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Going the Extra Mile:
Health & Safety Tips for Dining In Again

Most Americans are looking forward to dining at their favorite restaurants and socializing over dinner and drinks as states lift restrictions. But we are far from returning to business as usual. We’ve already seen that reopening after COVID-19 may be a start-and-stop process. A careful and cautious approach to reopening will help ensure the health and safety of your employees, customers and community. Below are some restaurant reopening tips and procedures you may not have considered yet, but could make the difference between a steady reopening or a stop-and-go approach.

Knowing When To Open

According to the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, each community needs to pass basic gateway criteria before moving into the three phases of reopening. These criteria include at a minimum:

  • 14-day downward trajectory of illness
  • treatment for all patients without crisis care
  • robust testing for healthcare workers

Additionally, local and state governments may have extra requirements before giving the green light for reopening. After clearing the gateway criteria, restaurants may be able to reopen in Phase 1, but only with strict social distancing measures in place.

According to the CDC, there are three main questions you should ask yourself before opening your doors:

  1. Is opening consistent with your local and state orders?
  2. Have you put the recommended health and safety practices in place?
  3. Have you developed a system for monitoring employee health?

If you’re clear to reopen or just planning for the day when it comes, read the tips below for more health and safety measures you may not have thought of implementing yet.

Preparing Staff for a New Environment

After a few weeks off the job, it will absolutely be necessary to retrain your staff. Remind them of the health and safety procedures you already had in place, as well as new policies that will help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Name one staff member as the point person to answer all COVID-19 related questions and concerns. Each staff member should know how to contact your point person. You may even want to appoint one person per shift to monitor and execute additional cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting throughout your building.

Changes to Your Dining Room

Phase 1 of reopening requires restaurants to adhere to strict social distancing protocols. While capacity may vary from state to state, you can count on having to rearrange your dining area to allow for six feet of space between guests, other parties and employees. You might also consider:

  • Removing table settings and serving condiments in portion containers
  • Handling reusables with gloves or using single-serve place settings instead
  • Installing sneeze guards at counters, between booths or especially over buffets
  • Employees serving behind buffets with tongs and utensils rather than self-serve
  • Pre-packaged meals and sides instead of buffets
  • Only stocking coolers and display areas with the minimum amount of product

These changes help reduce touchpoints by multiple people, providing some peace of mind to both your employees and customers.

What To Do About Takeout and Curbside Pickup

Off-premise dining will remain a strong preference with customers. Only about 20% of patrons will feel comfortable dining out as soon as restrictions lift (Datassential (2020). COVID-19 Report 15: Ready Or Not.)

Continuing to offer off-premise options is a great way to serve more cautious customers and the most vulnerable in your community. Take these additional steps:

  • Designate areas for pick up vs. those waiting to be seated
  • Place easy-to-follow signage to keep customers separate and distant
  • For curbside pickup orders, place the order directly in the trunk to further limit interactions
  • Once packaged, food should not be opened by anyone other than the customer

Special Considerations for Delivery

If you operate your delivery program in-house rather than through a third-party operator, you have more control over the cleaning and sanitizing measures taken out on the road. In addition to the precautions you’ve taken on-site, add these tasks during transport:

  • Regularly clean and sanitize delivery bags and vehicles
  • Choose temperature appropriate containers to maintain food safety
  • Consider contactless payments options and delivery procedures
  • Provide supplies for mobile employees such as hand sanitizer and wipes

Looking for even more ways to optimize your takeout, delivery and curbside pickup program? Check out our guide to help you navigate changes through COVID-19 and beyond.

Stay In The Know

Following strict health and safety standards is nothing new for restaurants. The tips above are recommendations in addition to the full guidelines issued by the FDA, CDC, EPA, National Restaurant Association and local/state governments.

For more information and full guidelines, use the following resources:

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