Practical financial tips from restaurateurs during the COVID-19 crisis

Our best wishes go out to all who are dealing with this challenging situation. As COVID-19 continues to upend the hospitality industry, our community matters more than ever. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight restaurants that are continuing to feed their communities, how diners are supporting their local restaurants, and what we’re doing to support the industry. Head here for OpenTable’s preparedness resource center.

Many restaurateurs are thinking about how to deal with the current financial hit, as well as how to cut costs now and in the future. These financial considerations are separate from the fundraisers many restaurants are running to support their staff and operations, and many of them require negotiating.

There’s a lot to sort through when margins are thinner than ever, so we tapped restaurateurs in our network as well as OpenTable employees with restaurant experience. Read on for their practical financial advice, and see which tips could be applicable for you. 

Reevaluate your P&L

Take a comprehensive look at your cash reserve and your forecasted expenses, and create a new P&L if necessary.

“Create a miniature P&L around takeout and a declining checkbook (utilities, salaries, insurance, supplies etc.). What does it cost to operate and what are we taking in? Does it make sense?”
— Ted Swigert, owner of Drake and Washington Dining & Cocktails in Bend, OR

“Create a comprehensive plan of your essential expenses, and your restaurant’s cash, savings, emergency funds, et cetera. From here, you can forecast what you’ll need to keep the lights on.”
— Sarah Chen, OpenTable marketing coordinator with a family of restaurateurs

Prioritize insurance bills 

Insurance policies can be tricky, and you don’t want to run into added stress because of fine print you were unaware of. 

You can negotiate with your landlord on rent and your purveyors on terms, etc., but the first bill you pay should be anything related to insurance. Many policies have clauses that can cancel or reduce coverage around lack of payment, and now is not the time to let protection lapse and then have something happen, making an already bad situation worse because you aren’t properly covered.”
— Kelly Carroll Harbison, OpenTable Restaurant Services Manager, NY

Audit your automatic payments

Take a moment to gather all of your automatic payments and subscriptions, and decide which ones are nonessential. 

“Scrub past credit card bills for any recurring charges so you can pause or cancel subscriptions you don’t need. It’d be extra frustrating right now to get hit on your credit card bill for some quarterly recurring charge.”
— Dan Simons, co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group, home to upscale American cuisine in DC

“If you’re not staying open for delivery, turn off all delivery platforms.”
— Kevin Boehm, co-owner of Boka Restaurant Group, a chef-driven restaurant group in Chicago

Negotiate rent

You can talk to your landlord about the possibility of restructuring your monthly rent payments or working out a rent payment plan that makes sense for both of you. 

“With your landlord, use the phone, not email. If the landlord is a big company, human-to-human is the way to establish a framework for the kind of relief and support that you need. For the moment, you don’t have to push for a comprehensive solution or long-term answer. Just get an agreement that rent is not due for the next 60 days, and that the landlord will not take any punitive steps, and agree to discuss the whole topic again in 45 days.”
— Dan Simons

Communicate with vendors

Similarly, you may want to reevaluate any relationships with vendors that are currently unnecessary, or negotiate new options. Keep in mind that purveyors are also facing challenges and need support, so be open and honest in your communication. For example, Ted Swigert contacted all of his purveyors to work out payment plans. 

“Pause all nonessential spends and communicate with vendors the reasoning and timeline for when you’ll be able to start these back up. If you have unpaid balances, consider speaking with them about a payment plan or deferring payment.”
— Sarah Chen

“Cash is king. Only pay for product you need to buy that you can actively sell. Every other Accounts Payable line should be frozen and evaluated case by case. But, along the way, be an excellent communicator with every person and company on that AP list. We have to remember that lots of our vendors and suppliers are just as hurt as we are. While we don’t always have money, we always have character and communication, so lead with that.”
— Dan Simons

“For wholesale vendors including food, wine, and liquor, negotiate payment terms.”
— Irene Wu, OpenTable Restaurant Services Manager, NY and CT

Keep your employees in the loop

“Speak to staff in a formal email outlining what you are hoping to do regarding pay, and over-communicate your intention—do the right thing. Keep your staff paid wherever you can.”
— Lucy Taylor, OpenTable Sales Director

Continually communicate your plans with your staff so they are informed— you don’t want to leave them in the dark! Determine the number of positions essential to running takeout/delivery, and schedule on a rotation basis for those roles so you can run operations and provide hours for each of your staff.”
— Sarah Chen 

Trust your entrepreneurial instincts

If any inspiration strikes, now’s the time to get creative with business models. 

“Remember that entrepreneurship and fire in your mind that inspired you to get into this crazy business in the first place? Tap back into that. Put on your futurist goggles, find a need, and fill it. People need your hospitality, your heart, your commitment to community, your ability to fill their bellies with food and drink—repackage all those passions, skills, and abilities. There is no industry with grittier people than our industry. The banks and landlords will give us a runway—we need to build new models and figure out how to use that runway to launch.”
— Dan Simons

For additional COVID-19 information, visit our preparedness resource center and learn more about the CARES Act.

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