At the recently concluded Multi-Unit Franchise Conference in Las Vegas, a common thread throughout was the unique problems the coronavirus pandemic has created for all kinds of businesses. In fact, most of the speakers wove throughout their presentations consideration of the challenges – and opportunities – that COVID-19 served up to franchisees and, in particular, those in the QSR industry.

To underscore that point, one of the largest franchisees in the Denny’s system, Dawn Lafreeda, who had 3,000 employees when the pandemic hit in March 2020, said she kept them all on the payroll since she would be closing for only “14 days to flatten the curve.” Of course, we now know that 14 days to flatten the curve turned into 14 months and Dawn, like franchisees across the country, was facing a much more extreme situation.

Despite the difficulties that Dawn, and virtually every other franchisee and small business owner in the nation faced over the past 18 months – and continue to face thanks to the spiking Delta variant – those difficulties have also presented an opportunity. Wisdom dictates that business owners should seize upon the chaos as a golden opportunity to reevaluate their business. Consider, what are you doing well in your business? What could be done better? Where can you redirect efforts to more efficiently keep operations flowing more smoothly?

Yes, the challenges are significant, but responding to them with an open mind can prompt change, innovation and “upgrades.” As most Dunkin’ franchisees know, drive-thru was a life-saver during the toughest times of the pandemic and urban stores that lacked that capability suffered the most. Likewise, pizza brands have flourished during the pandemic, simply because they were always that good at take-out and delivery. In the wake of that lesson, other QSRs have acted quickly to enhance take-out and delivery options. Third-party delivery was arguably just coming out of its embryonic stages when the shutdowns began 18 months ago, but have now quickly grown into a strong industry, integral to the success of many QSRs.

The pandemic has underscored the importance of an effective and user-friendly mobile app – which Dunkin’ had fortunately developed years ago and has now refined based on the lessons learned during the (ongoing) pandemic. So, as painful as the past 18 months has been for franchisees, it is important to focus on the positive developments that can help you improve – and maybe even grow – your business.

The late, long-time president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson advised us that “[Our] most significant opportunities will be found in times of greatest challenge.” And one cannot doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has been one of our greatest challenges. In fact, at the multi-unit conference, Primo Hoagies franchisee Rocco Fiorentino opined that “9/11 was nursery school compared to the challenges of COVID,” because the terror attacks of 20 years ago forced many business owners to close for just days, not months (or years).

And, let me state the obvious that DDIFO has not been immune to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic­—and we continue to look for the opportunities contained therein.

We were disappointed, to say the least, when we had to cancel the DDIFO National Conference at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel and Conference Center last year and are equally discouraged by the resurgence of COVID infection in 2021 that forced us to forego a National Conference again this year. But maybe, that’s just the opportunity presenting itself—the change we need to embrace, the innovation we need to incorporate in our meeting format.

In that vein, I hope to resurrect some member meetings over the coming months in a different format and will propose a number of small dinner meetings at centrally located restaurants around the footprint. We held a couple of them over the past few years in the Tampa area and they were highly successful. The topics will be timely for the region in which the meeting is held and the cocktail hour, dinner and presentation will encompass no more than a few hours, with plenty of time for networking and discussing common issues or concerns.

DDIFO has always been there when the franchisees have needed us, and we continue to stand at the ready to step up again. Fortunately, over the past several years the franchisee relationship with Dunkin’ has been strong and symbiotic. In fact, one could say that during the height of the pandemic, Dunkin’ saw its challenges as an opportunity to inject flexibility into the hours of operation required of the franchisees. Likewise, they took the opportunity presented by the pandemic to somewhat loosen the royalty timeline in order to allow for better unit economics.

So, we too accept the challenges of the ongoing pandemic and will use them as an opportunity to reevaluate what we do well and where we can improve our efforts; what services we should add for our members, and which may have passed their sell-by date. It is human nature to be fearful of change, but as the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “Progress is impossible without change.”