Facing COVID-19 as a Full Service Restaurant Franchise

It is unbelievable how quickly things can change. Within a matter of days, the business model that has helped sustain community staples like Huddle House and Perkins Bakery & Restaurant in various capacities for nearly 70 years has been turned on its head. The restaurant industry, along with a few others such as airlines, hotels and walk-in retail, has been hardest hit.

The full-service restaurant industry in particular has been grappling with changes with social distancing and new norms that strike at the core of our business – delivering dine-in food and products for our customers. 

For Huddle House and Perkins, once the scope of the crisis was clear, we acted as quickly as we could. We have an incredibly committed, capable and experienced team at Huddle House and Perkins. I am so proud of how the team has reacted to the crisis. From the moment this began, the question has been, How can I help? And, What can I do? 

At our company-owned restaurants, we quickly pivoted to find ways to aggressively drive carry-out and delivery business; keep restaurants operating in order to retain GMs; ramp up grass roots community and neighborhood marketing tactics; and work with landlords and vendors for accommodations on payments. We have been constantly sharing those methods and tactics that we found effective with our franchisees. 

Beyond tactics for remaining open, we are offering our franchisees a variety of support and relief, from fund deferrals to deferred payments, freezing certain capital requirements and extending development deadlines. We have provided diligent, proactive guidance so our franchisees can quickly take advantage of the recently passed coronavirus stimulus funds to protect their payroll and employees. 

Our business model has temporarily pivoted to takeout and pickup, as well as creating family-sized take out meals, packaged, portioned and priced for families of four, to better serve families looking for safe and easy options for in-home dining during this trying time. We are opening up our restaurants to become marketplaces, using our own supply chain distribution system to offer meat, produce and other grocery items like toilet paper and paper towels directly to customers. We’re exploring ways to donate meals to the true heroes of the moment, medical and hospital staff.

Most of all, since this crisis began we have been clear that we are in this with our franchisees together. They have responded very positively and gratefully for the offered assistance. Most importantly, they are fighting with everything they have to stay open and continue serving their communities. It’s what I believe every business, franchise or otherwise, should be striving for in this crisis.

We have explored both closing company locations and riding out the storm, as well as continuing the fight; that is, stay open and find ways to eke out enough sales to stay afloat. What we determined is that when we find ways to keep operating we stand a much greater chance for success when the crisis peaks and passes.

Collectively, my leadership team has chosen to fight.

I understand that we all have to make the best decisions for our businesses, and the same is true for the individual franchisees that make up the Huddle House and Perkins networks. I have asked them to keep fighting as long as they possibly can. 

I urge every franchisee and franchisor to take on the same mindset. We must fight, for the sake of our economy and our country. We need to fight like our lives depend on it. We need to fight for those that are the foundation of our companies, our people. We need to fight because we have franchisees who we’ve made promises to. We cannot give up. We must be grateful and optimistic while maintaining a fierce will to win. And if we maintain that fierce focus, I believe we will win. We must.

Michael Abt is the CEO of Huddle House and Perkins Bakery & Restaurant. For more information on Huddle House, click here.