COVID-19 forced many franchisors and franchisees to act quickly as the entire restaurant industry entered uncharted territory. With rules and regulations varying by state and changing almost every day, franchisees have reformulated their business strategies on the fly in an effort to ensure their doors can and will remain open.
Bob Feathers owns and operates two East Coast Wings + Grill restaurants in Northeastern Tennessee. Feathers was the first franchisee in the ECW+G system to reopen dine-in services, and thanks to curbside pickup and delivery options, he was also one of the few storefronts that remained open while others around him were forced to close. Since May 22, he has been operating at full capacity while maintaining social distancing and contact protocols.
While it hasn’t been easy, Feathers and his team have maneuvered and overcome the obstacles of reopening. Based on his experience, here are four practices Feathers offers other entrepreneurs within the franchise space who want to reopen successfully —
Avoid Hasty Reopening Decisions:
When the Tennessee governor announced dining rooms could reopen at limited capacity on April 27, Feathers and his team chose to wait until Friday, May 1. Reason being, he wanted employees to be properly oriented to and prepared for the new normal, and there was also lessons to learn from other full-service restaurants who reopened immediately. Additionally, the extra time allowed for them to get a better gauge on how the community felt about returning to a dine-in experience.
Even though they were limited to 50-percent capacity, ECW+G immediately rebounded – exceeding our budgeted sales by 500 percent on the first day. The community was, and still is, excited to get back out and support local businesses. In the last month, Feathers’ ECW+G restaurants have exceeded prior year revenue by 24 percent and budget by 15 percent.
Utilize Your Franchisor’s Resources:
The franchisees that do well are the ones who take advantage of the franchisor benefits, follow the business model and adjust as guided. In early March, ECW+G provided franchisees with multiple whitepapers, a break-even analysis program and a shifted business model that laid out how to operate under dine-in bans and other regulations. Corporate’s quick response was a game changer for Feathers’ locations and others.
Additionally, as a franchise network, owners share their experience. In Feathers’ case, he was the first franchisee to open at 50 percent occupancy and, as a result, was asked to be one of the franchisee panelists on Zoom so he could share what he learned, what worked and what other owners could potentially expect.
Show – Don’t Tell:
Guests need to feel comfortable to dine-in. While franchisors and franchisees are well aware of the extensive cleaning procedures being done to both the front and back of house, guests want to see safety measures in action. The majority of customers at Feathers’ ECW+G locations have been accommodating and understanding of the new operations put into place, but they do notice everything – and he and his staff know that. Owners should emphasize to all staff members the importance of following the procedures and always being on your A-game. Owners also have to worry about frequent visits from the city, which underscores this notion even further.
Fall Back on Your Aces:
Initially, Feathers had to furlough 75 people when the Tennessee stay-at-home order was implemented. He knew it was crucial to keep his great managers in place, but the biggest challenge continues to be getting employment numbers back to pre-corona days. The unemployment benefits coupled with fear of exposure has put a strain both on the current employees and hiring new ones. However, that means it’s even more important for owners to recognize the “aces” on their staff and to do whatever it takes to keep them on payroll. Not only do these employees do a great job individually, but they also serve as excellent examples for others to learn from.
As Feathers states, it’s a franchisee’s job to do right by their guests and their employees. If owners follow the rules by the letter, listen to the needs of both their employees and customers and heed the advice above, they can weather this COVID storm effectively.
For more information and franchise opportunities for International Franchise Association (IFA) franchisor member East Coast Wings + Grill, click here.