The global pandemic has stressed nearly every industry and organization worldwide. And let’s face it – “stress” can be an understatement. Airlines and cruise lines, hotels and resorts, and countless retail chains have been decimated. Some industries, such as the trade show sector, may never come back at all. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that small businesses in countless industries have taken the biggest hit.
Amid the tire fire that is the current world situation, there are some glimmers of light. Some industries are doing reasonably well, such as those deemed “essential services.” Grocery stores, restaurants, shipping conglomerates and others have remained open, and have provided needed jobs and a stimulus to the economy.
Let’s talk more about these essential businesses, specifically restaurants. I will be the first to admit, that every now and then when I have had enough of lockdown staring at my wall and I just don’t want to cook that day, grabbing a pizza or a rack of tender BBQ ribs can be oh so comforting. I can’t go on a trip to Mexico? Fine, let me drown in that pepperoni and cheese, baby.
Restaurants In the Age of COVID-19
Although many restaurants are doing well, or at least getting by, they are not immune to the challenges of the pandemic. Many have gone under during the first wave of infections. And those who have survived until now face the ever-present danger of getting an outbreak in their store, and shutting down at least temporarily. This leads to loss of income, but also negative news reports which could damage their customer relations permanently.
Whether it’s Sam’s Diner or McDonald’s Location #34610, in order for restaurants to stay open, they gotta stay safe and clean. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published many guidelines for businesses to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic, including helpful advice for the food and retail sector. Although this applies to all retail businesses, we are going to be focusing specifically on how restaurants can apply these tips, and stay open for business. Because we need burgers and waffle fries, dang it!
Best Health and Safety Practices For Restaurants
The FDA guidelines for restaurants can essentially be considered a 3-pronged approach:
- Cleaning and sanitizing the restaurant
- Monitoring and managing employees
- Managing customer traffic
No system is perfect. There is a risk of exposure every single time we leave our house. But these tips can help restaurants limit the chances of an infection, and increase the likelihood of staying operational.
Cleaning and sanitizing the restaurant
Of the 3 prongs discussed for reducing the chance of coronavirus outbreak in your restaurant, cleaning and sanitizing is the one approach the owner or manager has the greatest control over. Restaurants have always been required to clean and sanitize regularly, but with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become an even greater need than ever before.
Food preparation areas
Regularly clean and disinfect food contact surfaces, food prep areas, utensils and dishware, and beverage equipment. It’s also important to sanitize take-out containers before they are used.
High touch surfaces
Frequently sanitize and disinfect surfaces that are touched often by customers or employees. Door knobs, counters, registers, equipment handles, buttons and switches, tables and booths. The more you do this, the lower the chance of an infection in your store.
Train employees on proper procedures
Of course, a plan is only as good as the people executing it. So in order for your restaurant to be sanitized according to these guidelines, your employees need to be trained on the proper procedure. How often should they do it? What clothes or tools need to be used? Which chemicals or cleaning agents should be used, and which ones are food safe?
Use the best sanitizing machine
There are so many cleaning chemicals out there, it can be dizzying trying to figure out which ones are safe, easy to use, and still effective. There’s a chemical for floors, a product for food prep areas, a chemical for washrooms, a chemical for tables and counters, and the list goes on. Imagine being able to use one chemical-free product on every single surface, that was cheaper than using chemicals, and that was also so safe you could drink it?
Sound incredible? It is. Stabilized aqueous ozone (SAO) has been making waves in the food and restaurant industry, due to it being all-natural, affordable, easy to use, and super safe. Using a simple sanitizer dispenser mounted in your cleaning closet or kitchen (or wherever), you can turn regular tap water into a powerful, FDA and EPA-approved food-safe disinfectant.
The active ingredient is all-natural ozone. Once the water is infused with this super oxygen, it becomes a powerful sanitizer that lasts for up to 24 hours! Fill up a mop bucket and wash the floors, or fill spray bottles to clean every surface in the kitchen, washrooms, and dining areas. Fill up a sink with it and use it to disinfect containers, utensils, and dishware. Spray it on produce to make sure it is safe to eat and handle. It really is that easy.
Monitoring and managing employees
The pandemic aside, it can be said that employees make or break a restaurant. They’re responsible for making good food in the kitchen, and providing good service to their customers at the register. The best restaurants are great at both, and restaurants that fail are likely lacking in one or both of those areas.
Now with the arrival of COVID-19, employees hold restaurants in the balance to an even greater extent. If employees don’t take care to use proper hygiene and take necessary precautions, they can risk bringing the coronavirus into the workplace, leading to a shutdown of the restaurant, and bad press.
Obviously, employers cannot manage every aspect of an employee’s life, nor should they. Leave that to TikTok and Facebook. But several key policies will minimize the risk of exposure and infection, and keep the business running.
Stay home if you’re sick
Sadly, too many managers expect their employees to come into work no matter what. That should never be the case, but especially now. If an employee is sick, they need to stay home, full stop. It doesn’t mean “If they have been exposed to COVID-19, stay home”, because that’s a no-brainer. But more than that, if they have a sore throat, sneeze, cough, or fever, they need to stay home so as not to risk getting anyone else sick, and endangering the operations of the restaurant.
Some may be struggling and need the money, and thus try to hide their sickness and come to work. Others were fine in the morning, but then start to develop symptoms as the day goes on. If so, then what?
Send sick and exposed employees home
If a manager discovers that someone on his team has symptoms, they should send them home immediately. COVID-19 can start with a simple sore throat or sneeze, so this isn’t a time for gambles. Their workspace should also be deep cleaned, but we’ll get into that in more detail later. Additionally, if other employees were exposed, perhaps working within 6 feet of the sick employee, the manager should consider whether they should be sent home as a precaution as well.
Preventive measures at work
While an employee’s actions can’t be managed outside work, day-to-day operations at the restaurant can be. Preventive measures such as pre-screening and/or temperature checks at the start of the day, and instructing employees to wear face masks and/or face shields and disposable gloves while working, and regularly washing their hands can help reduce the spread of germs.
Managing customer traffic
If you think employees coming in and out of the workplace bring a risk of infection, think about the dozens, or even hundreds of customers that visit a restaurant each day. Customers are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. Or which one is infected by a nasty virus.
While you can’t manage their day-to-day actions, you can take preventive measures to reduce the risk of an outbreak in the restaurant.
Just like you encourage your employees to wear masks and wash hands regularly, you can do the same with customers. For instance, by using posted signage in washrooms on the doors or mirrors, at the entrance of the building, and at cash registers. For added protection, have hand sanitizer readily available as soon as they walk in the door, preferably a touchless dispenser.
And just because your municipality, county or state does not have rules on masks, there is nothing stopping you from instituting a mask policy at your restaurant. No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.
Promote physical distancing
One of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to keep at least 6 feet apart from one another, especially in indoor spaces. Arrange walking pathways and dining areas (if your area is allowing in-store dining) so that customers can easily keep their distance from one another. As an example, you can have customers use every other register for ordering, that way there’s some space between each lineup.
A lot of restaurants have also arranged for contactless food pickup. If possible, why not allow your customers to order in advance, and provide this service, or even curbside pickup so they don’t have to enter the store. Win-win!
Make your restaurant cleaner (and safer) than ever before
We hope this article will help you and your team keep your restaurant safe and healthy through this lousy pandemic. Visit the FDA’s website here to view their health and safety guidelines or retail stores and restaurants. To learn more about this incredible sanitizing machine, or to find out how you can put SAO to work in your restaurant today, contact us at BeSafe.