Responding to the Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Hey everyone,

I’m a new PMQ staff member. I would like to hear how your business is responding to Coronavirus, what actions have you taken, or are planning to take, to continue having sales?

Have you started working with no contact delivery, pick up, online ordering, contact lists, etc.? How has it worked?

Please share your experiences and feel free to ask questions, we would want this place to continue being a resource for all of you.

Here in Indiana, the Governor shut down all Restaurants & Bars for dine in. Carry Out and Delivery are still allowed with the strong recommendation from Health Departments that it be done Contact-Less. It took us a couple days to adjust to our dining room closing and getting everything figured out for Contactless service. This has all happened during the local High School and University’s spring breaks, so we’re getting to ease into it.

In order to pull it off we went Pre-paid only on our online ordering and are asking that customers pay via credit card only on the phone. We posted signs letting customers know we’re not allowing any walk-in orders while this is ongoing. We stopped selling by-the-slice too since that’s just too many small orders all at once to execute this effectively.

I created some training videos to help the staff understand what we’re asking like this:

So far, we’ve heard only positive feedback from customers. There’s been some push back from the grizzled veteran drivers about the extra safety steps recommended by the Health Dept. like wearing gloves. Sales are coming at odd times compared to Spring Break historically, so we’ve been taking a labor bath the past few days as we try to adjust.

Thank you Brad

This great video is something that every pizza business should have. It appears to simply be a video for your employees which would be good enough but I’m sure your customers will be heartened to know that you are addressing their safety concerns. Did you create a consumer version of this video? How are you distributing this video to your target. Thank you so much.

PMQ Steve

My tech-savvy employee (college-age daughter) also created videos for customers. Just uploaded the final versions last night.

One for Carry Out:

One for Delivery:

I had made a Picture post on Social Media with written instructions on Thursday. Planning to upload these today if everything with the formatting is compatible with all the platforms.

It has been Really tough for us in Amherst Ma. Colleges are only industry. It’s is hard enough to get through the summer adding an additional 2 months will probably force a lot of us to close for good.
My customer base is 90%college students I have tried hard to break into the local market the older More established places have local loyalty. Even though I am from this town, advertising on Instagram and Facebook everyday I am having no luck getting people to order during this time.

We are a pizza burger restaurant that focuses on gluten free as our specialty that we do well.

During this out break the first thing the managers and I did was close and self quarantine to for 10 days to ensure we were healthy. We were planning originally on laying everyone off but soon realized how vulnerable this would make us if someone acquired Covid19 . So instead we set up 2 teams of 5 that will not see each other. These teams will work every other week. That way if someone on 1 team gets sick we just pull the team extra extra clean and then the other team will take over running the business until the first is healthy again. No cross contamination between teams even on a personal level.
We have 3 people in at a time and every order gets treated like it’s for a gluten allergy person. One person handles each order. Starts with washing hands for every order, new gloves for every order, we are fresh prepping all veggies as we go so we don’t waste product. The kitchen person cooks and boxes and bags the order.
We are doing non contact delivery and non contact curbside pick up only. No customers are allowed in restaurant at all. I was hoping this would ease people’s worries. The driver has one set of gloves for each customer they deliver to and are washing their hands as well before they leave and when they return.
Prepay pre tip required

My employees in addition to the promise to shelter in place and only be at work and out trips limited are also taking their temps every day and watching for any of the 7 symptoms . Any sign even a small sign of sickness of any kind they will notify me.

Additional advertising! We have found all of our off campus customers and contacted them directly via text, phone ,IG messenger, or email to ask them if they are still in the area or plan on coming back to the area.
Rebecca Casagrande
Sunset Grill and pizza

That’s a great set of videos letting everyone know what they need to know to be an efficient employee or customer.

Thank you for sharing. Hopefully others will be inspired to create these kinds of videos that can slowly bring back and build new business during the next few weeks.

