Preparing to Reopen a Bar: Be Proactive!

21 May 2020
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Bar Management
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Bartender pouring drinkRunning a successful bar is always hard work, but 2020 brought with it challenges for business owners that few anticipated. Earlier this year, we were all called upon to help slow the spread of the worst pandemic in more than a century by observing measures that at times seemed downright draconian—including the complete closing of all non-essential businesses.

Nearly six weeks later, however, we are seeing a decrease in hospital admissions and deaths attributed COVID-19 even as the number of diagnosed cases is on the rise due to more widespread testing. This is good news for sure, but the nation’s business owners are still wondering: When will it be safe to resume normal operations, and what should we be doing in the meantime?

Consider Loan Relief from the Coronavirus Stimulus Package

There is money available to help you protect your business and your employees. These loans can help you keep your bar solvent, and if you use the money appropriately, the entirety of the loan amount will be forgiven.

If your bar qualifies as a small business (employs 500 people or fewer), and you are an “Accommodations and Food Services” entity with an NAICS code that starts with 72, you qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program. Also called the PPE, this means you are eligible for a 24-month loan amounting to two-and-a-half times your monthly payroll at a 1% interest rate with payments deferred for six months.

To apply for this loan, you will need to provide basic information like payroll statements, tax forms, and business verification documents. And remember: a PPE loan will be fully forgiven if it is used to keep all employees on payroll for eight (8) weeks, and to pay rent, utilities, and mortgage interest.

Plan How You Can Enforce New Rules During a Limited Re-Opening

State governments continue to weigh the benefits of re-opening against the benefits achieved thus far by limiting larger group gatherings, especially indoors. If your bar is located in a state that reopens for business with new social distancing and/or sanitation laws in place, spend some time now formulating how you can comply with those in your venue, including:

  • How can you limit the number of people at the bar, in booths, or at tables?
  • Is it possible to rearrange your seating and other furniture to observe the recommended social distancing requirements?
  • Order plenty of gloves and masks to equip all your employees, front and back of the house, at all times.

As a bar owner, you know that revenue and cost per square foot are vital metrics in determining profitability. Widening the space between booths, tables, bar stools, and other fixtures will very likely reduce your square footage. How will you counter the decrease in revenue per square foot? Examine your menu, analyze your staffing, and review your hours of operation now if it turns out you need to find spots where you can reduce costs.

Every bar owner is used to thoroughly cleaning everything from the condiment bottles to the menus at the end of the last shift. Under the “new normal,” however, that might not be often enough. You may need to thoroughly clean several times a day to present a space that is in keeping with your customers’ new perception of what “clean” means.

Keep in Touch With Your Customers

Now that we’re several months into stringent “stay-at-home” orders, people are a bit cranky about being told that “Their Health and Well-being is Your Top Priority” and “We’re all in this together.” Avoid that messaging, but remember:  it’s still helpful to provide your customers with relevant updates on what you are doing to prepare for a reopening. You can talk about what customers can expect at your bar once your venue does reopen, and things they will be able to do to help create a safe environment for all.  Email your customers sparingly, and make each update count with news they can use.

  • Explain what you’re doing and how you’re preparing to reopen.
  • Summarize what they can expect once your venue reopens.
  • Provide a timeline of anticipated hours of operation and available services if you are going to reopen in stages. When will you be able to offer a full menu or extended hours? When do you expect your venue will be available for hosting private events?
  • Give them a sneak peek of anything new, including the layout of your bar, the menus, or your hours of operation.
  • Prepare them for what they can do to create the safest and most enjoyable experience for themselves and their fellow guests.
  • Stress your expanded cleaning policies.

As these “shut down” weeks turn into months, it’s increasingly hard for bar owners and many other business people—especially those in the hospitality industry—to stay positive. Your daily goal during these difficult times should be as proactive as possible with your pre-opening business plans to make sure you’re ready to offer the safest, healthiest eating and drinking environment to your guests just as soon as you are able.

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