COVID-19 case spikes have complicated the reopening process further for restaurants. It’s surfaced the concern—fair or not—whether steps taken in early phases were stringent enough to keep guests safe. And even with step-backs on capacity limits, restaurants are still reopening or preparing to do so en masse. It remains a dynamic and imposing task.
While there are official restrictions and guidelines from local health officials, as well as protocols from the CDC and National Restaurant Association, most details fall on restaurants owners’ shoulders.
The good news is the industry sports a deep history in safety thanks to preventing foodborne illnesses. Yet mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is a different animal because it leads with person-to-person transmission. The Association noted in a recent article that operators need to consider ways to add layers of protection—reopening strategies focused on reconfiguration that maximizes social distancing and sanitation. And, in that challenge, this is an aim completely unique to pandemic times.
For most restaurants, it begins with tracking and managing the flow of people—kitchen staff, waitstaff, guests, suppliers, delivery drivers, etc.
But a good place to tack on to current upgrades would be to reconfigure the flow of food through a restaurant, the Association said.
Here are some tips from the Association:
- Designate one entrance for all deliveries (even small packages from UPS or FedEx).
- Clear a receiving area where deliveries can be off-loaded, sorted, unboxed and inspected. The area should be easy to keep clean and sanitized.
- If deliveries come to your restaurant through a public space, such as a common hallway or elevator, make sure those spaces are cleaned and sanitized before moving food deliveries through them.
- Be sure food and supplies are taken directly to their designated storage area, whether frozen, refrigerated or dry. Clear space for new supplies in advance.
Prep and cooking
- If possible, create a staff entrance separate from your guest entrance.
- Set aside a space to check employees for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. Create a standing questionnaire to ensure your shift leader asks all the right questions about how employees are feeling, recent exposure, recent travel, etc. Take employees’ temperatures with a surface thermometer.
- Where possible, stagger kitchen workstations or set up additional ones to provide six-ft. separation between employees. Otherwise, consider other options, such as face coverings (masks, shields) or barriers (Plexiglas, curtains—non-cooking areas only), and clean and sanitize surfaces frequently.
- Stagger employee breaks so they don’t congregate in groups in break areas.
- Set up food exchange areas between the kitchen and the front-of-the-house with a one-way path from the kitchen to the exchange/pick up area for food, and a one-way path back for dirty dishes.
- On the FOH side of the exchange area, you may want to set up one area where waitstaff pick up orders for seated customers, and a totally separate area (ideally near the door?) for customers and delivery drivers to pick-up to-go orders.
- Clean and sanitize exchange areas after each order has been picked up.
- Think about installing a temporary or even permanent handwashing station near the exchange areas so employees and customers can wash their hands before getting orders or before they eat.
A checklist to check off
The Association also shared a reopening example from eight-unit Blazing Onion, a hybrid chain located in Washington. Owner David Jones and his wife, Lorri, tried to approach the process from every corner. They gave staff a $3 per hour raise to make up for lost wages and asked everyone to fill out a general health questionnaire prior to starting their shift. They take their temperature. The brand added new training and positions, asking managers to specialize in Phase 3 reopening training and putting extra employees on food-running teams.
To quicken service and minimize contact, Blazing Onion invested in a call-button system. Tables in dining rooms have Kallpods, which are buttons customers press to get a server’s attention. The decision cuts down on the waitstaff’s need to conduct table checks. They show up when needed and deliver the hospitality customers expect. It’s more efficient and safer since it cuts down on unnecessary visits.
To get a sense of how much goes into this process, here’s a look at the Blazing Onion’s full list of reopening steps for Phase 1 and 2, as shared by the Association.
PHASE I, March 16, 2020
- 1. Work with Auto Chlor to install sanitizer stations throughout restaurant (i.e. Lobby, dining rooms, pass through).
- 2. Work with US Foods to find sustainable mask supply, back up sanitizer supply, individual table sanitizer supply.
- 3. Establish communication with US Foods regarding protein supply with back-ups sourced well ahead of supply outages.
- 4. Supply large gloves outside at point of entry, leave doors open when possible.
- 5. Order and install plexiglass shields at all lobby POS stations.
- 6. Survey team to capture their preference, disposable or cloth masks.
- 7. Order cloth mask and set up back-up order.
- 8. Find floor decal supplier and initiate order.
- 9. Review CDC guidelines, WHA (Washington Hospitality Association) guidelines, NRA guidelines and tune in to various webinars to stay current on requirements and readiness.
- 10. Ramp up Table Up platform to advance online ordering, curbside, loyalty, waitlist
- 11. Find a source for touchless card readers.
- 12. Set up table pick-up for 3rd Party vendors as well as call in orders.
- 13. Add cleaning parties to schedule to ensure the restaurant is sanitized at all times.
- 14. Transfer schedules from labor $/% goals (Cost saving) to hours budget goals (labor spending) to help change mindset to spend more PPP funds.
- 15. Close unprofitable locations until PPP funds arrive.
- 16. Create new job functions to spread labor, ensure social distancing and train new initiatives.
- 17. Build and train our own curbside plans without Table Up technology to spend PPP and learn best practices prior to launching on app.
- 18. Implement mask usage for FOH when first supply of masks arrive.
- 19. Create mask wearing guidelines.
- 20. Increase glove usage – Add to take out container handling, soda fills and guests food hand-off.
- 21. Close soda machines to public, fill soda’s for guests.
