Whatever happens next will be very different, so use this time to precision plan your opening, says James Daglish
The first tentative indications of significant changes to lockdown restrictions for hospitality businesses have emerged from Whitehall, with Boris Johnson earmarking July as a possible time for reopening, however tentative. What we do know is that whenever it happens, things will be different and your business will need to be ready to succeed in whatever world your clients and suppliers emerge.
As a business owner or manager this next phase should be used wisely to prepare your property, business and employees for reopening. Your watchwords should be timing and caution.
- You will incur significant costs to reopen and you will be doing so in an uncertain market. Normal revenue is potentially a long way off. Be cautious with your forecasts.
- Plan for a graduated lifting of restrictions – takeaway is already permitted, use of outside space may come next, and use of inside space is likely to be last.
- Given the uncertainty that is to be expected, now is the time to access good value government and private finance to provide a safety net.
- Your supply lines are absolutely crucial to your success, so now is the time to start conversations and negotiations. We recommend that you carefully document everything so as to be in the best position if a dispute arises.
Your employees may be furloughed and may have concerns about returning to work. Working practices will need to be different when they return, taking into account social distancing. Remember that although they can't work, furloughing doesn't mean you can't communicate or provide training. Consider devising a staff communication and training plan and use technology to kick it off now.
You may need to adjust your headcount and ask your people to do different jobs and tasks in new circumstances. Consider the appointments and skills you may need, and any changes to your existing employees' contracts. Bear in mind the number of employees affected by potential changes and whether collective consultation obligations are triggered.
Now is the time to realign your employees' contracts so you have the flexibility you need to support your business.
Your data obligations
You may wish to test returning employees for signs of the virus. This will involve processing personal data, bringing into play data protection laws. The data relates to health, so it's classified as special category personal data with even higher levels of protection.
Fortunately, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued some helpful guidance on this very subject. It reminds us that data protection law does not prevent employers from taking the necessary steps to keep their staff and customers safe, but it does require them to be responsible with people's personal data and ensure it is handled with care.
The legal basis of such processing would be the employer's legitimate interests, buttressed by its health and safety obligations. In order to meet accountability requirements, the ICO recommends that the employer carries out a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) before embarking on such a scheme – a helpful template for this is available on the ICO's site. If you are considering ongoing monitoring measures, such as temperature checks or thermal cameras, these would need to be both proportionate and justified.
You need to be transparent with your staff by explaining what is being collected and how and what will be shared. You will need to keep a list of those testing positive and may well have to share those names with colleagues. Care is needed and you should only maintain the minimum amount of information required for the purpose: the ICO gives the example of data concerning underlying conditions as not being relevant or appropriate for these purposes.
Beware that the accuracy of the data may depreciate over time, especially once infected staff have recovered.
Communication with your landlord is crucial to a successful and hopefully collaborative relationship – don't change your approach now. Aggressive landlords should be reported to one of the industry's representative bodies: UKHospitality, Hospitality Union or the Night Time Industries Association.
It's equally as important to maintain a dialogue with your insurers.
Regular security checks should already be in place. You will not want a break in or squatters to derail your carefully timed reopening; consider investing in greater protection if you haven't done so yet.
Don't forget that customers came to your establishment to enjoy themselves and relax – that won't change when they return, but they will have extra anxieties. The buzzwords are "friction points" – consider the following moments that may cause stress:
- Client arrival and reception
- Setting tables and ordering
- Delivery drivers
- The bill.
There may be tech-based solutions to help you reduce friction and manage anxiety for clients and staff in some of these areas.
Now, and in the preparation for reopening, keep up your communication with customers through whichever channels work best for you. Energies expended on this will undoubtedly bear fruit.
A final point: It is now clear that reopening will be slow and gradual and people will resurface slowly, footfall will mirror this reality and any business plans should reflect this. Be honest and ask yourself if your establishment is better suited to a quick return or if you need buzz and footfall to be profitable.
James Daglish is a partner at law firm Goodman Derrick
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