As coronavirus cases continue to surge in many areas, restaurant operators are facing new concerns. Are we doing enough to protect our employees and customers? How can we gain their confidence in our health and safety protocols? What will we do if one of our employees tests positive for the coronavirus?
For restaurants that may serve hundreds of customers whose previous contacts are unknown, keeping employees and diners safe while they interact with each other is a primary concern. If you do have an employee who contracts the virus, the cost to shut down your restaurant again, sanitize it, and test all of your other employees will rival the money you spent to reopen after the forced closures. Add to that the lost revenue for the days you must close to prepare for a second reopening.
Consequently, the key is prevention and transparency. Go beyond the required guidelines and communicate your virus-prevention protocols to employees and customers.
For a review of COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, read the blog post, Restaurant Reopening Checklist: Tips for Thriving.
Keeping employees safe will help to keep your customers safe
Reinforce to your employees that regular hygiene is a priority, not only for customer health, but for their own health and the health of their families. Food service employees need constant reminders. Post signs around the restaurant, especially in common staff areas, reminding employees to wash their hands frequently. Even if masks are not required in your geographic area, require that your employees cover their faces with masks during their shifts. Your restaurant business should provide the masks. Require that bar and kitchen staff wear both masks and gloves. Mandate that staff members who are showing any signs of COVID-19 stay home and seek medical attention. Install sneeze guards to protect your cashiers and takeout staff.
At the bare minimum, follow the CDC’s guidelines for restaurants and bars. Require that your servers read the CDC guidelines, as well as your own restaurant’s guidelines and strictly adhere to them while they’re working to ensure everyone remains safe. If you’re a multi-unit restaurant group, ensure that all locations adhere to the guidelines you set forth at corporate. Hold store managers accountable for ensuring that health and safety protocols at their restaurants are enforced.
Be transparent in your communication with staff and customers
Your employees should be ambassadors in communicating your health and safety protocols to your customers. It’s important for customers to know what has changed in your restaurant since reopening your dining room. Customer-facing staff should be well versed on your health and safety protocols in order to answer questions posed by diners, as well as for their own safety. If you have a mobile app for employees, use it to remind staff to wash their hands, maintain social distancing and other COVID-related communication.
Use social media, your website and inside your restaurants to communicate to customers about what you’re doing to keep them safe. Take advantage of the new feature on Yelp in a section titled “COVID-19 Updates.” This provides potential customers of your restaurant with an at-a-glance rundown of what specific measures your restaurant business is taking to protect them from the coronavirus.
Enforce social distancing and other measures to keep customers safe
Customers all bring their own perspective into your restaurant. Some take the virus seriously and follow all the safety requirements, while others are more careless in their behaviors. While in your restaurant, all diners must adhere to your rules, including keeping their distance from other diners. This can be a delicate balance between keeping your guests happy and ensuring that your dining room isn’t headed for another shutdown.
For, example, many restaurant operators are finding it difficult to enforce social distancing in their dining rooms, especially in those that offer self-serve seating or built-in booths. One restaurant found a creative solution to maintaining social distancing at its self-seating outdoor dining area by seating giant teddy bears to indicate a table isn’t available.
If your guests are ignoring your restaurant’s table seating arrangements so that you can’t maintain capacity guidelines, it is advisable to forgo self-seating, even in FSR and QSR dining rooms, and have a host take guests to unrestricted tables.
If possible, keep the front doors open so customers don’t have to touch the handles. Also install hand-sanitizing devices at the entrance. Only after tables are seated should you present plates and wrapped silverware.
Expand your outdoor seating areas where possible. Eating outdoors decreases the risk of spreading COVID-19, so if you can, utilize as much of your outdoor space as possible for outdoor dining, keeping in mind six-foot social distancing between tables. If you’re fortunate enough to be located in a city that is closing off some of its streets to allow more outdoor dining, take advantage of that space to both protect your employees and customers, and increase your overall seating capacity.
Remember these easy solutions to keep employees and customers safe
Some safety protocols require time and capital investment, while others are simple, common-sense solutions that all restaurant operators should be following to avoid fines, community backlash and possible closure. Ensure your restaurant business is doing the following:
- Mandate that all employees wear face masks
- Require customers to wear face masks unless they’re seated at a table
- Have hand sanitizers readily available for employees and customers
- Allow dine-in customers to order ahead of time to reduce the number of diners in your restaurant at one time (with the added benefit of faster turn times)
- Require daily temperature checks for employees
- Sanitize all high-touch surfaces frequently
- Sanitize tables after each seating
- Expand outdoor seating
- Ask customers to wait in their cars while they wait to be seated to avoid large gatherings in your lobby or outside your door
- Promote takeout, delivery, and drive-thru options
Use the latest technology solutions
Today’s advanced technology is creating new and innovative ways to keep your customers and employees safe. Even before the pandemic, some of these technologies were inching their way into eateries by forward-thinking restaurant operators who wanted to meet consumer demand for convenience. However, COVID-19 has sped the adoption of these innovations.
