Support Your Staff During COVID-19

Restaurants, along with most other industries, have been turned upside down by COVID-19. With mandates in place across the nation banning dine-in services to stop the spread of the coronavirus, restaurants are having to quickly pivot their traditional operations to accommodate their usual guests who are sequestered in their homes.

Given restaurants always operate on extremely thin profit margins, even a small blow can be detrimental. What makes this all the more difficult is the lack of profits to retain the usual restaurant staff. This has left many restaurants with no choice but to close their doors, and many restaurant workers without a job.

There’s hope ahead, however. The CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020, includes provisions to help small businesses and employees. While you’re familiarizing yourself with how the CARES Act can be beneficial to you and your staff, here are a few other ways to show your staff that you’re on their side.

Learn What You Can

You need to be as educated as possible on this matter, and your understanding of the CARES Act, Family First Act, and the situation at large is what’s best for your business and your staff.

You’re in charge, which means you will be the one questions are directed to, so do what you can to study up. Find out how relief bills work, know how to advise on talking to customers, and know how COVID-19 is impacting the industry. You don’t have to be an expert by any means, but if you can give your staff brief daily updates in pre-shift from the CDC, you’re letting them know you take the matter very seriously.

And, if questions arise that you don’t know the answer to, don’t panic – be honest that you’re learning with them, and that you’ll help them hunt down the answer. This will establish trust, and likely encourage them to stay informed as well.


Now more than ever, it’s extremely important to be informed. Your staff should be aware of what’s happening inside your restaurant, as well as beyond your four walls.

Your employees rely heavily on your guidance, so it’s up to you to make sure they have the necessary information around the health crisis. If you’re still operating, go over your benefits and even consider giving a refresher course so employees know exactly what they are entitled to.

If you’ve had to shut your doors, make sure you’re still checking in on your team. Be open to answering questions they might have, as well. Just because operations have ceased doesn’t mean you're any less of a guiding source for your staff.


Listen to Your Employees

This is a big one. If you’re trying to support your staff, the easiest way to do that is to listen to what they have to say. Your staff will be open and honest with you if you allow them to be, and that’s crucial during a time of uncertainty.

There’s not a whole lot that can go wrong here, and you’re bound to come across some really great ideas for how to run your business better. Plus, your staff interacts with your customers daily, so they’ll likely have some great initiatives you can put in place to make your operations more effective to customers, as well.

Giving your staff a platform to tell you what’s most important to them can also help you when you’re deciding what’s the best route for allocating your time or resources. Say your staff voices that they can’t get by without financial help as tips are decreasing. You could try what Travail Collective restaurant group in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, did and make the decision to create an employee relief fund that you advertise to your customers. The team also created a social media campaign to encourage their customers to tip generously when ordering takeout and delivery. All tips from the week were then pooled to buy each of their furloughed employees a $50 grocery store gift card. Campaigns like this will not only help your staff, but it will rally the community and show that you value your employees. It’s a win-win.

Be Empathetic and Work with Staff

You’ve probably got quite a few staff members that have children or elderly parents that they care for. Schools have closed, and older adults and those with serious medical conditions are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, so it’s possible that some members of your staff may have to take time to care for their loved ones. It’s a good idea for you, as well as your staff, to get familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act.

If you have staff members who need to take care of their family but do not qualify for FMLA, try to be as flexible as possible with them. Consider pulling back on their hours or getting other staff members to pick up a few extra shifts. It’s likely that your staff will rally around each other in support, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Promote Mental Health

This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone. If your restaurant hasn’t been open about the importance of mental health thus far, it’s important to start implementing this right away.

The World Health Organization provides resources that detail the do’s and don’ts of coping with anxiety around the COVID-19 outbreak, and there are tons of options for apps that promote mental health, as well as online or over-the-phone therapy.

Your support is a key part of a healthy headspace for your staff, too. Of course you’re stressed right now, but make sure you’re keeping your cool in front of your employees. That doesn’t mean you can’t be honest and vulnerable – just make sure you’re not harping on the negatives too much. As the captain of the ship, it’s important that you try to keep your chin up so that your staff can do the same. Additionally, always be there for your employees if they need to chat or feel unsure about the current situation. You don’t need to be a therapist, but make sure they know your door is always open.

Additionally, they may need an emotional break from working on the front lines, and that’s okay too. Offering paid time off allows your staff to rest, recharge, and want to keep working at your restaurant. You need people, especially now, who are at their best when they are at work. Give them that opportunity by allowing them some paid time off.

This definitely isn’t “business as usual”, so it’s really important to show your staff that through the good times and the tough times, you’re willing to do what you can to make sure they’re taken care of. Be honest, show empathy, and provide help where you can, and once business does return to normal, your staff will know that you’ve got their best interest at heart.

Chelsea VerstegenAbout the Author: Chelsea Verstegen is a Chicago-based writer who works for Toast. She enjoys sampling local cuisine, with a particularly strong affinity for tacos and natural wine.

About Toast: Toast powers restaurant point of sale as part of CHECK® Business Tools. To support operators during this time, Toast has created special offers and support including:

  • Rally for Restaurants: Toast has launched this consumer-facing campaign to promote the purchase of gift cards for local restaurants online to support the community and hourly restaurant workers affected by the COVID-19 concerns
  • Toast Now: For restaurants not currently using Toast, Toast Now can help you quickly set up digital channels like online ordering, a mobile ordering app, contactless delivery and e-gift cards. No hardware or POS purchase is required. US Foods customers can click here to start for free for three months today.
  • Additional support for Toast customers: Toast is providing all Toast customers a one-month credit on software fees – applied automatically for all Toast customers (no action needed). Toast will also waive software fees for the next three months on Toast Gift Cards, Toast Online Ordering, Toast TakeOut and Toast Marketing.