There's no time to waste as coronavirus fears surge.

You’re a hospitality leader. You live and die by your service-oriented internal compass. You want nothing more than to stay afloat to be able to continue to be of service to your loyal customers in this uncertain time. Maybe you’ve vowed to stay open at all costs in an effort to provide a safe haven of joy for your customers. Some establishments have been mandated to remove half of all tables inside their restaurant in an effort to socially distance customers from other customers. This makes zero sense.

The consumers actually dining out and taking risks by not self -distancing are likely the exact patrons who can and eventually will bring COVID-19 into your establishment exposing you, your staff and your surfaces to the virus. Alerting your patrons that you’re enhancing cleaning and sanitizing protocols only works when you can control the behavior of all of the people who enter your establishment -not just your employees.

Consider this, what might be best for your patrons and your establishment over the next few weeks is to shut it down to the public and transform your kitchen and dining room into a safe, sanitized and sensible take-out and delivery operation. Your choice is to limp along and hope to attract half the patrons you typically serve while risking exposing your patrons and employees to the virus or you can embrace this opportunity to turn lemons into multi-serve, pre-packaged Arnold Palmer’s available for delivery or pick up.

To be clear, I am advocating for a complete shut down of your in-house dining operations for the next several weeks out of “an abundance of caution,” but also in an effort to save your business. This is of course a hard decision to make, but I do firmly believe that restaurants who do this fast, first and well, will solidify their post-pandemic future as responsible leaders in hospitality who cater to the real needs of their customers.

Chef Kelly Whitaker of award-winning restaurant’s Wolf’s Tailor, Basta and Dry Storage in Denver and Boulder, Colorado has already thought about shutting down table service as a phase two response to the COVID-19 crisis. Although he’s of the approach that they’ll continue serving until it’s no longer prudent, Whitaker has not only the health and wellness of his patrons and larger community in mind, but also the impact to his employees jobs and livelihoods.

Whitaker believes that because his Serv-Safe hospitality workforce is trained- more than most to prevent the transmission of pathogens that they are uniquely qualified to feed people. In the event that he does decide to shut down his in-house dining, Whitaker and his team are on the ready to feed patrons differently with “the right thing at the right moment, I believe that as chefs and restaurateurs we have a basic responsibility to feed real food to real people,” Whitaker said.

Over a week ago, Chef and team were planning their phased response to the potential outbreak. This included not only how to communicate, but what offerings they’d provide. “Menu changes that include food that travels well are already in motion, we’re whittling down to food basics and items that make sense with each of our restaurant brands.” Items that each restaurant is famous for are on the menu, a multi-serve version of Lasagna from Basta, house made bone broth from Wolf’s Tailor and nutrient dense whole grain breads from Dry Storage are both comforting and nourishing options. Other restaurateurs should take note and decide for themselves what that means for their particular establishment.

The key to providing your customers with what they truly need during this difficult time is to meet both their physical and emotional needs with products and protocols that calm and serve them. There are still risks to spreading disease via delivery and take-out. These risks can be mitigated and controlled far easier than in an in-house environment. Here is a list of some of the things restaurants can do with their take-out and delivery offerings to make consumers aware of and comfortable with new service and products.

1. Communicate: Tell consumers and potential consumers that you have solutions and offerings for them- Communicate how the menu of services and products is the same and also how and why it’s different.

2. Advertise and Market Your Wares: Implement direct email campaigns, create geo-targeted Facebook ads, optimize or implement paid Google search. Get the message out there that you have food and beverage to sell and that it’s safe.

3. Leverage Your Website: Change your landing page to communicate specifically about the COVID-19 protocols you’ve implemented and products you’re offering. Now more than ever, people will look at your site.

4. Pick-up Protocol Processes: Consumers and your employees are afraid to come into contact with strangers. Make it so neither of them have to. Create and implement extreme safety protocols that highlight exactly how your pick-up process works. From packaging and sanitation of to- go packaging, glove protocol, product receiving process from your vendors, to where you’ll put their parcel for pick up. Make each step you’re taking to ensure safety, known.

5. Detailed Delivery Processes: Consumers are afraid of potentially infected strangers in/near their home. They’re also worried that delivery drivers and their cars are havens for germs. Consider ditching Uber Eats, Postmates or any third-party delivery service, you can’t control the health and safety of the drivers or have any insight into where those drivers have traveled. An Uber driver may have just returned from an airport pickup, only to then turn around and be responsible for delivering food to your customers. Consider hiring your own drivers or re-purposing your host/hostess, bussers or other staff members for this important role. (Don’t forget to call your insurance company to add them to the policy.) Describe the cleaning process you go through with each car, with each delivery person, sealing each package. Over communicate here!

6. Alternative Menu Items: Consider this … there are some people who will want to re-heat, boil, or otherwise sanitize the food that enters their home. Perhaps add a section to your pick-up/delivery menu of items that can be reheated to 140 degrees without compromising food integrity.

7. Curate your Menu: Remove items that won’t travel well and that are likely to elicit complaints (french fries etc.) Add additional items that will travel well. Customers are calling you for help, think about what other items you can deliver to them in the same trip that will solve their problems. Multi-serve dishes, freezable entrees, and even meals for various day parts come to mind here. Make sure that each offering resonates with your brand identity and fills a need.

8. Be Completely Transparent with Your Pricing Structure: Customers are used to paying a premium for delivery. During this time they also want to support you, their community business. Let them! Implement the fees that you need to in order to provide the service that you’re known for. Communicate the reasons for the prices, ask for support.

9. Talk to Timing: Good food takes time! Explain during the ordering process and online that you are not a fast food restaurant. Proper preparation and packaging of their order might take longer than they expect. Give your customers a padded expectation of how long it will take to get them their food. Offer the options of advanced ordering to mitigate wait times. Communicate via text message what stage the customers order is in. Prepping, Packing, Delivery.

10. Reiterate Hand-off Protocols: When the food is about to arrive via delivery or to the pick up point, find a way to remind the customer the steps you’re taking to ensure contact-free food delivery. This can be via phone call or text message.

11. Include a Safety Love Note: In your packaged delivery, include a recap of the safety protocols and procedures you went through to ensure your customer’s safety. Thank them for trusting you, and wish them health and wellness. Let them know they can rely on you now and in the future when you re-open your full- service establishment

12. Explain Best Serving Practices: It would be a shame if you went through all of those tedious protocols to have your end user contaminate the food themselves. Include a card that tells your customer how to best serve, reheat, and store the food. Remind them to wash their hands before opening the bag!

13. Thanks and next!: Of course you’ll thank them, you’re a hospitality expert. But don’t forget to also ask for their next order: Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up- Phone is best, email is next, text if you have to. Would you like to repeat this same order next week? How about dinner tomorrow? Making life easy for your customers is win win for you.

Liz Moskow is Principal at Bread&Circus Hospitality, focused on consumer experience consulting. She provides culinary infused strategic thought leadership for CPG food and beverage development, foodservice product and menu innovation and hospitality wellness integration. Liz is a leading Food Trendologist tracking, uncovering and predicting the future of food and beverage: Author of many creative culinary publications, Liz is an Industry expert quoted in and contributing to multiple food articles in industry trade publications, and newspapers; The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, USA Today and many others.

Expert Takes, Feature, Food Safety