FLINT, MI — The temperature has dropped and winter is right around the corner. The seasonal change can make it difficult for businesses to continue to offer outdoor seating and new COVID-19 restrictions recently announced have eliminated the option for indoor dining.
Businesses in Flint and Genesee County are preparing to face the challenge.
On Monday, Nov. 16, the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual panel discussion with representatives from the Michigan Small Business Development Center to discuss the challenges restaurant owners have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic and how to prepare for the upcoming winter months.
As restaurants began to eliminate indoor dining options after recently announced COVID-19 restrictions banned dine-in service at Michigan restaurants and bars, many businesses are either going back to or transitioning to delivery, take-out and curbside services
Emily Marrah, hospitality consultant, said it is vital for the business’ online ordering platform to be easy to navigate and be accessible to customers.
“(It’s) making sure you’re accessible to your clients and knowing the best way that they’re going to want to reach out to you,” said Marrah.
Marrah shared an anecdote from an experience she had over the summer when trying to order food online. She tried contacting the business for an hour, but was met with a busy ringtone and never got to speak with a person. She eventually stopped trying to contact the business and shopped to get items to make her own food.
Harry Blecker, senior business consultant at the Small Business Development Center at Kettering University, encouraged businesses owners to contact their federal, state and local representatives about the Paycheck Protection Plan program about accessing funds that are still available.
Marc Rideout, owner of a small human resources business based in Flint, echoed Marrah’s recommendations about businesses and its human resource issues.
“The first order of business has to be making sure that your technology is working, but more importantly making sure your people are properly trained,” Rideout stressed.
Social media and attitude
Another key detail in having the best results during the pandemic includes making sure the businesses’ associated social media pages and websites are updated so customers can be informed.
“Sharing is caring when it comes to information,” Marrah said.
She also offered ideas like pop-up menus and pictures of food for creative ways to get customer’s attention.
Rideout said the restaurants to survive the tough times are ones that have an attitude for success and hire people who also have a positive attitude.
Good employees and safety
“The safety of employees is paramount,” said Rideout.
He added if businesses have a belief system that safety is the business’ top priority it’s likely the employees will feel safe working in the environment and be committed.
Businesses should practice taking employees’ temperature, advising employees to not come to work if they’re not feeling well or if they’re showing any symptoms of the coronavirus, Rideout said.
“The issue is simply that we get into this money versus safety and if you’re choosing money over safety, you’re choosing the wrong choice and you will not be in business in two years,” Rideout said. “You’re going to be out of business.”
At noon Wednesday, Nov. 18, winterization grants of up to $10,000 through the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity will be available to small business owners. The first-come, first-serve grant is intended to help businesses prepare to be outside during the winter months. To apply for the grant, visit here.
The funding can be used to purchase things such as outdoor furniture, heaters, igloos, temporary structures, dividers and upgrades to electronic menu access among other things, according to Tyler Rossmaessler, director of economic development for the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
The application is back-dated to Aug. 1, which means the grant money can be used to reimburse businesses for purchases that have already occurred.
“I know lots of restaurants have been buying igloos and heaters because they knew this was coming and this is a chance to get reimbursed for some of that,” Rossmaessler said.
To watch the full panel discussion, visit here.
Kamala Harris visits Flint businesses affected by COVID-19 pandemic
Grants up to $10,000 are available for some businesses in Genesee County impacted by COVID-19