The following recommendations for re-opening your restaurants are based off of data that has been compiled from the FDA Food Code(2017), the National Restaurant Association and from the reopening procedures listed out on the Wynn Resort Hotels Las Vegas website.
If your facility has been closed due to the Coronavirus for an extended period you’re probably asking yourself if there is anything that you should be considering before you decide to reopen. So I thought it would be helpful to put together some guidance based on what I’ve been seeing other organizations doing to protect their guests and their employees.
First, it would be a good idea if you have coolers to do an inventory check. Go through all of your TCS/PHF items and dispose of anything that is expired, looks weird or has off odors. Remember, the maximum shelf life for anything you make or for anything you open that is perishable is 7 days and when in doubt just throw it out. Next, you should do a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of your storage areas with your standard sanitizing solutions. Pay attention to the floors, walls and shelves and whatever sanitizer you’ve always used for you kitchens will be just fine. Don’t forget, coronavirus is not a food borne illness so were not so concerned about it on our food and the harsh chemicals it takes to destroy it are nearly as dangerous for the food as the coronavirus itself. When I refer to sanitizing we’re talking about food contact surfaces but when were talking about disinfecting were talking about everything else. Right now just get your kitchens back up to the normal food safety standards per your health department and later in this guidance we can work on the coronavirus part.
Once you have all your storage areas ready to go you should turn your attention to cleaning and sanitizing every work surface, every utensil and every single bit of equipment in your prep areas, dish washing areas and service areas. Remember, any little bits of left behind food, grease or liquids could have been growing bacteria or hiding pest the entire time you’ve been closed and we don’t want little neglected hot spots in our kitchens to give someone food poisoning. You could even bring in a nice bright flashlight to poke around, under and behind equipment. At this point if you have an expo station or a bar you will want to do the same for these areas and it might be a good time to start minimizing the amount of stuff you may have because the more stuff you have the more hiding places for germs and its just more things you need to clean.
Okay now to some of the coronavirus stuff. I’ve read some pretty extensive procedural measures about managing guests and employees and will share some of those things but I think some of these extensive measures might be a bit of overkill for many operators. That’s not to say the threat of coranavirus is trivial because it certainly is not however, some things might be repressive, for example O’Charley’s restaurant in Tennessee is asking their servers to leave food on trays 6 feet away from the guests table and asking the guests to take and return plates on their own or the Wynn Resort and Casino listed on their website that they will put non-invasive thermal scanners at every entry point to scan guests body temperatures as they enter the building. Now, I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that but I think for most of us these measures would be impractical and probably even implausible.
It’s time to address the fact that the guidelines for dealing with employee illnesses in a restaurant are changing and you will have more responsibility. There used to be some leniency on allowing employees to work if their symptoms were not food born illness related such as sneezing or a minor cough as long as they were kept away from food but that has changed. Now, if your employees inform you of or display any symptoms of any illness they should be excluded from the establishment. When an employee is sick they should take a week off and don’t let them return until the symptoms are gone for 72 hours. You should also create and post job aids around the facility to display the importance of reporting their symptoms and encourage them to stay home when they feel ill in any way. It would be a good idea to get a temporal thermometer and check that nobody has a fever of over one hundred degrees. It is also a great time to revisit your policy for reporting illnesses.
You will also need to do your best to protect employees in tight areas in the facility where they regularly congregate. Talk about not crowding around host stands, POS stations, pass out windows and soda stations. Instead of doing a pre-shift meeting have a communication board or do one on ones and don’t be afraid to tell them that you are going to be monitoring these things and talking about it a lot to protect them. Makes sure employee break rooms are set up to meet physical distancing guidelines and even though they may not like it or may not even comply you are trying to protect your business as much as you are trying to protect them. Just think about how you will respond to a lawyer if someone were to get sick and the lawyer asks. “What were you doing to protect your employees”? Please don’t let that question catch you off guard.
Before allowing guests to enter you are going to need to disinfect your dining area. The EPA has plenty of disinfectants that are approved for destroying coronavirus listed on their website. You might be surprised to find they are pretty accessible from your chemical vendor and you may even be able to find them at your local grocery store. Make sure you disinfect all tables and chairs between guests usage and high contact areas such as door handles and handrails should also be disinfected regularly during business hours. Maybe assign this to a host or busser if you can’t have an extra cleaner to do these duties and create a cleaning schedule for areas that might be forgotten. Tables and chairs will need to be spaced strategically to allow for that 6 foot distance for all guests that don’t come in together and when diners are finished disinfect the entire area including tables and chairs when they leave. You are going to need to reconfigure things to fit in with the physical distancing guidelines so unfortunately you may be losing some seating. And when guests are finished ordering make sure to disinfect menus or even consider disposable and if at all possible switch to single service items such as disposable cutlery and single use condiments. All employees that will be coming into contact with your guests such as FOH staff should wear face coverings. Get creative and allow your staff to put their own style into them to keep things light or if they don’t have one of their own you will need to provide one for them.
Some operations are using a seating by reservation only to help manage guest distancing. Having too many people congregate in a waiting area or bar area creates an unsafe environment and may promote the spread of illness, remember crowds are what were really trying to avoid here. It might even be a good idea to create separate doors for entering and leaving the building. Place signs in sight of guests to remind them of coronavirus, and markings on the floor to help them remember how far apart we should be standing. If you have a cash register you can put up a plexiglass barrier to help prevent contact between guests and cashiers. If at all possible limit the amount of cash payments to cut down on how much contact you have with guests and I’ve even heard that places will take cash by allowing guests to place money in a container but will not give change. Credit card payments are good because your employees can have the guest slide the card themselves but make sure to disinfect touch surfaces between use.
I know this all seems a bit overwhelming but it seems that if we want to continue to operate we are going to need to take protective measures until we have a cure and a vaccine. This will all pass but as we grow as a culture we as an industry are going to need to grow along with it to protect our guests. I hope this guidance finds you well and good luck with your reopening.