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.
It looks like outdoor dining is here to stay for a while – particularly as many restaurants around the U.S. are closing or limiting their indoor seating due to the spread of the Delta variant. If you plan to serve guests outdoors in the months ahead, ensure the safety of your outdoor service capabilities. Have yours evolved past the temporary measures you may have had in place over the past year? Create permanent and well-stocked outdoor service stations to minimize your staff’s trips around your facility. Check that footpaths are flat and clear of obstructions. Ensure that awnings and all covered outdoor spaces are structurally secure and don’t pose safety risks.
Summer often coincides with a spike in food poisoning as hot temperatures help foodborne pathogens thrive. The CDC advises that all perishable items are refrigerated within one hour, particularly if it’s 90°F or warmer. If you’re preparing food and serving guests outdoors, make sure employees are wearing gloves and using tongs for serving. Provide hand sanitizers or wipes if a handwashing sink isn’t immediately accessible. Finally, take extra care with marinades and sauces that may have touched raw meat and could spread bacteria to cooked foods through direct contact or splatter. When removing cooked meat from the grill, always use clean utensils and a clean plate.
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 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.