May 5, 2020

Restaurant owners across the country have been reworking strategies and implementing new protocols in attempts to stay open amid the pandemic. With restrictions beginning to be lifted, the focus is now on reopening dining rooms while adhering to new guidelines put in place by the CDC. 

Regardless of whether or not your restaurant is located in a state that has begun to reopen, it is essential that you take the time to create a plan for when operations begin to return to normal. Having a strategy in place will ensure you are able to maintain both customer and employee safety without sacrificing operational efficiency.

Below are several key areas of restaurant safety that should be considered as you phase into reopening.

Employee Safety

One of the first steps you should take is updating your illness policy to include a stay at home order for employees with fevers and respiratory symptoms. Having a system in place to monitor employee health is a necessity as well. One way to do so is by requiring that employee temperatures be checked at the beginning and end of every shift. Restaurants should create a designated location for testing as well as supply personal protective equipment to the staff members who are administering wellness checks. As per CDC guidelines, for sick employees to return to work they should self-isolate for seven days and be symptom-free for three days without medication. 

For their own safety and the safety of others, employees who have direct contact with guests should be wearing masks while at work. The same goes for gloves. It is best practice to have gloves readily available for employees who would like to wear them. To err on the side of caution, you should encourage employees to wear gloves when interacting with food. It also recommended that you re-train employees on proper handwashing techniques as well as provide them with clear instructions on how to avoid touching their faces. Where possible, stagger work stations so that employees avoid standing close to one another.

If you are not already, be sure to encourage contactless payments. Using a point of sale system can reduce person-to-person interaction while streamlining the ordering process for customers. For customers who order meals for takeout, make sure you have a designated pick-up zone where food can be obtained while maintaining six feet of distance.

Customer Safety

Customer safety will play an important role in how restaurants structure their reopening. In order to facilitate a safe sit down dining experience, you should update your floor plans so that all seating arrangements are at least six feet apart. When seating guests, make sure that the party size does not exceed the established “maximums approved” number as recommended by the CDC or local government. One way you can optimize this process is by establishing a reservation-only model so that you will have time to make necessary changes prior to guests arriving. Try to limit the use of sharing items such as menus and condiments.

Restaurant operators also recommended that you invest in disposable products such as paper menus and single serve condiments. Doing so will reduce the spread of germs, helping you maintain both customer and employee safety.

For guests who are waiting to be seated, it is important that you have processes in place to ensure they remain six feet apart. Some recommendations include using floor markings to denote where guests can wait, having an outdoor waiting area, or having guests wait in their car until their table is ready. Additionally, consider creating designated entrances and exits to your facility. This will help guests maintain appropriate distance when entering or leaving your restaurant.

To account for the likely rise in handwashing, increase the frequency of bathroom checks to restock soap and paper towels. You should also provide customers with hand sanitizer to use. If possible, invest in touchless hand sanitizing solutions in order to limit the spread of germs.

Food Safety

Now more than ever before, food safety is a priority for the restaurant industry. As you begin to reopen it is very important that you take extra percussion to follow food safety protocols put in place by the FDA and local governing bodies. Having a food safety certified manager on premise at all times is recommended as this will ensure that the necessary steps are taken to adhere to these regulations.

To become a certified food safety manager, you can enroll in SafeServ food handler training courses. These courses cover food safety regulatory requirements on a state by state basis so that you can implement required practices at your restaurant. Due to the pandemic, they are currently offering their food handling course free of charge until the end of May. Having all your employees complete the course will create a culture of food safety in your restaurant and enhance the customer experience.

As takeout and delivery have become the new norm, it is crucial that you maintain the quality and safety of these meals. Whether you have your own drivers or use third-party delivery services, establish processes that eliminate any bare hand contact with food during the delivery process. Furthermore, make sure you implement a method for contactless drop off so that drivers adhere to social distancing protocols when making deliveries. This can be achieved by having drivers leave food at the customer’s door and then informing them that it has been dropped off.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Sanitation is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of everyone who comes into your restaurant. Before reopening, make sure that you do a deep clean of your entire facility. Items such as refrigerators, freezers, storage shelves, floors, floor drains, and kitchen equipment should all be disinfected. Employees should take note of high touch surfaces and be regularly sanitizing them. Some examples include point of sale systems, self-service areas, and kitchen equipment. Between seatings, chairs and tables should be disinfected as well.

Along with sanitizing products, heat can be used to disinfect items such as flatware. To do this, soak items in water that is at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of thirty seconds. You can also run items in a high temperature dishwasher as long as they are dishwasher safe.

Essential Restaurant Reopening Checklist

For restaurants preparing to reopen a list of the essential practices you should implement are as follows:

  1. Do a deep clean of your entire facility before reopening.
  2. Limit party size to “maximums approved” number as per CDC and local government guidelines.
  3. Stagger workstations so employees can maintain six feet of distance.
  4. Create a wellness check program for employees.
  5. Employees with symptoms must self-isolate for seven days and be symptom-free for three days before returning to work. 
  6. Make sure you have a food safety manager on premise at all times.
  7. Do not let guests congregate in waiting areas or bars.
  8. Train employees on proper handwashing procedures and provide instructions on how they can avoid touching their faces.
  9. Create a schedule for sanitation. High-touch items should be regularly disinfected by staff members. 
  10. Wipe down tables and chairs between seatings.
  11. Use disposable products including menus and single-serve condiments.
  12. Encourage contactless payment through the use of POS systems.
  13. Create a designated pick up station for takeaway orders.
  14. Work with drivers to establish a contactless drop off system.
  15. Create separate entrances and exits for guests to use in order to limit interaction.
  16. Increase the frequency of bathroom checks to restock soap and paper towels.  
  17. Make sure gloves are readily available to employees who would like to wear them.
  18. Encourage all employees who interact with guests to wear masks.
  19. Have hand sanitizer readily available for guests to use.
  20. Avoid food contact surfaces with disinfectants.

Final Thoughts

While reopening presents an opportunity to start generating income again, you must be mindful of how you approach resuming restaurant operations. By following the above-mentioned guidelines and recommendations restaurant owners can ensure they are able to instill customer confidence when they open again.