Everyone will react to the COVID-19 pandemic differently. There will be those who rise to the occasion and are ready to act, while others will have difficulty coping and need understanding when they are unable to concentrate. Regardless of where you are at emotionally, you still need to lead your employees. Here are some helpful tips for leading during this time.

Time for Understanding

As noted above, everyone will react to this, and any, crisis differently. This includes you! Remember that we are all human, we all have different personal concerns, and we all have our health to consider. As a leader you will need to take charge of your emotions and help your employees (and customers) handle their emotions and stress.

Facts… Not Fear

One of the most effective things any leader can do during crisis is to provide the facts. During the COVID-19 crisis we’ve already seen a number of rumors and fake ‘cures’ for the virus. This does nothing but spread fear and false hope. Help your staff and customers by posting official information from your national disease center as well as local health district. They are likely to have posters available online that you can print and post. A good rule of thumb is to discuss the posters with employees and share that by posting the information they can help customers know the facts of the situation.

Beyond the basics of the crisis, it is critical to be honest with employees about the status of your business and their employment. Since most restaurants cannot afford to keep staff on payroll if they aren’t working, be sure you communicate clearly that they are still an employee. While many businesses have laid off workers, it helps ease some stress if you keep them on your roster. As governments continue to respond to the crisis, some are providing funding or small business loans to assist in providing some income to those employees.

The New Normal

For now, normal changes at a faster pace than ever. A majority of food services are now limited to take-out, delivery, and drive thru. For many businesses, this means ramping up what is usually a secondary line of business. Depending on local supply availability for packaging meals, this could limit your business further. Some flexibility from your normal packaging may have to occur with generic boxes or clamshells to meet the demand. Keep a few sharpies on hand too, to write on cups and boxes to help keep orders straight.

As suggested by government, implementing social distancing can be nearly impossible in many kitchens, which usually means less staff in the kitchen. This is likely to be okay, as most businesses are seeing a drop in overall sales. To help keep sales up as much as possible, be sure to regularly post to social media, or if you have a loyalty app, create specials or reminders that you’re open for business, and encourage purchase of gift certificates.

If you must hold closed-door meetings, be sure to hold them during business hours. This will help curb the additional panic caused by these meetings, especially during this time. After those meetings, update employees with critical information and details to help ease their panic and concerns. During shifts, check on your staff just a little more than normal, and be sure to give kudos for their work and thank them for continuing to work while offering comfort (such as ‘We’ll get through this’).

Additionally, if you can, have regular meetings from afar (or use an affordable conference line) just as a check-in. It can be as short as a couple minutes or as long as needed, have employees share concerns and do your best to answer them. Encourage the team to leverage resources to help out their coworkers… such as bringing in a roll to toilet paper if someone is running low.

Stay Organized

While we all have our different ways of organizing, staying organized right now is critical. This includes keeping documentation and tracking staff time, continuing to publish staff schedules (even when hours and staff are limited), and ensuring orders for food are not too high. As your employees notice that you’re staying organized, their confidence in you will remain high and will help motivate them to do their best. Part of staying organized will mean maintaining a schedule similar to your regular one. Yes, it may need to be tweaked, but keeping to something familiar and you and your employees will thrive.

Now and Later

During any crisis, it is also critical to maintain goals. It will also be important to be gentle with yourself and staff, changing goals to match immediate, daily, or weekly needs. While keeping today’s goals at the forefront, incorporate what you can in the ultimate goal, which is staying in business.

Though keeping staff informed is important, don’t overwhelm them with too many details about previous monthly goals or how much business you’ve lost. They really are aware of these things and won’t need you to remind them every day. Instead, work on new realistic goals. After a few days of the new normal have passed, trend in orders, busy times, and total orders per day will start to create a picture of potential. Create realistic goals from this and share results in a positive tone.  


Once things return to some sense of normalcy and customers can once again sit at our tables, you will have adapted and overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. You’ll also find that you’ve learned a lot about handling last minute restrictions and potential chaos. Your team will also be much stronger and be ready to work as a team.

For additional helpful information, visit restaurant.org’s coronavirus page. What are your tactics to handle the current pandemic? Reach out and let us know, we’d love to hear from you.