In the heat of summer and amid the abundance of outdoor dining options, it can be easy to forget that Covid is lingering. As you prepare for managing business into the cooler months when we can expect to see spikes in infections, thinking about protecting and improving the air quality in your restaurant can make your business safer for guests. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said the presence of Covid-19 was 35 percent lower in rooms that had improved ventilation via opening doors or windows, as well as those using forced ventilation through fans near windows or fresh air intake via HVAC systems. Using those methods in combination with mechanical filtration was even more effective. Making big improvements in indoor air quality doesn’t have to be costly: A Hospitality Tech report advises the use of mobile air purifiers with HEPA filters as an economical way to improve indoor air quality, as well as monitoring the capacity of dining rooms and taking steps to minimize crowding.
If you’re hiring a lot of temporary staff over the summer months, it’s especially important to make food safety front-of-mind for them. While your ongoing training is an important piece of that, you can set your team up for success by giving them the right tools for safe food handling and storage, as well as proper equipment care. Keep sinks stocked with soap and paper towels, provide ample disposable gloves or other protective items for food handling, and post signage to remind staff of the times when washing is required and to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking around food preparation areas. Check shelving to ensure food items can be stored six inches off the floor, designate separate areas for cleaning solutions, and calibrate appliance thermometers to ensure food is being stored at the proper temperature. Make sure there is a sanitizer bucket with a submerged towel at each station, and a supply of test strips available to help staff keep equipment and preparation surfaces clean.
The holidays may be a time to kick back and celebrate – but don’t let your guard down when it comes to Covid safety. In the U.S., 5 percent of the population has some kind of immune-compromised condition, so even though the vaccine is widespread, unventilated gatherings can still pose problems. Ensure good air flow through gathering rooms in your facility, make sanitizer accessible and ensure any policies you have on guest vaccination, testing or masking are clear to your team and communicated to guests.
This winter, we could be in for yet another season in which the spread of viruses makes people hesitant to eat out. Now is a good time to ensure your indoor dining areas feel as safe as possible. While it’s more common for COVID-19 to spread through close contact with an infected person, airborne transmission can occur in spaces with poor ventilation. The CDC advises you have your ventilation systems checked to make sure they are operating efficiently, and also increase the circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors and prioritizing outdoor seating. Also consider running your HVAC system at maximum outdoor airflow for two hours before and after it is occupied, checking filters for proper installation and function, and possibly improving the engineering controls of the system to enhance ventilation efficiency.
Research from the National Restaurant Association found that 78 percent of restaurant operators are experiencing a decline in customer demand for indoor, on-premises dining because of the delta variant spike. While there are still some weeks remaining when outdoor dining is a comfortable option for guests, consider how you will fortify your business for the winter when it comes to Covid safety. If you are taking steps to purify the air in your dining room, encourage ventilation, enhance your procedures for cleaning and sanitizing high-contact areas throughout your facility, or winterize your outdoor seating area, share your plans with guests on your website, mailing list and social media so guests know you’re a safe bet when they need a restaurant food fix in the months ahead.
A moist, warm environment like your kitchen – particularly in the summer – can lead to the buildup of moisture and grease around your facility, which can, in turn, create mold contamination risks and increase the likelihood of workplace accidents. Hospitality and food safety specialist Dhruv Kishore Bole advises operators to ensure proper ventilation, schedule deep cleaning tasks at regular intervals and to have the hood and ducts cleaned by an outside vendor at least once every three of four months to prevent the accumulation of grease and minimize fire hazards.
It didn’t take a pandemic for restaurants to focus on safety – the industry is among the most regulated around. But now, any extra tool or technology designed to protect safety (particularly in ways that were not needed before) is likely to become the norm. Ventilation is now a heightened concern, and operators are increasingly monitoring and sharing information about their air quality in an effort to attract guests. Safety is still the new hospitality. One online tool to consider is Safe Air Spaces, which helps operators estimate the risk of the air in their facilities based on factors such as floor area, occupant number, ceiling height, outdoor air supply and other factors. It may help you pinpoint your trouble spots before you invest in larger systems to protect your restaurant.
Throughout the pandemic, a major barrier to the reopening of restaurants has been the air quality of indoor spaces – and how operators can ensure their dining rooms are safe. As restaurant operators reopen their indoor dining rooms, many are investing in systems and products that promote air filtration and ventilation as the pandemic winds down – and for protection down the line. The investment can be substantial but also a major selling point for guests concerned about safety. If you’re considering anything ranging from small tabletop air purifiers to HVAC system updates, consult with someone who can assess how air moves around your facility – including the locations and spacing of vents and air filters, as some purifiers inadvertently increase the spread of aerosols if spaced incorrectly. Also consider the noise of any new units you install – they shouldn’t require guests to speak more loudly to be heard, and again, spread more aerosols. Finally, have a means of measuring air quality in your restaurant and understand how the number and locations of guests, and your efforts to change ventilation and filtration, can impact your air
As spring brings warmer temperatures, outdoor dining is likely to be in greater demand once again while we wait for indoor dining rooms to open to greater capacity. Take steps now to make sure your outdoor space not only adheres to COVID-19 precautions, but also minimizes the risk of injury to employees and guests. Look for potential hazards that could cause slips, trips and falls, including stray cords, obstructed entrances and poorly lit walkways. If inclement weather is in the forecast or you have experienced snowy or icy conditions this winter, consider how your preparations will need to change – whether that means securing awnings and stakes or checking the soundness of your outdoor structures. Many operators will continue to rely on outdoor heating systems as well, so make sure flame guards are in place over open flames and that you minimize carbon monoxide by keeping your dining area adequately ventilated.
As helpful as cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in your restaurant can be, protecting your guests from COVID-19 is largely about safeguarding the air they breathe – by maintaining physical distance between your staff and guests and between guests themselves, and taking steps to purify the air flowing through your facility. In December, the National Restaurant Association updated its pandemic operating guidance to include recommendations for HVAC maintenance, the use of portable air purifiers, and the best way to protect the safety of staff changing air filters, among other recommendations. Review the new guidance here (https://bit.ly/38CbrqU).