Hey Rebecca,
You really care about your customers. If they only new all the steps you are going through. I assume that’s what you are posting on social media.

Have you considered putting a live webcam in your kitchen to show the world in real time just how safety conscious and caring you are?

Dodo Pizza does this with all of their stores world wide. They are a Russian chain that has successfully been able to win the trust of normally business suspicious Russian consumers by putting live webcam in every Dodo pizza kitchen around the world and are now Russia’s largest chain. Just an idea.

Thanks I will def discuss that with my people to see how they feel about it

Anyone having success in getting rent abatement from the “Force majuere” clause in your lease? I have asked my LL for a rent break based on that clause and I’m waiting to hear back. Curious about what you guys are doing.

Also- what about putting in a claim on your business interruption insurance? I am waiting back on the claim I put in. Will keep in touch.Thanks. Bob at DC Pizza
Please read below:

Over the past 24 hours we’ve continued to learn more about the Coronavirus and its devastating impact on many entrepreneurs. As our members come together, we are also picking up new resources on how to weather the storm. Here’s the latest:

Reducing Rent Expenses: Many entrepreneurs are beginning to think about how to control rent costs.
It’s also worth checking out the force majeure provisions in your lease. Some experts are saying that exemption from rent under this clause is unlikely.
but others say that there is an outside chance of getting relief under this provision (. Some of our members are beginning to negotiate with their landlords to get rent holidays and/or reductions.

Coronavirus and Commercial Real Estate Leases

USA March 18 2020

This Alert is part one in a series of articles intended to examine the effect of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States and its effect on commercial real estate assets whose tenant occupants are experiencing complete or partial shutdown of their business operations resulting from the preventative social distancing measures imposed in the wake of the wide-spread infectious disease and owners who are temporarily closing buildings. Commercial landlords and tenants alike should review their lease documents and, if necessary, seek legal advice to determine their rights and obligations based on the particular circumstances of the suspension in use of the space. Please note this Alert is not intended to apply to properties containing residential leases. We will be providing a separate analysis of the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to both construction agreements and financing documents for real property.

Force Majeure Lease Clauses

Force majeure clauses in leases address events that are beyond the parties’ control, such as the outbreak of war, natural disasters, or other acts of God. The clauses typically provide that, to the extent the force majeure event renders performance impossible or results in a delay in performance, the affected party’s obligations to perform under a particular lease may be excused or suspended.

Is Coronavirus a Force Majeure Event?

One must examine the force majeure clause to determine if the COVID-19 outbreak qualifies as a force majeure event. Generally speaking, courts of most jurisdictions have historically interpreted force majeure clauses narrowly and will only excuse performance if the force majeure clause specifies the event that actually prevents a party’s performance. Does the definition of force majeure expressly include words “pandemic,” “epidemic,” “disease,” “public health emergency,” or other similar language? If such language is present, the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to constitute a force majeure event. In the absence of such language, the force majeure clause is not likely to be interpreted to cover the COVID-19 outbreak.

Is a Government Imposed Shutdown a Force Majeure Event?

If a space has been involuntarily shut down by mandatory governmental order, as we are seeing in many areas in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a similar examination of the force majeure provision must be made to determine if such act qualifies as a force majeure event. Typically, “governmental restriction,” “regulation,” or similar phrases are included within a standard force majeure lease provision and constitute force majeure events.

Effects of Such Force Majeure Events

If these events qualify as force majeure events under a lease, a landlord’s obligation to provide access to the leased premises would be suspended during such applicable period, and the inability of a tenant to gain access would not be construed as a constructive eviction. These events would also likely result in a suspension of a tenant’s obligation to continuously operate its premises, as well as the obligations of both the landlord and tenant to maintain and perform repairs to the premises. Note that the events for which relief is provided tend to be obligations relating to performance, not payment. (Note also, that even if these events do not qualify as force majeure events under a lease, a party may be excused from performance pursuant to other provisions in the lease. For example, a tenant who shuts down its operations in response to a government directive would likely be viewed as complying with a requirement under the lease to conduct its business in compliance with applicable laws.)

