Black Sheep Restaurants, along with most of the restaurant industry in Hong Kong, was already incurring financial losses due to months of social unrest and anti-government protests. Then, they got hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From a business perspective, the pandemic has made an already difficult situation even harder,” Black Sheep co-founder Syed Asim Hussain shared with us. “We’re 50% lower in terms of revenue than where we need to be, but we know we’re still more fortunate than many restaurants around the globe.”
That last point Asim made — that Black Sheep is “more fortunate than many restaurants” — underscores the positivity and resilience the Black Sheep team has continued to operate with, even in the face of such turmoil. On top of that, they’re working to help other restaurants by creating a working COVID-19 playbook, to share how they’re handling the situation.
“We created the COVID-19 handbook primarily because, as industry leaders in our region, we feel a responsibility to try and help independent restaurant operators who don’t have the same resources that we do,” Asim told us.
“Hong Kong has established itself as a major dining city in the last few years, and right now we’re at risk of losing that. We primarily thought that, by sharing what’s working for us, we might help other operators in our city. But we’ve also been receiving messages from all over the world (India, Brazil, Australia, the U.S., the U.K.) from other restaurateurs and even retailers and hoteliers. The response has really surprised and touched us.”
We feel a responsibility to try and help independent restaurant operators who don’t have the same resources that we do.
The playbook lays out the new standard operating procedures the hospitality group has put into effect across its restaurants to continue to safely operate in this new landscape. But it’s written in a way so that any owner or operator can learn from it and apply it to their own restaurant. The playbook covers but is not limited to:
Hygiene and sanitation practices, including requiring hand washing every 30 minutes and making masks available and mandatory for all
Protecting and being cognizant of staff and guest health, including mandatory temperature checks and requiring that guests sign a Health Declaration Form before entering the restaurant
Offering guests sanitation protection options, like wipes and hand sanitizer, and setting up the restaurant space in accordance with social distancing mandates
Managing menus and food and beverage costs, including running with reduced menus to help with food cost and waste
Readjusting financials through strategic planning, cost management, and staff management
Every restaurant is different, and Asim and the Black Sheep team know that these aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions that’ll work for everyone. But based on how well the procedures have worked for them, they hope that there are nuggets in the handbook that can help people no matter where their restaurant is or its size or concept.
“For us, the glimmer of hope has been that, when the inevitable happened and a guest with COVID-19 walked through our doors, they must have had half a dozen close interactions with team members and other guests during that visit,” Asim shared. “But nobody else contracted the virus within the restaurant. While I’m sure luck played a significant role in that, I also believe that the hygiene measures we have put in place really are helping, so every day I tell my teams to not drop their guard. Keep wearing the masks, keep washing your hands, and we will get through this.”
I have never been prouder of what we have built here.
Beyond working to keep the doors open and their staff, guests, and community safe, Asim hopes that, through all of this situation’s ups and downs, they’re able to come out the other side as a team with their values intact. “Culture and community are two cornerstones on which Black Sheep has been built, but we have never been truly tested before,” said Asim. “And I can hand-on-heart say that now we have, and I have never been prouder of what we have built here.”
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