When coronavirus first hit Hong Kong, the city’s restaurant industry had already been through a tumultuous six-month period of civil unrest. Protests against the government made the news around the globe, and left local restaurants, bars and hotels in a precarious position. But as one of the first places outside mainland China to report cases of coronavirus, Hong Kong's plight went from bad to worse.
Quickly recognising the severity of the situation, popular restaurant group Black Sheep took action by drawing up a detailed plan of how to deal with the escalating crisis.
Comprising 1000 staff across 23 restaurants, the entire group applied clear and rigorous guidelines, including temperature checks on arrival, no physical contact, and regular and frequent handwashing practices.
When the group started receiving calls from other Hong Kong restaurants looking for advice on how to adapt to the crisis, they decided to make their guidelines public. It was picked up by restaurants around the world.
“We had an inkling that this was going to be an issue and it was going to come to Hong Kong," Black Sheep co-founder Syed Asim Hussain told Business Insider.
"Being in fight mode because of what was happening in the industry maybe helped us, and we were very swift to come together and say: 'What are things we need to do to keep our restaurants open?' Because closing the restaurants meant the full financial failure of the company," he said.
Black Sheep restaurant group took a lead on how to handle the crisis, and many of their guidelines were adopted as official policy.
Crucially, the playbook has allowed the group to keep its restaurants open during the crisis, even if only operational at 50% capacity. It has, however, allowed the business to stay afloat.
"Anyone waiting for things to return to normal is going to be waiting a long time."
When arriving at a Black Sheep restaurant, diners must declare they have either no symptoms, or have had no contact with the virus for 14-days. All details are provided for track and trace purposes. Temperatures are taken and guests are supplied with paper bags at tables to store their masks in while they eat. Liquid sanitiser and wipes are also provided.
As restaurants around the world begin to reopen and prepare for business in coextistence with coronavirus, these rules for re-engaging with the public can prove invaluable, both in keeping restaurants open, and for wider health during the pandemic's current phase.
"Anyone waiting for things to return to normal is going to be waiting a long time. Things are not going to go back to what they were before, and something that we are saying very loudly and clearly in our world is that there is going to be a new framework and all of us have to figure out how we are going to exist in that new framework," he said.
He added: "The successful ones will very quickly figure out how you operate in this new environment and implement strategies around that."