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Ryan Griffin: How St. Pete businesses, hospitality workers are adapting to Covid-19 mitigation [video]

Megan Holmes



The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Video coming soon.

Business and social restrictions meant to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 are changing rapidly. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday the statewide closure of bars and clubs, and a 50 percent reduction in capacity for restaurants. How are local businesses handling these restrictions? St. Petersburg Chamber CEO Chris Steinocher covers that difficult topic on this episode of Coronavirus Impact Insights with Chamber President Ryan Griffin, a lawyer at Johnson Pope, and owner of Mandarin Hide, Sake 23 and Trophy Fish.

“It has been a lot to take in in the hospitality business in the last couple weeks, let alone the last 24 hours,” Griffin says. “It’s a constantly fluid situation that continues to change. All you can do is prepare with what you know and go forward from that.”

Griffin has been forced to shut down Mandarin Hide, a popular bar in downtown St. Petersburg, and operate his other businesses at half capacity. His action plan for the hospitality workers he employs include providing immediate monetary resources to give employees some relief, and directing them toward additional private and governmental resources, like bartender relief assistance from the state of Florida, and unemployment assistance. Standards for unemployment assistance are being relaxed and are available not just for employees that have been laid off, but those facing reduced hours.

Across the state and federal government, bills are being established and solidified that would provide two weeks of severance.

In the meantime, Griffin says that now is the time to get creative. Griffin is working to provide jobs outside of regular hospitality work for staff in need, particularly for jobs that are sometimes contracted out to vendors.

The best thing the community can do right now, in addition to ordering food to go from restaurants, is purchasing gift cards, which Griffin explains essentially operate as a zero percent loan to small businesses. Griffin says this is one of the best ways to get money to staff and keep them employed.

“Every little thing helps,” Griffin explains. “People want to help each other. It’s a serious situation and people right now are trying to determine how they’re going to feed their families.”

Communicating and educating employees and customers continues to be essential, even during closure, Griffin says. Rules regarding restaurants could be changing quickly, and the restaurant and bar closures could go on longer than 30 days.

Many restaurants are getting creative in an attempt to keep customers engaged and doing business. At Trophy Fish, Griffin says, delivery services like Uber Eats, Door Dash and others are aligning to help get food to families. Griffin believes that this vertical integration is essential for restaurants to survive, especially those restaurants that had not previously been using delivery services.

Trophy Fish is utilizing a “no contact” approach, running phone deliveries out to customers, sanitizing credit cards and pens, and much more. On-site they’ve reduced capacity levels, removing half tables, and aligning the remaining tables with six feet or more distance between them. They’ve begun to open earlier in order to spread out shifts so that the staff can get full hours. Griffin has also expanded hours at the joint Mandarin Heights and Bodega location in Seminole Heights. Griffin also suggests packaging different meal options, posting changing menus to Facebook and Instagram, and letting patrons order food to-go online. Trophy Fish is even selling whole fish directly to customers.

“One of the biggest things about this is also that these businesses exist after this,” Griffin explains. “We’re going to come out of it, but I will tell you there are already places that have shut down that will not open up back up, locally.”

As a lawyer, Griffin says business owners should start applying for short-term bridge loans now. They should also be looking at expenses and trying to negotiate lease payments, loan forgiveness, refinancing options.

“Again my heart and thoughts go out to the people suffering from this health-wise and economically,” Griffin says. “I do see it as a great opportunity to show everyone what St. Pete is. To show why everyone says they love St. Pete. Because we’re a strong community and think this is a opportunity to galvanize our city and come together, and I know that we will.

“I’m seeing that on all fronts that businesses are coming together … people are helping all the way down the supply chain … It’s going to take leadership, it’s going to take some struggles, we’re all going to need to tighten our belt a little bit on this. Stay diligent, educate yourself, be aware, be safe and we’re gonna get through it.”

At the start of the episode, St. Pete Catalyst Publisher Joe Hamilton reads a letter from Gaunce Law, as an example of great outward facing communication efforts. You can read the full text of the email below:

In this uncertain time, it is important that we lean on each other however possible. This situation is constantly in flux, and as we await a Senate decision on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there are a lot of potential changes for those of us who are business owners.
Here is what we know now and a few things to consider regarding your company’s operations:

  • Talk to your staff. Like really talk to them. If they are wanting to exercise social distance but concerned about being able to pay their bills, now is the time to get creative. A few ideas are listed below.
  • Look into your insurance policy to see whether COVID-19 is covered. If so, share that with your employees. If not, find out why not. Push your broker. This could be an area of stress for your staff and any reassurance you can provide would be appreciated.
  • Many offices are going full-remote. Do it if you can.
    • If you do, you may want to agree on a single communications platform that all employees will be required to participate in. It could be email, instant messaging, Slack, Skype, Zoom Conferencing, or some other tool.
    • Recognize that you will have to trust that your employees are working; Keep an eye on the bigger picture and track overall productivity, not moment-by-moment activities.
    • Another concern for workers not used to working remotely is that they may feel untethered and disconnected from the organization during this time period. Some tactics to prevent and overcome this problem include:
      • Develop and distribute an agenda for all team meetings, as well as meeting minutes and task lists after they are completed, so that those unable to attend can feel part of the action;
      • Schedule virtual team lunches; and
      • Consider other ways to ensure your workers feel connected with each other and with the organization, whether that includes daily meetings, frequent phone calls or texts, or other actions that can go a long way towards ensuring their peace of mind.
  • If you cannot be remote, consider:
    • Staggering employee starting and departing times.
    • Stagger lunch and break periods to minimize overcrowding in common areas such as elevators, break rooms, etc.
    • If you can have one person at a time in the office, do that.
    • Allow employees to reduce their hours if they need time to prepare for a potential quarantine or take care of personal matters.
  • Restrict who from the public can enter your office.
    • Inform clients/customers that they cannot walk in and meetings will be by appointment only.
    • Consider having virtual meetings only for the time being.
    • Have a sign for delivery personnel that instructs them to leave packages/mail and ring a bell/knock to alert the staff to come outside to pick it up.
  • Ensure that anyone in your office understands the importance of frequent handwashing, maintaining safe distances (6 feet or more) from others, and thoroughly cleaning all surfaces including screens, keyboards, printers, phones, kitchen appliances and anything that others may touch. Be sure your office is stocked with supplies to do so.
  • Establish a way to communicate with all staff in the event of a quarantine situation – a group text, a personal email list, or other way to get messages out quickly to your team.
  • Have a single point of contact for employees for all concerns that arise relating to health and safety and be sure all employees have that person’s cell number.

We hope you, your families and your staff are all untouched by this illness, and we look forward to seeing you very soon. Please reach out if we can help in any way.
Meredith and Andy

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  1. Avatar

    S Bertash

    March 18, 2020at4:44 pm

    How about a StPete restaurant giftcard got at a number of restaurants? I caution buying gift cards at single restaurant because sadly some may not survive this event.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 18, 2020at8:27 pm

    They closed our credit union branch. Other than the staff, 2 or 3, people at any given time, I never see more than 2 customers inside. Most use the ATM or the ITM. It made no sense to close it. Over kill here.

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