New Challenges from COVID-19
While operators have become accustomed to guarding against food-borne illness and communicable diseases such as norovirus, preventing COVID-19 presents new challenges, she says. One of the biggest is the fact that workers can be infected without showing symptoms.
“Hand-washing is the No. 1 way to prevent both foodborne illnesses and COVID-19 from spreading. However, the similarities end there,” says Shaw. “COVID-19 is going to require an entirely new training system to protect employees and customers.”
Both rank-and-file employees and management must understand the facts about the illness and how it spreads, she says.
“Everyone on every level must be educated about the disease, the symptoms, personal protective equipment—what equipment is deemed necessary, when and how it will be issued, when and how will it be disposed of,” she says.
In addition, procedures need to be established and training implemented for disinfecting high-touch areas such as toilet handles, door handles—in both the front- and back-of-the-house—restroom stall latches, faucet handles, kiosks, walkie-talkies, phones, cash registers, and dining room chairs.
Some of the key questions Shaw suggests that operators consider:
• How will operators manage and enforce maintaining the proper distance between customers?
• Who will wear face coverings—employees, management, etc.?
• What will the check-in/check-out process be for employees, where will it take place and what will be the criteria for allowing employees to work?
“Policies and procedures need to be developed and strictly enforced, and training programs will have to be created,” says Shaw.
A Cost that All Will Bear
All operators will be in the same boat in terms of having to invest in these safety measures, says James O’Reilly, CEO of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, the Aventura, Florida-based barbecue chain.
“The things that the industry has to do – and Smokey Bones will be doing to maintain the trust of our guests, including investing more in sanitation and cleaning to meet the needs of our guests and employees – are now a part of doing business, and we accept and embrace that,” he says.
At Smokey Bones, for example, safety precautions will be highly visible to consumers as the company prepared to reopen its restaurants. Those include the removal of table condiment dispensers for cleaning after each table is cleared and the display of signage throughout the restaurant.
Operators clearly should anticipate that many consumers will be wary of entering restaurants for some time to come, and they will expect to see visual evidence that operators are going out of their way to provide a safe environment.