How to Update Your Restaurant for COVID-19: Health and Sanitation

The protective measures and new protocols you’ll need to keep your staff and your customers safe during the pandemic.
October 30, 2020, 06:37 PM UTC
How to Update Your Restaurant for COVID-19: Health and Sanitation

Restaurants have always been held to high health and sanitation standards. The culture of safety and cleanliness in many ways has prepared restaurants for the moment that Covid-19 has presented: one in which an invisible menace threatens to take down people's health, and with it, potentially your entire business. In that regard, though, it's not so different from Salmonella or E. coli. The difference now is that customers and staffers will have a degree of worry on their minds from the moment they approach your door. Paying, sitting, ordering, even walking to the restroom all take on elements of a tightrope act these days.

Fortunately you probably don't need a fundamental business overhaul to ensure public safety. Rather, you'll find in this list of CDC-recommended updates that most of what you've spent your life doing to take care of people's health will, if anything, need just a few tweaks to adapt to the new reality. Still, there are twists in the road ahead. Here are the updates your restaurant should consider to create a safer dining experience for your staff and customers.

Do a proper deep clean

If you are in the process of reopening your restaurant, do a deep cleaning of the entire indoor and outdoor space before welcoming customers back. The CDC advises using gloves to clean, first with soap and water and then a second round of cleaning with disinfectant. 

After your restaurant is reopened, you’ll want to do routine cleanings to your space. Datassential reports that at least 38% of diners are concerned about clean, high-touch surfaces. Regular disinfecting of your countertops, door handles, payment processing screens, etc. will give your customers more peace of mind at your restaurant. You can go the extra mile by sanitizing chairs, tables and bathrooms after every use. 

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Refigure your dining room layout and capacity

At this point, we all know that social distancing means being at least 6 feet apart. The way you set up your tables should also comply with this rule. This may mean retooling your seating within the space and cutting down on restaurant capacity to accommodate more distance between tables.

Since being outside reduces the risk of coronavirus transmissions, the CDC advises prioritizing outdoor seating. If you don’t have outdoor seating set up, see what space in front or around your restaurant you can use for patio dining. Check with your city to see if they have granted special allowances for restaurants to expand seating into sidewalk and street areas.

The main thing you want to avoid is crowding inside or outside your establishment. If your restaurant is open for to-go only, limit your capacity to only 1-2 customers inside at a time, depending on the size of the pick-up area. Place large and noticeable signage in front of your entrance so customers know the capacity. You can even place markers outside to signify where they should stand as they wait in line.

If your restaurant is busy enough to have a wait, consider using text alerts to notify guests when their table is ready rather than having them stand around in groups outside your restaurant. The more you can do to encourage social distancing, the safer you, your staff and your guests will be.

Double down on food safety

You're already doing it, so keep doing what you're doing. While the CDC has confirmed that COVID-19 does not spread through food, keeping up your food safety habits will only improve your restaurant’s sanitation. If you are about to reopen, go through your existing inventory and toss anything that has expired. Additionally, think about high-touch surfaces in your kitchen. Apply deep cleaning practices that are food safe to any surfaces where you are preparing meals, as well as kitchen equipment.

This is also a good time to look into your food suppliers. Make sure they are all taking their own health safety measures. Work with vendors you trust and who are concerned about the health and safety of their workers. And again, wipe down and sanitize any materials brought in. 

>>>RELATED: How to find national and regional restaurant food suppliers

Keep your staff healthy

Not only is taking every effort to keep your staff healthy the right thing to do, but it will also ensure that your restaurant can stay open. If even one of your staffers gets sick, you risk their lives as well as your customers’. Take every precaution to ensure your staff feels safe.

Before opening, go through your new sanitation procedures and rules with your staff. Allow them to express concerns constructively so you can determine the best policies together. Be open to procedures evolving so that your staffers always feel protected.

Since your staff will definitely be inside your restaurant, make sure to require that everyone wear a mask. Post signage reminding customers that they are required to wear a mask indoors unless seated and eating. In a perfect world, guests will comply, but in this world, it’s best to have a clear procedure and chain of command for what to do if a customer doesn’t want to comply. Shifts can be stressful enough, and having these policies in place will help your staff feel empowered and safe.

Now is also a great time to revisit and review your sick day policy with your staff. Enacting a “stay home if you’re sick” policy will give your staff freedom to take time off as needed, to put their health first, and to curtail any potential spread.

>>>RELATED: Keep your staffers close with these 5 communication tips

Embrace contactless operations

Amping up your contactless practices will cut down further on risks. Start with your mobile payment processing options, to minimize contact between guests and employees. You can also set up a card reader so that customers insert their cards on their own. Going completely cashless could lead to excluding some of your customers, but there’s  nothing wrong with encouraging people to pay by card. Offering hand sanitizer at the register also improves the cleanliness of the transaction.

Rather than printing out menus, update an online menu that guests can look up on their phones. For pick up, set up a designated area where customers can retrieve their food without touching anything. For delivery, add an option for a contactless drop-off. Blurdot reports that 53% of consumers are already downloading apps and using tech to make purchases more contactless, so most of your customers will be familiar with these practices.

Take events digital

About 70% of event professionals have moved their experiences online as a result of the pandemic. If they can do it, so can you! Virtual events are a great way to stay in touch with your customers who can’t dine in with you. Consider offering classes through Zoom that cover a particular topic your restaurant specializes in. For example, if you are a beer bar: a beer tasting 101 class where guests can drink your goods from home. Consider hosting a digital discussion led by one of your local farms, or have your resident DJ come on and spin for your guests online. Either way, it’s a great way to get creative and avoid big group meetings.

[Photo by CDC from Pexels]