After being home during the months-long COVID-19 quarantine, many people rejoiced when restaurants and bars finally reopened. They were delighted to get drinks, enjoy delicious food, and socialize. Many restaurants and bars followed proper COVID-19 protocols: enforcing proper social distancing, requiring personal protective equipment (PPE), frequently cleaning, separating dining tables, etc. But some establishments blatantly disregarded the rules—and may be, at least partly, responsible for spreading the virus.
Nationally, restaurants and bars are becoming a common source of coronavirus outbreaks. Florida is seeing a tremendous spike in coronavirus cases, some of which have been linked to local establishments. For instance, in Jacksonville Beach, 16 friends went out to celebrate a birthday together, and, days later, all 16 tested positive for COVID-19.
Since mid-March, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in the U.S., many people have been afraid to leave their houses for fear of contracting the highly contagious, potentially deadly coronavirus. Patrons may have gotten takeout or delivery meals from their local restaurants, but many were unwilling to dine at restaurants, worried about the safety of doing so. Additionally, some restaurant employees have been reluctant to return to work, fearful about the exposure risks.
As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, their fears are legitimate. As COVID-19 cases spike in certain states—including California, Florida, and Texas—state officials are shutting down restaurants and bars again, trying to reduce the number of people contracting the virus.
Restaurant employees and patrons are worried. They see clear evidence that COVID-19 exposure has been linked to restaurants and bars. Therefore, they’re opting to stay home and heat a frozen pizza rather than risk dining out.
As COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines—and media reports indicate that restaurants and bars are a source of virus spread—restaurants need to:
- Implement proper protocols to minimize COVID-19 risks.
- Reduce employees’ anxiety about coming back to work.
- Bring guests back by demonstrating their facilities are safe.
- Demonstrate that they’re taking every precaution to keep employees and guests safe.
Restaurant employees must clean more often, wash hands frequently, separate dining tables, and wear PPE—but these efforts alone aren’t enough to mitigate risks. Restaurants must also identify, create, communicate, and demonstrate a safe culture. To do so, follow these five essential steps:
Recognize and accept that COVID is a long-term problem. Some restaurants and bars aren’t taking the CDC guidelines seriously. We see media reports—and social media posts—showing crowded restaurants and bars filled with people not wearing masks. Patrons may be tired of the rules, don’t want to socially distance, and feel inconvenienced by wearing face masks. But these violations are leading to more COVID outbreaks, as our national numbers continue to climb. COVID 19 is still a huge threat and will be a long-term problem. If people don’t follow the CDC’s rules, the pandemic will continue, and some restaurants and bars won’t survive. Taking this threat seriously is the most critical step in establishing a safe culture.
Identify actions to create a safe culture. Following guidelines and protocols is essential, but not enough. Restaurants must establish a safe culture. Culture is a set of common beliefs, behaviors, and values that are shared and embraced by people within an organization. Establish a safe culture within your restaurant, and your employees will start behaving in a safe manner. Culture is contagious. A safe culture is key to restaurants’ successes during this tumultuous time.
Implement actions to create a safe culture. Determining what’s necessary to establish a safe culture for your company depends on multiple factors: your restaurant’s size, number of employees, number of units, location, etc. However, a safe culture requires a few things, regardless of your circumstances, including leadership support, staying up-to-date on the latest CDC recommendations, and providing ongoing training. Explain why the safety rules are in place to maximize understanding and compliance. Applaud early adopters and retrain those that aren’t adapting to the new requirements. Ensure that your employees follow the new, COVID-specific protocols. If guests see employees disregarding safety guidelines, they’ll distrust and reject your promise of a safe environment, and that will destroy your business.
Communicate strategically and effectively. You’re trying to get people to do things that they’re not used to doing and, most likely, don’t like doing, like wearing a face mask. Demonstrate the seriousness of the rules. Avoid taping handmade signs to your front door or walls, which looks amateurish and trivializes your messages. Invest in professional frames or sign holders to hold safety reminders, like remain 6 feet apart, wear face masks, wash your hands, and don’t enter the premises if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. Encourage employees and guests to feel like they’re an essential part of the solution, working to protect each other. Also, leverage your social media platforms to reinforce key safety messages. Demonstrate (with words and actions) that you’re committed to a safer culture, and you’ll reassure a nervous public that they’ll be safe there.
Prove your actions. After taking these steps, you’ll have a safe culture. Employees will feel better returning to work, and guests will feel more comfortable visiting your establishment. So now, ensure that people know about your commitment and implementation of effective controls. Obtaining a Trust Mark from a third-party demonstrates that you follow a systematic and orderly approach to health and safety protocols. For instance, the In This Together brand helps companies develop and communicate healthy habits and reinforce a safe culture focused on minimizing COVID risks. Once you’ve successfully implemented the applicable protocols given by CDC and your local jurisdiction, auditors perform a remote validation and issue the “In this Together” Trust Mark. Not only do you get a trust mark that can be displayed within your restaurant, but you’ll also be listed as a trusted establishment on the prestigious In This Together website.
Multiple surveys show that people are worried about going to public places (especially restaurants and bars) in the current climate. Therefore, you must prove that they’re safe at your establishment. If guests don’t feel safe, they won’t return to your restaurant. And if they don’t return, your business won’t survive. Take these five steps to create a safe culture, and you’ll make employees feel safe and comfortable, boost customer trust and loyalty, improve your brand reputation, and increase sales. A safe culture is essential to surviving this pandemic.
Kurt Teuscher is CEO of CICS Americas Inc., a private third-party certification company that has performed certification audits of management systems for more than 15 years. CICS has extensive experience in a variety of industries, including food service, manufacturing, retail, energy, hydrocarbon, and more. For more information, please visit www.safethere.com.