We know times are hard for the food industry right now, but we’ll get through this together. We’ve put together some tips, advice and resources to help you and your restaurant navigate the crisis.
We’re living in very challenging times, and while everyone is feeling the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the restaurant and hospitality industry has never experienced such fast and extraordinary changes in such a short time. With regulations shuttering doors and limiting social interaction, how does the restaurant industry move forward? We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we’re here to provide some practical solutions that will help bring clarity to the situation.
Health and safety are at the top of everyone’s minds right now, but for the food industry, these topics have skyrocketed in importance. Restaurants have always followed strict health guidelines, but now is the time to redouble our efforts for the good of our customers, employees, and the general public.
Though there is currently no evidence or reported cases of food being associated with COVID-19 transmission, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) among others are asking everyone, including food service workers, to adopt preventative actions to slow the spread of the virus. You’ve probably heard these many times now but to reiterate, the current guidelines are to:
Along with reinforcing hygiene and food safety training, ensure that your employees understand and follow all protocols – most importantly, staying home if they feel sick (except to receive medical care) until their symptoms are completely gone as recommended by the CDC.
CLEANLINESS, SANITATION AND DISFINFECTION
From the front of house to the back of the kitchen, you put a lot of energy into keeping your restaurant clean. But right now, these efforts are just the tip of the iceberg. Requirements vary by state, city and country, but generally, restaurants that can offer takeout and delivery options are now considered “essential businesses.” This means the cleaning and disinfection practices you already have in place will have to be that much more thorough and frequent.
The CDC, FDA, WHO and OSHA have released guidance specifically for workplaces, with tips for preventing the spread of the virus and steps to reduce the risk of exposure. At the bare minimum, restaurants should be disinfecting, not just sanitizing, “high-touch” spots like doorknobs, handrails and counters much more frequently. Keep in mind that if you’ve shifted to takeout and delivery only, these spots may have changed or increased. In addition, you should double check that the products you’re using are on the EPA’s list of disinfectants that qualify for use against COVID-19 – and that staff are trained to use them correctly. For a more detailed look at keeping your restaurant clean during these difficult times, check out our recent article Restaurant Cleanliness During COVID-19.
While these requirements may be time consuming and a bit daunting, it’s critical to listen and follow the directions of your state and local authorities and keep things clean –it’s the only way we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR STAFF
Taking care of your staff means more than just keeping the workplace clean – it means assuring them you’re in their corner. As restaurants are considered “essential,” so are your employees. This puts everyone on your staff in a vulnerable and stressful position – and you should do whatever you can to support them.
The restaurant business has been dealt a massive economic blow, and so have your employees – many of whom work hourly and rely on a regular paycheck or tips. While you may be staffing differently these days to accommodate for changed consumer behavior, it’s important that you schedule strategically to ensure your employees are protected from illness as well as dramatic income loss. While it may not solve everything, a temporary on-call program could be helpful to distribute shifts if someone is sick and make sure everyone gets the hours they need.
If you don’t already offer paid sick leave, now is the time. Without the option, some employees may be forced to choose between their income and putting others at risk. And it may seem counterintuitive, but if you usually require a doctor’s note for illness, consider adopting a more lenient stance for the near term. If your business doesn’t provide health insurance, getting a doctor’s note can be difficult to begin with, but during a pandemic when clinics are overstretched, it may be nearly impossible. In times like these, sensitivity and understanding ensure that your staff stays healthy.
This kind of consideration isn’t just the right thing to do for your employees, customers and the general public – it can have a positive impact on your reputation. Businesses that refuse to follow guidelines or help their employees won’t be seen positively after the pandemic subsides.
DRIVE-THRU, PICKUP AND DELIVERY
Many restaurants nationwide have been ordered to suspend dining room operations in favor of drive-thru, pickup and delivery options to help curb the spread of the virus. However, even if you haven’t been ordered to do so, you should consider taking steps to help limit interaction. For example, restaurants worldwide have decreased occupancy, changed their layouts to accommodate social distancing, or even removed furniture that encourages hanging around.
Consider streamlining your carryout and delivery process in line with the developing situation. Institute contactless delivery and pickup options, such as providing a drop-off option or designated pickup zones that help maintain social distances. Some restaurants have begun only accepting online credit card payments to limit passing the virus on money or receipts.
This is also an excellent time to build a more robust online presence. Diners know the restaurant industry is suffering, and many want to help their favorite eateries. And while they can’t stop in for dinner, they can find you through social media and your website. Make sure all essential information is easily accessible – your menu, hours, and how to order – as well as how else they can lend their support, whether through gift cards for the future, or local relief programs. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience with social media, connecting with your customers during this unprecedented time is far more important than being clever.
The food industry has never experienced anything like this and will likely be feeling the effects for years to come. But in the midst of such a dramatic, rapidly changing situation, it can be overwhelming trying to sift through all of the news, information and advice available. Where can you start to find the right answers for your unique situation?
Thankfully, many industry partners have responded with thorough, curated lists of worthwhile relief resources. To highlight a few:
We know this is a difficult situation for everyone industry-wide – and we’re here for you. Stay informed and do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19.
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