Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Several industries have already been devastated by the uncontrolled onrush of the coronavirus Covid-19.

The restaurant industry has been decimated. Many restaurants will never reopen.

I've spoken to several long-time servers in restaurants who simply don't know what they'll do if something doesn't change in a matter of weeks.

Some restaurants are focusing on takeout, in order to at least pay a couple of salaries and at least give customers some ready-made food.

That seems to be the sole focus of many. But, despite the disaster, is there something more a small restaurant can do?

Many restaurants email customers, display their new takeout menus, and describe how the system works.

One such restaurant is Valenti and Co

It's a small Italian place in San Anselmo, California. I've been there quite a few times for carefully prepared, fresh dishes. The pappardelle with rabbit is genuinely something else.

The service can be entertaining, too. It says something about a restaurant's owners when the staff stay for many years.

But when I received its email telling me about its new takeout offering during the Bay Area's -- and now California's -- Shelter in Place order, I assumed it would simply be another noble effort to get by, now that dining in is forbidden.

The email explained: 

Like many restaurants, we are going to be providing takeout food for the community now. I hope business will be enough to justify staying open as this is new territory for us.

For a small-business owner to try something new at a time like this is a risk in itself. In this case, chef Duilio Valenti freely admits he has no idea if it'll work. 

His email went on to offer reassurance about cleanliness: 

I want to assure you that Valenti and Co. is one of the cleanest food facilities around. In fact, on our last Department of Health inspection we score a perfect 100 percent. Furthermore, our dishwashing machine is state of the art, where the sanitizing cycle is computer-monitored and fail proof, a great tool to have for many purposes during these times.

Still, it seemed as if this was just another effort to make a little money and survive. However, then there followed this:

I also would like to offer help to those who are in need of items that have disappeared from store shelves, like toilet paper, hand towels, bleach, sponges, and many more items that restaurants normally use. If we have it, we'll give you some at our cost. Just ask!

The mere idea that Valenti stopped to consider something like this shows one of the biggest and most enduring values of a local business: the intimate focus on local customers.

A small restaurant relies on repeat business. It needs to be a place where people feel recognized. It needs to do more than just rely on its location and food.

It may be that relatively few customers will take him up on the offer. Many more, though, will remember he made it and tell others. And, if he manages to survive this period, I suspect many will instantly go back because they feel something more for this establishment than for others.

Many restaurant owners are trying to help their communities in whatever way they can. Free delivery for the elderly, for example. Or free meals for children.

I was moved, though, by Valenti because of his focus on his existing customers and the need to maintain their goodwill in a thoughtful way. He thought about their needs in a world that's hoarding.

Indeed, he offered one last idea:

We also have a Quaternary sanitizer mixing machine: If you bring your own (spray) bottle, we can fill it free of charge. This is not for hand sanitizing but is very effective for hard surfaces and doesn't smell as bad as bleach.

Many small businesspeople talk about caring about customers. It's far wiser to show it, even in the hardest times.

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Published on: Mar 22, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.