Contactless ordering and payment have been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic – and to be sure, they are safeguards guests appreciate. But there are many other touchpoints in your facility that concern consumers right now. Trace the path of a typical guest in your restaurant – are there touchpoints you can remove or other safeguards you can apply to make them more sanitary? Do guests have to touch parts of your trash bins – both those in restrooms and others placed in or around your dining rooms – to discard waste? Do they have to hand over a table marker to claim their order? When they visit a restroom, do they have to use an air dryer that can spread contaminants through the space? If possible, place contactless paper towel dispensers in restrooms and near bins or compactors. Help limit the need to touch dispensers and door handles throughout your facility – or make it possible for people to sanitize their hands afterwards.
As operators weather what is likely going to be a difficult winter, many of those fortunate enough to have outdoor spaces have taken steps to outfit them with heated pods, screens and other partitions aimed at containing the spread of the virus while also allowing the safe (and more comfortable) serving of guests as the temperature drops. But according to medical experts, these spaces can be as risky as indoor settings if operators don’t take sufficient precautions. To minimize the spread of infection in the next couple of months, be sure to air out individual dining pods between guests, or in case you have a partially enclosed space for dining outdoors, ensure that air is able to circulate throughout it. Outdoor space heaters and fireplaces can help beat the chill without posing additional safety risks, and you can also encourage guests to bring their own blankets to keep warm during their meal.
As we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed to more people across the country, we must still manage what could be an especially challenging winter for restaurants. Ongoing cases of COVID-19, on top of normal seasonal concerns like the flu, will make restaurant health and safety practices take on extra importance right now. Make your commitment to safety clear on everything from your front door to your website. Persist with mask wearing indoors and when delivering food (whether through in-house staff or a vendor), enforce social distancing in your dining areas and kitchen, and regularly ensure your facility is well ventilated, air is purified and high-touch surfaces are cleaned. It will help you earn trust from customers, and at a minimum, could help you minimize winter-illness absences on your team.
This year has provided a stark wake-up call about the importance of protecting the safety of our food. Up-and-coming technology called hyperspectral imaging, which can detect pathogens in food, optimize the uniformity of a product’s quality and even help with precision agriculture, has been gaining ground rapidly in the food safety industry this year. In the coming months, it’s an additional feature to watch for and discuss with food suppliers and distributors, particularly as more foodservice operations adopt speed-scratch food products to help boost efficiency. Learn more about the technology here (https://bit.ly/2JcwyHC).
This year has asked so much of restaurant operators – as innovators, entrepreneurs, managers and neighbors. While it’s natural for people in the service profession to look for ways to serve guests well, taking care of staff – and themselves – can take a backseat. But the well-being of a restaurant’s entire team trickles down through your business and impacts all of your relationships. The slower period this winter may be a time to refocus on strengthening your team from the inside out. Mental health in restaurants was a central theme of the recent Chefs’ Congress in Lisbon. According to this report in Forbes, the event incorporated videos, workshops and techniques designed to allow owners, chefs, cooks and workers to better understand how to manage teams, partner with human resources, and increase awareness of workers' rights and risk factors. It even offered anonymous therapy sessions for restaurant professionals. As awareness of these issues grows, such events can provide teaching tools and other resources for operators regardless of where they do business.
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?
Count on it: Someone on your team is apt to come down with an illness this winter. How should you prepare? And how do you know if it’s flu or COVID-19, which requires a different kind of response from you? First, make sure you and your team are clear on how symptoms of the flu differ from those of the coronavirus and other milder illnesses. While there are strong similarities between COVID-19 and the flu, COVID-19 can involve some odd ones, like the sudden loss of a person’s sense of smell. As a recent New York Times report advises, this is the year to urge everyone on your staff to get a flu shot as an extra precaution.
The coronavirus has strained the supply chain and added uncertainty to restaurant operators who need a steady supply of certain ingredients. Just make sure that supply chain pressures don’t result in cutting corners on supplier safety. Team Four can help you connect with reputable suppliers – but if you find other contenders, asking some key questions can help you discern their stability and reliability when it comes to food safety. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to ask for information about a supplier’s food safety standards, as well as about how long the company has been in business, how it transports food, and how it would handle any problem that arises with a supplied product.
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
You have likely stepped up your cleaning procedures since the start of COVID-19, but some procedures shouldn’t change. Case in point: Your existing methods for ensuring the safety of food including fruits, vegetables and packaged products. According to the CDC, the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 by eating or handling food and food packages is very low. Further, the CDC advises against wiping down cardboard or plastic packaging with disinfectants meant for hard surfaces, which may contaminate the food itself. After handling packages, it’s most beneficial to simply wash hands with soap and water.