The coronavirus is causing a true Friday the 13th nightmare for many in the retail industry today. On March 12, 2020, the country began ardently practicing social distancing and self-quarantining to a degree never seen before, and many shopping center landlords and retail tenants are immediately facing an uncertain future.

The coronavirus-related question the AGG retail industry team is getting most often today is whether force majeure (“superior force”) or “Act of God” clauses justify tenants’ suspension of performance of their duties under their leases (primarily operating and paying rent). The answer depends on the specific contract language, local law, and the causal connection between the pandemic and the particular tenant’s inability to meet its lease obligations. Commercial landlords and tenants alike need to understand the application of these rarely invoked clauses.

Black’s Law Dictionary explains that a force majeure clause, “is meant to protect the parties in the event that a contract cannot be performed due to causes which are outside the control of the parties and could not be avoided by exercise of due care.” Force majeure clauses allocate risk between the parties when an unanticipated event makes performance impossible or impracticable.

While state laws vary, every jurisdiction respects parties right to contract. So, disputes over application of force majeure clauses start with the specific language used in the lease. A force majeure lease clause may contain a list of specific events which constitute a force majeure , it may be more vague to include anything out of the parties’ control, or, the clause may define specific events and then include broad “catch-all” language such as, “for other reason whether of a like nature or not that is beyond the control of the party affected.” Generally speaking, the more specific the clause, the more limited application it has – if the actual occurrence is not on a long list of specific events, it is not likely a force majeure . Most clauses specify that they are only invoked when performance becomes impossible; some have more liberal language requiring only the hindrance or delay of performance.

As it pertains to the coronavirus, any broad force majeure clause language should apply since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. It is unlikely any court would decide that any tenant caused the coronavirus. And, many force majeure clauses specifically include “epidemic” or “pandemic” in its laundry list of qualifying events. Even without that specific reference, the coronavirus should qualify under most force majeure clauses due to the government imposed travel bans and quarantines.

Tenants could have trouble proving its damages if business was already down. Most courts require the party claiming force majeure to show that the event was not foreseeable and directly caused the failure to meet its contractual obligations. While this is often a close call in weather-related natural disasters – the geographic scope and actual impact on the stream of commerce of a storm is often debatable – a pandemic resulting in mass closures of all public events and schools should not be a close call. This is not a normal risk of doing business.

As in any lease matter, strict compliance with the technical requirements of the lease may be necessary for a tenant to invoke a force majeure clause. Typically a lease requires prompt notice of a claim of force majeure . Several courts have refused tenants’ force majeure claims when they failed to provide adequate notice under the lease.

One common, and particularly controversial clause in a situation such as the one we are in today, is found in the last line in the above example at footnote one: “Nothing in this Section, however, shall excuse Tenant from the prompt payment of any Rent or the obligation to open for business on the Commencement Date.” The intention of the parties appears to be that a tenant may be excused by a force majeure of complying with a continuous operation clause in the event of a pandemic, but it still must pay rent. Under the current circumstances, one could make an argument that these clauses are unenforceable because they are unconscionable and against public policy.

Finally, landlords could also seize this opportunity to use force majeure clauses proactively. Landlords may claim force majeure clauses excuse co-tenancy requirements and other obligations to its tenants. Landlords could argue that force majeure requires it to breach an exclusive so it can lease to a competitor of an existing tenant so as to ensure revenue stream.

Questions regarding force majeure clauses are one of many issues that arise during challenging times for the retail industry, but with vigilant adherence to their contracts and applicable law, landlords and tenants can navigate these troubled waters successfully.

Footnotes for this alert are available in the formatted PDF accessible below.

