Supporting Restaurant Employee Wellness During COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak has every restaurant taking it day-by-day. Many have closed entirely. Some are still open for takeout and delivery. Others are creating “make at home” packs, or adding rolls of toilet paper to every order.

All of this is to say there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what restaurants should do right now, and each restaurant will need to put their own spin on helping employees. We know many restaurants aren’t able to offer insurance or mental health benefits. But here are a few things to keep in mind as you continue to help employees (or laid-off employees).

1. Be Open

Your employees know you haven’t faced something like this before and they know your ability to stay open is always being evaluated. But answering questions honestly, without a PR-spin feel goes a long way to reassuring them that no matter what happens, they’re working for people who care about them and genuinely care about what happens to them.

2. Enforce Better Hygiene

Every other meme right now is talking about handwashing, but it’s for good reason. Don’t just tell employees they have to wash their hands every 30 minutes, or after every delivery, or whatever rule you set. Have managers enforce it. Set new standards for cleaning POS terminals, counters, door handles and other high-traffic surfaces. This is not just for customer safety, but so employees know you care about keeping them healthy as well.

3. Help Them Navigate Unemployment

If you have to furlough or lay off employees, put together information about the process of applying for unemployment in your state. Losing a job is disorienting under the best of circumstances, but when everything else is up in the air too this is one way you can make sure they can be as prepared as possible.

4. Help Find Healthy Ways to Socialize

As the manager, you may not be the person they want to talk to after a long day or if they were let go, but what you can do is try to make sure they can get time to talk to people and unwind. Whether that’s in the kitchen or by asking trusted employees to check up on others, social contact is important and laid-off employees are likely struggling with going from being around people all the time to nothing.

Also consider not encouraging happy hours. In an industry with one of the highest rates of substance abuse, it’s too easy to start drinking more than is healthy during a crisis or to lose sobriety. Ben’s Friends, a group supporting sober life for food and beverage folks, is holding daily meetings via Zoom.

It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is right now, and how to help employees when it feels like you can barely keep your own head above water. But even small things will go a long way, like checking on employees, asking how they’re doing and listening when things are hard.

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