In recent weeks, operators have spent a lot of time focusing on ways to keep their businesses running during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many shifted to third-party delivery platforms, reduced staff, and scaled down menu offerings to help minimize labor and cost. It was the necessary steps needed for operations to survive in a world without dine-in services.
Recently, parts of the country have started transitioning to life post-pandemic and began allowing restaurants to once again open their doors to dine-in guests at a limited capacity. Eventually this will extend to all states across the country and we will see restaurants everywhere welcoming patrons back.
With this new dawn approaching, it’s time for restaurants to shift their focus back to dine-in operations to ensure they are prepared to re-open. A big part of this focus needs to be on health, cleaning, and sanitation. Understandably, patrons may feel skeptical returning to physical operations due to lingering concerns around COVID-19 and other potential illnesses. However, there are some key steps restaurants can follow to help alleviate that concern.
Anticipate Needs and Concerns from Guests
There is a lot of uncertainty around how guests will adapt to dining in at restaurants again. What’s clear is the public will have a heightened focus on cleanliness and will be looking for a sense of safety upon their return 1.
One way to directly address this is to be proactive in sanitation efforts. Guests are uncomfortable using menus touched by other patrons? Replace them with single-use paper menus or encourage them to use their phones as the menu. Social distancing is a top concern? Utilize floor markers throughout an operation to help maintain proper spacing between guests.
As restaurants start to re-open, there will likely be a slower volume of patrons coming in than before the pandemic. Being able to proactively anticipate and address the concerns of patrons will help create a sense of trust and allow guests to know that the restaurant is a safe place to begin reconvening life 1.
Follow Proper Cleaning Procedures
When it comes to re-opening a location in current times, cleaning and sanitizing must be top of mind for all operators. Most importantly, operating procedures must include the cleaning and sanitization of all-contact surfaces in both front and back of house 2. While it sounds like a simple task, there are several steps that need to be followed to ensure the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases are prevented.
- Clean: remove physical dirt, dust, and debris from surfaces. This step does not kill germs and bacteria but impairs environments that harbor them 1
- Sanitize: reduces the occurrences and growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pathogens on a surface 1
- Disinfect: kills or destroys microscopic organisms and pathogens on a surface. While it does not clean dirt or germs off the surface, it does prevent infection or disease transmissions by killing the pathogens
It may seem like a daunting task to ensure all steps are followed properly, but there are several tools available for operators. Organizations like the CDC have provided ample information on hygiene and sanitation for the food service industry. Additionally, manufacturers like Unilever and Georgia-Pacific have created cleaning checklists that operators can follow to ensure they properly clean their establishments to meet OSHA guidelines.
Communication is Key
Nearly as important as properly cleaning a restaurant is communicating to patrons that cleaning measures are happening. This is a key step in the re-opening process. Whether beneficial or not, guest perception will quickly become a restaurant’s reality. If a patron questions the quality of an operation’s sanitation, it may impact their likelihood of returning.
Communication efforts should be focused on educating the guests of what proactive measures are being taken to keep a restaurant clean and help keep guests safe 1. It’s important to use visual and psychological cues to let guests know you are diligently following safe and effective cleaning and sanitation protocols. Posting guidelines for social distancing in a permanent location by the entrance 1, hanging easy-to-follow hand hygiene guides in restrooms, and clearly identifying separate areas for pick-up or delivery are some ways to help proactively communicate efforts to patrons.
Additionally, it’s important to reinforce proper hand hygiene 3 and cleaning procedures for staff throughout the restaurant so guests can visually see the sanitation practices taking place. There are a number of products available from manufactures like Essity and Georgia-Pacific to help make this easy.
Reinforcing proper hand hygiene and sanitation is a benefit for staff and patrons, but there are other steps to take to help ensure personnel is prepared to re-open the restaurant.
A big thing to consider when re-opening a restaurant is staffing. Due to ongoing concerns around COVID-19, operators should anticipate a potential lag in staffing in the early stages of re-opening and should be prepared to hire and onboard new personnel if needed.
From there, it is important to ensure the health of staff before they return to work. Adding a temperature kiosk is a quick and easy way to protect the health and safety of employees and guests by preventing entry from anyone with a temperature. It’s also important to encourage employees to stay home if they are not feeling well.
All staff will need to be trained on new cleaning and sanitation processes and encouraged to practice them regularly. Keep ample cleaning supplies and easy-to-reference protocols readily available to staff throughout the restaurant. Cleaning checklists from Georgia-Pacific, Tork, and Unilever can be a great tool here.
Whether a restaurant is planning to re-open dine-in services in the near future, or is still operating as delivery only, it’s important to think ahead and prepare accordingly for the re-open process. COVID-19 has left a big impact on the industry and heavily influenced the public’s mind as it relates to health and sanitation. Having the right plan in place to tackle sanitation concerns can ultimately help operations succeed in the re-open process and gain back the trust of patrons.
Dining Alliance is here to help. If you are interested in learning about sanitation and cleaning products available through our platform or other ways a GPO can help you in the re-opening process, contact us! We’d love to meet you.