Recently, the nation has come together with one primary goal: to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. There are concerns over whether our medical system can withstand an influx of people needing treatment for COVID-19. There is an urgency to take precautions and businesses everywhere are having to adjust as we figure out a new normal in our communities.
Hundreds of new cases are being reported daily in the United States. So it’s imperative that we work together by not gathering in large groups.
Of course, this affects social spaces like restaurants and bars. Some are voluntarily closing their seating spaces and moving to take-out orders only. Some cities are invoking mandatory closures of restaurants and bars.
Whether a business is following mandatory government directives or not, decisions will have to be made by food and beverage establishments on how to respond to this emergency.
Can the Coronavirus Be Spread Through Food?
Some may be asking, “Is it safe to eat restaurant food?” and the answer is yes. According to the CDC, “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”
The issue is about crowd size rather than food preparation, (this is the reason for restaurants closing). It’s people going out for dinner and going to work who might be spreading the Coronavirus (rather than through food).
Steps Restaurant Owners Can Take to Protect Their Patrons
Fear and panic are pervasive as people act to protect themselves and deal with uncertainty. We look to government officials and businesses to take the lead and follow their cues.
Despair and helplessness have spread faster than the virus itself, but there are steps we can take to be proactive. Cleanliness is the most emphasized measure we can take to prevent the spread. Ramping up sanitation efforts shores up our defense against communicable diseases.
1. Create an Employee Guide for Cleaning and Sanitizing
You’ve always implemented thorough processes to ensure that all employees are following public health guidelines, but times like these call for updated procedures and remedial training.
What To Include in Training Updates:
- Increased handwashing: Employees should wash their hands thoroughly and more frequently than they had before. Post visual aids to remind employees of when handwashing is necessary and how to wash properly. Alcohol rub containing at least 60% alcohol can be an alternative when a sink isn’t available.
- Keep surfaces sanitized: Think about where hands are touching and where sneezes might land – wipe those down at all times. For all other areas, do a periodic deep cleaning.
- Practice sneezing and coughing etiquette: Instruct your staff to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or cough and sneeze into the elbow.
- Gloves and no-touch areas: At your discretion, encourage all staff to wear disposable gloves. Also remind them to keep their hands away from vulnerable entry points such as the eyes, mouth, and nose.
- Know the signs: A staff member or patron may show signs of the illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath). Have a policy in place for what to do if someone is showing symptoms. If it’s a customer, offer isolated seating or insist on carryout rather than dining in. Immediately sanitize any areas a symptomatic person has been in.
(As for staff members, this is discussed farther ahead.)
2. Limit Seating to Improve Social Distancing
6 feet is the recommended distance between people. If your restaurant is allowed to continue dining room service, ask your hostess and waitstaff to spread out patrons as much as possible.
Reducing the number of tables and spreading them out will allow for proper distancing. Also, instruct your staff to avoid handshaking.
Some may go so far as to not allow seating for large parties and set a limit on how many can sit at each table. It’s important not to seat people closely or in large numbers.
3. Put Out Hand Sanitizer Dispensers
Health experts maintain that the best way to kill germs is with handwashing, but hand sanitizer is better than not cleansing at all. People may forget or procrastinate with cleaning their hands.
Making hand sanitizer available at key spots in the establishment will remind people to clean their hands and prevent delay in doing so.
Please note that hand sanitizer may be sold out at many places. To discourage theft from the desperate, consider using dispensers that attach to the wall rather than individual bottles.
4. Enable Mobile Orders for Pickup and Delivery
Now is the time to bolster your take out and delivery operations. Some cities have ordered the closure of dining rooms so that restaurants are restricted to take-out transactions only. Yours could be next, so have a contingency plan for routing your orders through takeout only.
If you haven’t partnered with a service like UberEats or GrubHub before, consider doing so now. Given the circumstances, the demand for delivery is likely to go up.
Sending emails, texts, and press releases about what you are doing to increase precautions will reassure the public that you are keeping your establishment safe for them.
5. Don’t Let Sick Employees Come to Work
It’s a best practice to make it crystal clear that sick workers should stay home and not come to work. If you can afford it, provide them with paid sick leave. This will discourage people from coming to work when they are ill. Based on emergency legislation, paid sick leave may be required by the government (depending on business size and employee status).
For workers who present acute symptoms like a severe cough, ask for a doctor’s clearance to return to work.
My Restaurant Isn’t Getting any Business – What Can I Do?
Your dining room has always been hopping on a Friday night and now it’s barren. What can you do to make up for it?
- Apply for assistance: The Small Business Administration is working with state governments to extend low-interest loans to businesses economically impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Learn more at the SBA website.
- Boost take out and delivery options: Work with delivery service providers to figure out how to increase your orders. Will they allow you to advertise an incentive that would encourage take-out over dine-in (while generating more sales)?
- Marketing outreach: Utilize available communication channels to reach out to the public. Let them know what you’ve done to respond to the heightened concerns, but also remind them that take out restaurants are continuing service. Consider offering discounts on take-out orders or waiving delivery fees.
Stores are running low on food, and restaurants serve an important role as back up for providing meals. Staying top-of-mind with social media posts, text messages, and emails will increase the chances of orders being placed.
Helping the Impacted Community
Many are worried about how this nationwide outbreak will impact their local communities. Reach out to your networking groups, organizations, and city leadership on where the problems are and how you might help.
If you’ve done well as a business, this is an opportunity to give back to the community (wherever feasible).
People In Need:
- School children: Many school districts have canceled classes. A major concern surrounding this unexpected cancellation is how children who depend on free lunch will be fed. Restaurants have offered “Kids Eat Free” promotions. Is offering this a possibility? What else could you do to help feed needy kids?
- Pantries: Do you have any unused food you could legally donate to a food bank?
- The elderly: The older a person is, the more they are at risk of getting COVID-19 and not being able to recover. Offering free meal delivery to seniors is a way to support efforts to keep them out of harm’s way.
- First responders: There may be an increase in first responder activity, especially for police officers. They may benefit from a free delivered meal.
- Grocery stores: Retail workers have been working long hours to restock shelves. They may not get a chance to leave the store for lunch. Offering to cater a free meal for them would express appreciation on behalf of the community for their hard work.
- Medical staff: Doctors, nurses, and support staff are also likely to be too slammed lately to leave for meal breaks during long shifts. Bringing food to them would be a nice gesture.
Businesses are looked to for leadership and community support. During this event, the community needs leadership and support more than ever.
We Are All in this Together
It’s times like these that we are reminded how much we need each other to navigate the hard times. We can’t control all the variables, but we must work together to make a difference where we can.
- We can prevent the spread of disease by being observant and stepping up our sanitation efforts.
- We can support our employees by encouraging them to stay home if they become ill.
- We can give back to the community by donating meals to the needy and the overworked.
- We prove our resilience by being scrappy in efforts to keep the business going.
At RCG, we sincerely empathize with the rapid changes that are affecting the food and beverage service businesses across our country. It’s a stressful time for those of you on the front lines serving the public during a contagious illness outbreak. Thank you for all you do for your community and please be safe out there.