Managing COVID in the hospitality industry with Shaun McDonald from Lucas Group

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Lucas Group has six restaurants across Sydney and Melbourne including Chin Chin, Kisumé, Gogo Bar, Baby Pizza and more. Their aim is to provide exceptional dining experiences which redefine the boundaries of expectations and excite the senses. In this interview, we chat to Shaun McDonald, the General Manager of People and Development, about how Lucas Group have been managing COVID in the hospitality industry.

Tell us about the impact of the pandemic on LUCAS Group

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry, including LUCAS Group, was required to close as non-essential services. The impact on our business resulted in us having to stand down 650 people during that time, and changing our business operations. 

Our main priority was around our people. Every decision we made was about putting our people first, communicating regularly, and executing on a strategy that supported our people as much as possible throughout the pandemic.

We shifted to ‘takeaway’ business operations within 48 hours and reopened our brand — something that we’ve never done before. The sole reason for this shift was to support those people that would not be eligible for financial assistance from the government. 30 percent of our crew are from overseas. 

The Job Keeper Program was introduced by the government a few weeks later, which was great for our people. It was another mechanism for us to support our crew. We applied immediately, and were able to support our stood down crew.

How did you manage communications with your staff? 

Strong communication was critical for us during this time. We focused on crafting messaging that was concise and clear, and enabled managers to share messages aligned to our CEO’s direction. Managers were provided tools and training, so they could communicate with their people.

At every level of our organisation, we ensured people understood the new direction, that they knew what to do in their roles, were trained up effectively and ready to fight. We needed to ensure our systems and processes were set up to effectively deliver the same quality in house in a takeaway model. 

Training was so crucial to helping people understand what to do, as their roles changed — and to deliver exceptional service to our guests and bring that level of comfort.

What are your return to work strategies and plans? 

As we transition our business from being a takeaway back into a restaurant, there are a few safety precautions we needed to make to our workplace so our crew felt comfortable to return to work. At the beginning, things were changing on a daily basis, constant updates, changes to legislation and changes to the job so we needed to keep up to date.

When we reopened we wanted to make sure that, we had done everything as a business to make sure that our people were safe, and explained to them that we were meeting social distancing guidelines and being compliant.

We also educated our managers to make sure that the messaging was the same. This brought a level of comfort to our crew. We’ve actually received a lot of positive feedback about the level of communications that came out of the clear and the concise messaging that was distributed.

We had to go through lots of planning to ensure which employees we would stand up and planning how we would layout our restaurant to adhere to social distancing restrictions. If any of our staff had reservations about coming back to a guest facing role, we put some of them into back of house roles so they would be more comfortable. We made sure that we communicated to our staff so that they knew we were running our venues safely and we were adhering to all the requirements set by the government.

How do you ensure that your employees are engaged and feel safe after returning to work?

Pulse surveys have been a great for us to ensure that people are comfortable with being back in the work environment. We’ve been able to get feedback and jump on any changes that we possibly need to make to make sure that people feel safe and they feel comfortable at work.

Related article: 10 Ideas to help you boost your employee engagement

Learn more about how Shaun McDonald used Flare to engage with employees through digital onboarding and benefits in this case study. If you’re looking for an additional HR software to support your business, Flare offers a free onboarding software with employee management and benefits. To learn more, please request a demo.

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