What Colorado businesses can learn from Florida’s reopening

COVID-19 Reopening series: What Colorado business owners can learn from this Florida restaurant that survived through nimble innovation

Sara Frasca owns and operates Trasca & Co Eatery in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Her eatery has three "cousin restaurants" in Colorado, which are owned by — you guessed it — Frasca's cousins. 

Each restaurant's menu draws common inspiration from a secret family dough recipe, but unlike her Colorado cousins, Frasca was permitted to reopen her dining room in early May.

"Now we're almost back to full revenue," she says, noting that early in the pandemic she had felt paralyzed by the coronavirus’s impact on business and had even considered contacting a bankruptcy attorney. "We picked up incrementally because we were willing to get scrappy and creative. Our backs were against the wall, so we did what was necessary."

What can we learn from Frasca and other businesses that reopened months ago? We spoke with several Florida business owners about the lessons they've learned so far, including how they identified and implemented ways to keep their customers and employees safe. 

How this Florida restaurant survived a huge revenue dip during Safer-at-Home order

Frasca began cutting hours in March when she foresaw the seriousness of the coronavirus and how it was likely to impact her business. 

In hopes of protecting employees who most needed their Trasca income, she first approached her high school and college workers about cutting their hours since they still had financial support from their parents. They all agreed, so Frasca never had to cut hours for those employees who depended on their income from Trasca.

“Our team acted like a true family," she says, also noting that Trasca has offered health benefits to its employees for years, which are especially appreciated during this time. “We had no furloughs and no exits. Everyone made it through this."

During a time when restaurants lost an average of 85% of their revenue, Trasca lost just 50% — and that was at the worst point.

“We had the humility to change things every week — to pivot and be flexible," Frasca, who also works as an innovation consultant, explains. “When customers felt uncomfortable coming to our location, we brought the food to them in the form of neighborhood pop-up events and touchless delivery."

Trasca also adjusted their product offerings, creating pizza-making kits for parents at home with bored kids and frozen meals that they could pop in the oven. Frasca also launched Trasca's Adopt-a-First-Coast-Hero program, which used 100% of its donations, ranging from $5 to $1,000, to supply meals directly to first responders and healthcare workers.

Words of wisdom for reopening businesses impacted by the coronavirus

As Trasca opened its dining room to customers and invited its employees to return, Frasca learned some unexpected lessons and found what worked best through trial and error. 

Below are her best recommendations for other businesses impacted by the coronavirus, especially restaurants, preparing to reopen their doors:

Listen to your customers and understand their comfort levels

Though Florida did not mandate all restaurant workers to wear masks once dining rooms could open, Frasca had planned to require her greeters to do so. But she found that wasn't enough to make all of her customers feel comfortable. 

Receiving a call from a concerned patron, Frasca listened and then acted. 

Now every Trasca employee wears a mask while in the restaurant for safe work.

Implement an instant employee communication channel

“A touch-of-the-button communication tool with our team is a must," Frasca says. To create a safety culture and strong communication among her team, she uses HomeBase to instantly alert all employees via text about new rules and procedures.

Ensure safe work: Hire a third-party health expert to train your staff

Frasca invited a health inspector to train her entire staff on COVID-19, including how to maintain a healthy and safe environment during the pandemic. 

Hiring a reputable expert put her back $400—but improving worker and patron safety is an invaluable investment 

“Business owners may not want to spend extra money during these times, but that was worth it. Not only do we have a certificate on our door to show customers that our staff has been trained, but having that third-party authority really helped our employees 'get it'."

Create a strong safety culture: Emphasize the importance of your employee’s health.

One of the biggest concerns for many businesses is that their employees may test positive for COVID-19, putting other employees in danger and causing them to shut down again — something that has already happened to several Florida businesses, including many bars. 

“We asked our employees to be part of the solution, asking them not to go out to bars, etc. We explained that if they get sick, it could shut us down — affecting everyone they work with."

Prepare a coronavirus business close-down plan

No matter what precautions you take, there's still a chance that the coronavirus will impact your business and result in closing your doors again. 

In fact, some Florida businesses near Trasca have already chosen — or been forced — to once again close after reopening, so Frasca recommends preparing for that scenario. 

“Every week brings something new. We're not out of the woods yet," she says. “Stay nimble and plan to continually adjust. Be innovative and agile with the products and services you offer."

Additional quick tips from Trasca's COVID-19 health and safety plan

Frasca notes that she had the advantage of a “crystal ball" of sorts. 

One of her close friends works in the healthcare industry and gave her helpful information about the coronavirus early on, including how to prepare for a safe work environment for her restaurant.

Here are her quick tips for other restaurant owners who are preparing for a safe and successful reopening:

  • Stock up on health and safety products, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
  • Ask employees to get tested prior to returning. Testing was free, but Frasca still paid her employees for the time they took to get their tests done.
  • Prepare your employees to have a health-conscious mentality. Impress upon them that they have the power to either damage or support your business — and their own jobs — depending on whether they act in accordance with CDC guidelines in their personal lives.
  • Put new cleaning protocols in place that include EPA-approved disinfectants, and train your staff prior to reopening.
  • Get specialized health training from a third-party and display your certification, if applicable.
  • Use all available outdoor seating space. Trasca fortunately has a two-sided patio. They've spread their tables out and used as much of their patio space as possible.
  • Prepare indoor space to best accommodate social distancing. Inside, Trasca's staff removed chairs from tables to accommodate social distancing and added decals to its floors.
  • Listen to your customers and respond to their comfort levels.
  • Put communication tools in place for your staff and your customers. Know your audiences and how they like to get information. Frasca notes that Trasca's younger customers appreciate email newsletters and social media, but she makes sure to regularly update the answering machine and posts signs by Trasca's doors for elderly customers who don't regularly check digital forms of communication.
"We're prepared to be this careful for as long as is needed for community health and comfort," Frasca says. "And we will come out of this stronger than when we went in. We're a better operation, a better team."

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