Dear Washington hospitality members,

Every day keeps bringing new information and developments regarding the coronavirus. Because of the work-from-home edicts of corporations and the drop in tourism, our industry of hospitality has been one of the hardest hit economically.

I, like many of you, have been struggling for the past few weeks to understand. Is this really that big of a deal? Are we needlessly scaring people? What’s the difference between this and the flu?

Clarity came to me this week when the following information was shared with me by an industry health expert who I have trusted and worked with for 20 years.

Coronavirus is:
• More contagious than the seasonal flu (mainly because the incubation period is longer – 4-14 days, instead of about 1-5 days). Each infected person infects 1-3 others.
• More deadly than the seasonal flu – 10-20 times more deadly, particularly for older people and those with underlying health conditions.
• The cases and fatality numbers tend to double every 2-7 days in the early spread of the disease.
• Without taking steps to slow the spread, the assumption is that Washington state could quickly have tens of thousands of cases and hospitalizations – all in a short time frame. This would overwhelm the health care system.

The first piece of good news (for part of our industry) is that food is not a known issue with this virus. It is mostly spread through respiratory droplets.

The second piece of good news is that this virus, unlike influenza, is controllable and effective measures we take can make a difference.

The association is working around the clock on the following:
1) Centralizing all the key information you need on our website.
2) Relief, support and rebuild packages in Seattle, in the legislature and with state agencies.
3) Employee support in Seattle, in the legislature and with state agencies.
4) Executing a media strategy to ensure our industry is a shining example in this crisis.

What can you do? What should you do?
We, as leaders in our state, need to understand this is an event without precedent in most of our lifetimes and in our communities. This isn’t political, the entire community needs to rally to support and protect those most at risk.

Again, because the virus spreading through respiratory droplets via coughing and sneezing, do what we have already been trained to do – execute the following disciplines in your building and among every team member:
• Keep sick employees at home, PERIOD!
• Wash hands obsessively.
• Clean, clean, clean and clean — especially door handles and guest surfaces.

Be strategic
• Develop a short message on how you are going to talk to your guests and have all team members learn it, practice it and stick to it.
• Determine your cash reserves now, how long can you go with minimum revenue?
• Determine the profit margin you need to protect the long-term health of your business.
• Be creative about revenue streams. Promote staycations for spring break or transition servers to delivery drivers. Millennials are not going to suddenly learn to cook amid this outbreak – how can you get meals to them creatively?
• Treat your employees how you would want to be treated. The last three years have reinforced for all of us the value of great employees. If you are doing layoffs or temporary closures, support them in their effort to apply for unemployment insurance. Over-communicate during this time so they value your honesty and transparency. Do what you can so when this ends their first instinct is to come back to you.

Be a leader
Act when you need to and don’t let fear cripple good decisions. Layoffs, menu simplification and temporary closures are brutal decisions you may need to make. But we are going to get to the other side of this as an industry – and I want you still part of that when we do.

This is the fourth industry crisis in my career (the E-coli outbreak, 9-11 terrorist attacks and The Great Recession). Here is what I know for sure.
1) That this too will pass.
2) There is great reason for hope. The new generation’s desire for great experiences and for food prepared away from home is embedded and will not be diminished by this event. The long-term future for hospitality is still bright.
3) Your association will continue to fight for your hospitality dreams.

Good luck, be smart, stay informed and continue to show the community and your team members what great hospitality looks like.