As restaurant dining rooms reopen and the weather beckons people outdoors, operators may find themselves in the awkward position of wanting to welcome people looking to gather and celebrate, while also accommodating the safety concerns of guests, staff and inspectors alike. Establish a clear protocol for how your team is balancing these concerns – and share it on your website, social media and in your booking confirmations to help inform guests before they join you. Finally, empower your staff to gently reinforce your safety protocols as guests arrive – and as needed once they’re dining – since they may still be getting used to the new rules of dining out too.
On July 4th weekend, a San Francisco wedding celebration reportedly became a breeding ground for COVID-19. Following a rehearsal dinner gathering of 40 guests at the Harborview Restaurant and Bar, the wedding couple and at least eight of their guests from across the country tested positive for the virus. But according to an Eater report that addressed reviews of the restaurant’s policies for managing groups, as well as information relayed by a restaurant spokesperson, Harborview seems to have done everything right: They took such steps as spacing tables six feet apart, separating guests by household or family unit, plating food that they had previously served family style, and reminding guests to wear face coverings. After the outbreak, employees were tested and results came back negative. So what is a restaurant to do when it follows guidelines and takes the right precautions but must bear the brunt of bad publicity after an outbreak? Start by going on the PR offensive, collecting facts to demonstrate your commitment to safety, and sharing them with the media and on your social platforms. Partner with your health officials and describe what precautions you have taken, from new employee training procedures and protocols to virus testing to signage advising guests how to maintain safety – and publicize their findings in the news media, on your website and on your social networks. Take photos and video of your facility, introduce staff and talk about how your policies have changed since COVID-19. Finally, for the moment, rethink catering to weddings – and other gatherings where people set out to socialize and celebrate with friends and family, consume alcohol, and perhaps let down their guard and ignore precautions. They may be best left to large outdoor settings or until after a vaccine is readily available.
In a recent interview with Restaurant Technology News, OneDine CEO Rom Krupp said he thinks of COVID-19 as almost a compliance event – something that restaurants simply must adapt to accommodate, just as they have installed ramps for the disabled and offered gluten-free menus for gluten-sensitive guests. In that vein, it’s something restaurants will have to take actions to support not just in the near term, when large portions of the population are restricted in their movements and ability to connect with others, but also in the longer term as older and immune-compromised customers continue to have to think about their risks. As you adapt your safety procedures, think longterm. What products, technology and processes can help you minimize contact between your employees and guests on a permanent basis – and how can you implement changes in a way that inspires loyalty and protects your brand?
If you’re a franchisee and are found to have health and safety violations in your restaurant, you could be facing challenges from more than just your health inspector. When a Dunkin’ in east Boston with a series of health code violations was closed temporarily in recent weeks after a customer captured and shared video of mice scurrying around the store, its parent company filed suit against the franchisor to ensure it could not ever reopen under the Dunkin’ name.