- 22. Create language for phone etiquette that helps guide guests experience. Add staffing for phones.
- 23. Purchase bottles/cans for new liquor policies regarding take-out beer (including growlers & cans), wine, hard seltzers and cocktail kits.
- 24. Convert menu to paper one time use until all locations have menu boards posted.
- 25. Limit menu to ease kitchens, help social distancing and sustain menu supply.
- 26. Establish communication lines with all furloughed staff weekly, provide meals for them, continue to pay their medical benefits.
- 27. Establish wage benefit for all returning staff beginning the week of PPP loan to help incentivize staff to return when called.
- 28. Develop best practice signage to help inform customers and team.
- 29. Implement Facebook initiative to increase restaurant industry issues, increase engagement and build a stronger following. Monitor feedback to assist in re-opening policies while screening inappropriate comments.
- 30. Constantly engage in social distancing, masks, etc. to ensure employee team respects policies and educate to help ensure safe practices when they go home.
- 31. Follow up quickly on all reviews or email feedback to ensure safety procedures are being followed.
- 32. Seal take-out containers and clearly mark name to ensure food is delivered as made.
- 33. Purchase forehead thermometers for all locations to be a part of pre-screening team at initial clock-in for.
- 34. Implement screening questions to POS
- 35. Emphasize hand washing, hand sanitizing, mask usage, sanitizing touch points, food handoff, focus on safety.
- 36. Call all furloughed team to ensure they know how to navigate unemployment.
- 37. Implement standards to ramp up staffing, screen all staff to know who is ready to return, call back those ready first. Understand those that are home schooling and work through schedule, implement a plan to call back bar staff with Phase II and allow others to continue on unemployment to ensure balanced income to all.
- 38. Stay current with PPP rules & synchronize forgiveness as we go with schedules, spending, etc.
- 39. Write letters to congress, POTUS and State legislature/Governor to constantly remind them of the restaurant industries plight and issues with PPP rules and forgiveness.
PHASE II, June 1, 2020
Safety and Service:
- 1. All employees must wear masks. Spread of the COVID virus has been mainly traced to droplets. Wearing a mask prevents this droplet spread. When a guest is present in the restaurant or you are working within 6’ of another employee, you must wear a mask to protect those around you.
- 2. Space all tables 6’ apart, 50% or less occupancy. Each restaurant has a table schematic. Please remeasure each night or mark an x on your floors to keep this spacing accurate.
- 3. All guests must be seated by staff to ensure spacing and seating at sanitized tables only.
- 4. Sanitizer stations are located in lobby, dining room and bar for both employees and guests. Please know where they are if asked and keep them stocked.
- 5. Sanitizing of touch points must be accelerated. Chairs, handles, knobs, counters, chairs, tables, POS, tech instruments. Please staff extra hours to meet this need. Note: cleaning technology touch points should have no direct sanitizer, spray the towel instead.
- 6. Encourage guest usage of touchless ordering and payment. Lounge staff should practice social distancing to take orders at table. Six feet away might not be possible, but you should be perceived as trying to be safe.
- 7. Drink stations must be sanitized regularly. Please remember to not spray them directly. Have a box of large gloves open near the soda machine at all times. Issue new cups for any refills with no charge. Drink station limited to one Freestyle.
- 8. Use lobby menus for fast casual restaurant. We have added plexiglass to lobbies for initial ordering. Encourage using our app for dessert orders and to enhance lounge ordering. Use disposable menus as backup.
- 9. We have increased our signage to support our policies. They should be posted at the main POS, restrooms, closed tables, soda machine and entry/lobby. Please see the manager for each sign’s location.
- 10. Hand washing and sanitizing should be accelerated by all team members.
- 11. All employees handling food, including table delivery, cocktail crafting and pouring draft beer or wine must wear gloves.
- 12. A lobby wait list for tables for both the restaurant & bar must be maintained with cell numbers, allowing us to text customers, encouraging them to wait in their cars.
- 13. Curbside has been activated on our app. Please introduce this to our guests.
- 14. Online has done well in test. Please encourage this new touchless ordering to our guests.
- 15. Review our new take-out pick-up stations that have been coordinated with our table schematic. Learn them and give feedback if you see congestion.
- 16. Kallpod buttons are replacing Service Alert signs. All restaurant service staff should ask their manager to be trained on this.
- 17. We have implemented a screening system for all employees, including forehead temperature scanning. This must be done at clock in. If you need to answer “yes” to any question on the questionnaire, STOP, find the manager and fill out a separate form. Discuss next steps with your manager.
- 18. We have tried to imagine walkways to the restrooms. If these are compromised, please let your manager know immediately so we can make improvements.
Ongoing both Phases:
- 1. We plan to continue our limited menu. We hope to add 2 items back for each phase. If asked about a missing item, please refer them to our contact email.
- 2. We are limiting our kegs to our core beers only. We will increase a few with each Phase.
- 3. We will expand hours in each Phase. Phase II will be 11am – 9pm. We also will bring back Happy Hour from 3-6pm and 8-CL, 7 days per week until Phase IV.
- 4. Please work with Mike closely to ensure supply chain. React quickly to news of shortages. He will continue to communicate with our vendors.
- 5. Step up safety protocols for all food prep and cooking areas to ensure freshly made & great food.
- 6. Strive to make every guest’s experience GREAT! Thank you for your hard work during this CRISIS. You are our heroes.