The pandemic has changed the game for the long term when it comes to safety at restaurants. Protocols to keep people safe are no longer just in the purview of health inspectors but are also of greater interest to your customers and the general public – and an extension of the service you offer. It’s more important than ever to be able to respond knowledgeably and professionally to scrutiny and misinformation about your food safety when you are questioned about it by customers or online reviews. Support your staff by creating quizzes and contests that arm them with scientific facts they should have at their fingertips, then reward compliance. Incorporate everything from pandemic-related safety measures related to how the virus spreads, to longstanding safety measures related to handwashing, allergen safety and contamination prevention.
If you have managed to keep business coming in during the past year, you have likely made major shifts in how you get your food to customers – by creating a curbside pick-up service, developing and expanding upon your delivery service, or both. Has your food safety plan expanded at the same rate? At a time when off-premise sales represent a commanding portion of overall restaurant sales, your commitment to keeping your food safe for guests can’t stop at your front door. Since your standards may differ from those of other restaurants, determine how you want your particular safety values to come through to customers who are enjoying your food beyond your dining room. Trace the path of your to-go orders and anticipate potential problems: Are you using take-out containers that don’t adequately insulate foods? Not enforcing the wearing of masks on your team during curbside pick-ups? Packing bags of food that could tip over easily while in transit? Neglecting to secure containers with tamper-proof seals? Your safety protocols go far in representing your brand right now. What do your safety methods say about you?
Consumers have been paying more attention to how their food orders are being handled by your staff – and you can expect they will continue to keep a watchful eye on how their orders are prepared for some time. In your efforts to be COVID-safe, make sure not to neglect standard customer-facing food-safety protocols that can lead to contamination – or negative Yelp reviews of your commitment to guest safety. That means paying attention to how your staff is handling cutlery and serving tongs, scooping ice, placing food in packages to go, and cleaning their hands in the midst of using your POS and preparing orders
Even after we have a vaccine for COVID-19, the virus will still be with us and there will be a portion of the population especially vulnerable to it. Much like we have adapted our kitchens and food preparation practices for those with gluten allergies, we will likely have to make long-term changes to how we operate to protect against the coronavirus. Think about the ventilation in your facility, the level of interaction among your staff, technology that enables fast and contactless payment, and seamless pick-ups. Are there changes you have made in recent months that feel temporary but could be made permanent – and might help customers feel safer with you in the long term?
Much like airport security measures changed for good after 9/11, COVID-19 is altering the way we eat out – and many of those changes are likely to be permanent. That means it’s important for operators to act now to make lasting changes to how they prepare and serve food – not simply apply a band-aid solution intended to work until a vaccine is available. If you have offered food via a buffet, salad bar or even on large, shareable platters served to a single table, implement a lower-contact plan to serve those foods. Train your staff on your updated safety procedures and make them visible to your guests within your facility and on online channels. In a recent FSR Magazine report, food safety expert Francine Shaw also suggests updating your crisis management plan for the long haul, as well as broadening your list of suppliers to help ensure you can always source the ingredients you need. Doing so will help your operation protect itself against a range of potential future challenges – not just COVID-19. #foodsafety #T4V4
If, before the pandemic, your restaurant generated most of its business through dining room sales as opposed to through off-premise sales, your staff may be used to communicating far differently about your menu. If your team was near-perfect when it came to suggesting substitutes and communicating about allergens during conversations at a guest’s table, have you found a new system for replicating those communications as effectively either electronically or during the shorter in-person interactions that are common now? As the National Restaurant Association reports, the increase in off-premise sales and the decline in on-premise sales mean your servers don’t have as direct of an opportunity to discuss food allergies and sensitivities. So it’s important (and, in some locations, required) to update your allergen profiles as your recipes change – and to make sure that information is readily accessible in written form – on your website, app, or at your restaurant for those who order food in person. That’s especially true to remember as you update your menu for a new season or substitute new ingredients due to shortages.
It's more important than ever that restaurant operators convey new health and safety trainings clearly to their team. But what if team members speak English as a second language and miss some of the nuances of language that native speakers understand? Rachael Nemeth, a cofounder of ESL Works, which provides mobile-based English-as-a-second-language training, addressed this challenge in a recent Fast Casual podcast. She estimates that of the 14 million workers in the restaurant industry, one-third don’t speak English as a first language. If you employ team members who aren’t fluent English speakers, what tools or protocols do you have in place to ensure your training is achieving the desired results and no messages are missed?