enjoyable food your establishment serves.

Send emails. If possible, send personalized emails to customers letting them know when you’re reopening. Explain what you are doing to protect their health and safety, and use the opportunity to send personalized invites for them to return or to inform them of any special offers.

Post-opening communications

1. Keep staff informed

After reopening, open communication with your staff must not fall out of practice. It is essential to keep frequently communicating with your staff — it is the best way to ensure you have confident, knowledgeable staff working in the premises. This is key to running a food business that follows all operation requirements based on state or territory.

Be sure to host frequent team meetings digitally, such as through video conference or other digital applications. This is the best way to keep communication open among the team and to learn what is working — and what is not. As your food business moves forward after reopening, there will be processes and procedures that will need to be adjusted and reworked. Feedback from your staff is a great way to learn what can be improved upon in order to keep the business running safely and efficiently.

2. Reassure your customers

After you have reopened, it is important to keep communicating with your customers frequently. It is expected that many customers will be nervous about eating out in a restaurant for a while. Open communication is key to reassuring your customers and keep them coming back.

Using signage throughout the establishment is an efficient way to communicate with your customers. You can display signage that states you are taking COVID-19 seriously and lists the rules you are required to follow under your state or territory. Displaying signage at the entrance to your establishment listing the requirements for entering is also important. Be sure to inform customers of physical distancing rules, capacity/group limits and if personal protective equipment (PPE) is required upon entering. Physical distancing signage such as floor markers can also help to communicate what is required of customers and reassure them that you are taking the rules seriously.

It is also important to address any customer concerns quickly and professionally. Customers will be nervous about consuming food that they haven’t prepared themselves and eating outside of the home. Many people are acutely aware of COVID-19 health and safety procedures and will not hesitate to voice their concerns if they see something that is a risk to their health. Be sure to listen to all customer concerns and communicate what you will do in order to address the problem. Customers are more likely to be frustrated, agitated or stressed during this time — listening to your customers and taking steps to address concerns can help to alleviate this. The AIFS Guide to Handling Customer Complaints is a helpful resource for navigating customer interactions.

Communications on COVID-19 cases

If a staff member falls ill with COVID-19, quick and clear communication is absolutely essential. First, stop serving customers immediately. Next, you must contact the local health authorities and learn about the next steps to take. The action that you will be required to take will depend on your state or territory and the COVID-19 case numbers in your area.

You must inform all staff that have been in direct contact with the staff member and instruct them to isolate for 14 days. You must also communicate with all other staff members who were not in direct contact so that they can be made aware of the situation. These staff members must be instructed to watch out for COVID-19 symptoms and to report to management if they develop any of the symptoms while at work. Communicate to these staff members that they must not show up for work if they develop symptoms at home; they must follow the procedure for calling in sick.

You must also communicate with your customers should a staff member fall ill with COVID-19. If you have been keeping a customer log since reopening, use that log in order to contact all customers that may have come into contact with the staff member. It is essential that these customers be made aware of the potential exposure so that they can take the appropriate actions. Even though it is difficult to communicate this message to your customers, remember: communication is key to a respectful and successful business.