Do the Amhert Ma. Colleges have off campus housing? IU closed the dormitories, but we’re hearing that some student are actually coming back after Spring Break. Guess they don’t want to live at home with Mom & Dad during a pandemic? Will be interesting to see if sales pick up this week or not around Bloomington, IN along with our 201 cases as I fear some of them may have been packed together on Florida beaches for the vacation.

We’ve spoken with one of our Landlords about a rent abatement at our now empty dining room location. They sounded receptive to the idea. Still waiting for the final word.

In the mean time, I’m awaiting our county to get placed on the list of Covid-19 disaster areas so we can apply for an SBA loan:

It’s really rough!! Thanks so much for telling me I am not alone . 3 month no customers is scary. 6. Earth shattering… We have been out reaching to all of our off campus customers sorted through all of delivery slips which I keep. Texted evryone or emailed them. Asking them their plans. Our town put a restriction on how many can live in each Greek like house until this is over.

I do think when the curb flattens they will be back to probably through the summer to party. I hope !!! Be we are doing no contact delivery and no contact pick up. I wouldn’t let them in … your town folks should feel less anxious about ordering that way . Keep your employees healthier as long as you can.

I’m hearing a lot of appreciation from the community for being proactive about this.

Our Southside DelCo location, which is in a residential area, was up 7% over last year’s Spring Break. Our 2 stores around the campus were down 5% and 12% on Delivery & Carry out. lt’s the total loss of Dine In that’s really painful though.

We’ve scheduled for “regular” after break business this week because we really have no idea what to expect.

Please do. PMQ has a website domain called PizzaVision that would have an directory that could list pizzerias with active webcams so that consumers could see for themselves how safely their pizza is being handled. “Watch What You Eat” Or Watch your Pizza Being Made Now.

Another variation would be to share driver video cams that show pizza being delivered to an actual homes.

If enough American Pizzerias would be interested in joining this website we could fire it up. If interested please send a link you your website, contact person and preferred online ordering destination so that we can lead consumers looking for pizzerias that are willing to let their customers peek inside the kitchen.

Anyone running a food trailer? We run Dough Boys Pizza in Greenwood LA. and OMG we have been slammed with this all going on…

How is this working out Friday/Sat night? We are carryout/delivery only in Indiana. :wave: but would have 5-6 ppl calling in to pickup plus our orders.
We are debating having a pickup window. :thinking:

It’s really hectic to be honest. We’re asking customers to call when they arrive, put them on hold while we organize their order and set it out, take them off hold to tell them to grab their food, then sanitize the table after they’re away to a safe social distance. On Friday night especially, we’ll have all 6 lines tied up between 4 carry-out customers arrive at once and a couple delivery orders filling up the rest of the free lines.

We’ve started staging the carry out orders in delivery bags on the now otherwise unoccupied front counter. This allows us to put the credit card slip, the hot food in the bag, and the cold food next to it all in one place.

The other unanticipated problem is that in going pre-paid only, I’m having to run to the bank 3-4 times a week to replenish the in-store bank so drivers can be paid their mileage + tips nightly and the kitchen can take the crazy amount of tips they are now earning home nightly too. Customers really appreciate the contact-less system.

Yeah I figured customers would appreciate the no contact vs having to wait for ya to get it all together.
A customer suggest putting a red/green sign on the door so only one person will enter at a time.
Currently have a pickup window and mobile card reader so they scan their own card. Very easy to sanitizer between. Just thinking of other options. Thanks!!

We’re actually locking our doors as people fail to read or choose to ignore the signage explaining our contact-less system. That way we’re in complete control. We can shoo customers back and not set out their food until they comply with social distance.

Applications for the Paycheck Protection Program which is part of the 2.2 trillion stimulus package open tomorrow from what I’m told by my SBA lender:

In a nutshell, it could be a grant for 8 weeks of payroll expenses and some rent & utilities.

It is possible to pair the PPP with an Economic Injury Disaster Loan: They just can’t be used towards the same expenses.