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Restaurant staff are your family. How do you communicate difficult decisions and provide support during COVID-19?

In the age of COVID-19 where the only constant is change, restaurateurs and managers have been met with wave after wave of challenges. With diner traffic coming to a standstill, restaurants have had to make difficult decisions over the past three months. Whether it’s pivoting to delivery and takeaway to stay afloat, or halting operations temporarily, these changes affect restaurant staff, who are the backbone of the business.

Across the world, the impact of COVID-19 has sparked mass unemployment across industries, with F&B among the hardest hit. In Singapore alone, an estimated 12,000 restaurants employ 200,000 people, whose jobs are now at risk. With more diners staying at home due to lockdown and circuit breaker measures, restaurateurs have had no choice but to implement wage and hiring freezes, voluntary furloughs, and lay-offs across several departments.

While restaurateurs, chefs, and managers have previously nailed their communications to a tee, this new scenario brings about unique challenges and sensitivities. No doubt, it’s a difficult time — but as important as it is to be realistic about the downfall, it’s also vital for restaurants to see this as an opportunity for growth, engagement, and knowledge sharing among staff.

Here are five pointers on how to be better together, whether you’re a restaurateur, chef, or manager.

1. Take the lead
Your staff needs to look upon their bosses now more than ever. Continue being a role model and exhibit qualities of resilience. Be the first to embrace new policies and measures. These include practising good hygiene and adopting social distancing measures, both at work and online, where you exhibit your day-to-day for your employees and partners to see. They will be motivated to do the same thing, and this ripple effect of good habits will continue.

2. Get your hands dirty
Most chefs or managers stop doing simple tasks, such as daily prep, cleaning the fridge, and even cleaning down at the end of service. With lesser manpower and support, it’s important to stay stronger, together. Every little bit helps to tide the business through, and if this means that you have to go back to basics to keep things going, then do what you can to support.

3. Be transparent
Don’t leave your team in the dark. Be transparent about the reality of the business and where it’s headed — especially when it comes to funding and the projection for months ahead. This transparency gives your staff the confidence and reassurance to keep going, strive for better, or prepare for what’s to come.

Relationships are a two-way street, too. Encourage transparency from your staff so that you are aware of their financial situations. Are they living paycheck to paycheck? Paying off a mortgage? Have existing health conditions and sufficient insurance? This way, you can better advise them if and when you make difficult financial decisions.

4. Over-communicate
Restaurateurs, chefs, and managers must adapt the way they engage with staff. Figure out the best communication channels. Email? WhatsApp? Telegram? This way, news and updates on COVID-19 don’t get lost, and you won’t be in a position where a staff member has missed out on important changes.

It’s important to be consistent in your tone and messaging when addressing different departments. Your employees probably have private group chats without you in them — so ensure your messaging is steady so there’s no room for staff to call out any inconsistencies.

Besides addressing your staff as a group, schedule one-on-one calls to connect meaningfully. In times of uncertainty, it’s important that you show how invested you are in their welfare and well-being. Don’t underestimate the power of social media, an important tool to connect departments who are not physically able to see each other.

5. Follow up
After communicating with staff, follow up. If you’ve had to break bad news on pay cuts, no-pay leave, or termination, send them a personalised email with the resources or aids they are eligible for. This ensures the longevity of your relationship, and instils in staff a sense of support. Connect them with business partners or friends who have freelance and full-time openings or opportunities in other areas where your staff can explore in this period.

Keep communication lines open, and show them what you’re doing with your feedback.

Access our COVID-19 Resource Centre for restaurants, with guides, infographics, and advisories to equip you with managing and operating your restaurant.


Adibah Isa

A digital and print journalist turned content manager for brands that believe in the power of storytelling.


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