It’s early in the morning. The restaurant is not yet open. And COVID-19 social distancing policies mean the usual crowds aren’t allowed inside. The tables are full of colorful cardboard lunch boxes. Employees arrived early to prepare and pack 200 meals for workers at Emory University Hospital Midtown.
“We all know that at the end of the day we have our medical staff that are working really long hours and they’re tired and can’t be close to their families,” said Sterling Coleman, president and CEO of SJAC Food Groups, a Zaxby’s franchisee. “This [effort] is a bridge that allows us to help support those people who are on the front lines.”
This will be the norm at Zaxby’s for the near future. This month, Atlanta-area Zaxby’s restaurants will deliver meals to healthcare workers who are providing coronavirus relief at 42 hospitals across the region.
“Ultimately we have to fight this thing together. And part of fighting this together is helping and supporting and serving one another,” Coleman said.
Atlanta chefs and restaurateurs including Empire State South’s Hugh Acheson, Slutty Vegan, Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Miller Union have also announced plans to serve food to local doctors, nurses, first responders and others affected by the spread of the coronavirus. Beyond the food services sector, Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) said it would provide free flights to medical workers traveling to pandemic hotspots. United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) is coordinating with the federal government to distribute protective gear and coordinate COVID-19 testing sites. The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) has donated 6,000 pounds of plastic to be turned into surgical shields. Serta Simmons Bedding said it would donate 10,000 mattresses to New York City hospitals and temporary medical facilities. Aflac Inc. Chairman Dan Amos and his wife Kathelen donated $2 million to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation announced more than $5 million in funding for immediate and long-term recovery assistance. The Atlanta Hawks are leveraging partnerships to host free pop-up grocery stores.
Those acts of community service, could pay off after the pandemic.
GoBeyondProfit recently released the findings of its second annual Corporate Generosity Research Report. The Alpharetta-based group polled 500 workers and 244 business leaders in Georgia. Most of the respondents said they prefer to buy from (73%) and associate with (74%) brands and companies that are generous to the community. More than half (53%) of the people polled said they would pay more for products from those companies.
The survey was conducted in February before the wide spread of COID-19 coronavirus. But the organization said the data may shine a light on how customers and employees will respond to what businesses are doing during the pandemic.
“There will be no second chance to make today’s difficult decisions,” said Megan McCamey, goBeyondProfit director. “Long-term success may well depend on generous choices made today.”
“It’s hard to recover from a bad past,” said Sandy Jap, a marketing professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “History colors the present.”
Jap said she is telling businesses, many of which are closed or operating on a truncated schedule due to coronavirus, to use this time to rethink how they engage with customers and employees.
She recalled a Hyundai commercial that aired in 2009, when the economy was in recession. The South Korean automaker made a pledge: “Finance or lease any new Hyundai and if you lose your income in the next year, you can return it with no impact on your credit.”
Some companies learned from Hyundai’s goodwill, Jap said, and in the age of this global pandemic, they are moving more quickly to meet people where they are. But she warns that authenticity is critical, whether a company is making masks for healthcare workers, delivering food to residents in a senior community, or pledging to continue to pay salaries and benefits for its employees.
“Grand gestures don’t work,” Jap said. “They ring false.”
The best companies will engage management and employees to inform the appropriate plan, and to ensure that the response is of value to customers and workers.
“The absolute worst thing that any company can do,” Jap said, “is to do nothing at all.”
By Crystal EdmonsonBroadcast Editor