Provide Contactless Menus
Offer contactless menu solutions. Digital menus that can be read on diners’ wi-fi enabled smartphones are among the most sanitary menu solutions. Diners access your online menu on their own smartphone by entering a URL or scanning a QR code. They can order and pay for food and beverages securely with such payment options as a credit card, Apple or Google Pay, all without swiping a card, opening a tab, signing a receipt, or waiting in line.
If contactless menus are cost prohibitive at this time, other options include sanitizing menus after each use, or using disposable one-time-use menus.
Employ Self-Sanitizing Kiosks
The latest self-ordering kiosks use ultraviolet light to sanitize the surface. A continuous bath of UV-C light across the kiosk’s touch surfaces rapidly kills up to 99.9-percent of bacteria and viruses, leaving the screen clean for subsequent users. After each transaction, when the user steps away, a quick 30-second wash of light disinfects the screen, making it clean and ready for the next diner.
This technology is also being applied in point-of-sale (POS) systems to protect the health of restaurant employees.
Create Trust with Digital Dashboards
One of the best ways for restaurants to build consumer trust is by being transparent and showing customers that you are taking steps to make the dining experience safe. Digital dashboards displayed prominently on your restaurant floor or in your drive-thru line can do just that. Digital dashboard that display your restaurant’s cleanliness, safety and sanitization records in real time can allay customers’ concerns about the safety of your restaurant.
Digital dashboards can indicate in real time the exact time high-touch surfaces were last sanitized and cleaned. They can also communicate new cleaning procedures and protocols at your restaurant, as well as display back-of-house operations and safe food preparations.
Utilize the Health and Sanitation Checklist in Your Manager Logbook
Make managers accountable for strict adherence to safety protocols. An advanced manager logbook solution includes a pre-loaded easy start health and sanitation checklist that’s based on best practice suggestions from health experts. Managers can add more detail or remove items to maintain flexibility with the ever-changing rules. This helps managers maintain the basics of health and sanitation in today’s new normal.
Use Digital Display Solutions to Enforce Capacity Limits
The newest digital signage can help restaurants maintain social distancing by monitoring foot traffic using cameras and digital displays. You can program the displays to provide customers and staff with capacity information, as well as to alert customers when it’s safe to enter a dining area.
Require Each Employee to Use Touchless Thermometer Before Clocking In
A new touchless device allows staff members to self-screen their temperature. You can mount the scanner on a wall or stand near the time clock. Employees then sign in with an app or keycard and stand in front of the sensor for a quick temperature scan. Above-normal temperatures will trigger a manager alert.
What to consider if your restaurant employee tests positive for COVID-19
Restaurants across the country are being proactive and reclosing when employees test positive for COVID-19. Often, this is happening just days or weeks after reopening their dining rooms for the first time since the start of forced closures.
While closing for a few days may be yet another financial blow for your restaurant business, it may be the safest decision and will instill confidence among your employees and customers if you’re transparent about the reason for closing, the steps you are taking to keep other employees and customers safe, and when you will reopen. Communicate your closing and reopening plan on your website, social media and inside your restaurant.
However, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that restaurants and other businesses do not need to shut down when an employee tests positive for the coronavirus “in most cases.” (See the section, “Take action if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19,” in the CDC guidelines.)
Some health experts say that after you identify and exclude exposed employees, which can sometimes be done without closing if that group of employees is small enough, your restaurant can contain the problem quickly and remain open with a deep cleaning.
Without clear guidelines on whether or not to close your restaurant if one or more employees tests positive, the decision to close depends, in part, on the number of workers exposed, the number of cases in your region, and public perception in your restaurant’s location.
Whatever you choose to do – remain open or close temporarily – should be part of your restaurant’s COVID-related plan and procedures. Planning in advance will minimize the chance for an ill-advised decision. Your plan should include what to do if the staff member who tests positive is a dishwasher, a server who interacts with your customers, or a manager whose presence is required for the successful operation of your restaurant.
A strategic plan to ensure employee and customer health and safety while in your restaurant is key to keeping everyone safe during your restaurant recovery. Ensure your plan includes a checklist of all health and safety protocols and who is accountable for each; a COVID-19 communication strategy for both employees and customers; considerations in the event that any of your staff or manager(s) test positive; a back-up staffing plan in the event that multiple employees or managers test positive for COVID-19 and you decide to stay open; and a communication strategy to inform customers how you will keep them safe if one or more of your employees tests positive.
Use the health and safety checklist in the Restaurant365 manager logbook, which is part of the all-in-one R365 restaurant management solution. R365 integrates restaurant-specific accounting, inventory management and employee scheduling to help you run your restaurant business more efficiently. To learn more, schedule a Restaurant365 demo today.