The 14 Point Restaurant Reopening Check List You Must Read15 min read
In today’s post, we’ll explore 14 ways you can make sure your reopening goes off without a hitch. You’ll learn:
How to educate employees about the importance of hand washing and sanitation
How to get buy-in from employees so that they’ll want to protect themselves and keep your customers safe
How to take advantage of customer psychology to maximize profits in trying times
How to avoid becoming complacent
Let’s get started.
In The News…
With cases—and fatalities—surging in several states, many health experts are calling for the U.S. to shut down again. More than 150 experts, in fact. These health professionals penned an open letter to the U.S. government earlier this week. The takeaway: Take bold action to save lives.
According to these experts, the U.S. should consider shutting down again, even if it means harming the economy. Supporting their argument is the news that we probably won’t see a vaccine until first quarter 2021. That leaves the U.S. open to quite a bit of liability in the meantime. It means more absent employees, more sickness and, sadly, more fatalities.
As the open letter itself says, ‘If you don’t take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death.’
In other news, Republicans have signaled that they’re willing to sign off on another $1200 stimulus check for most Americans. But the parties don’t see eye to eye on all issues, and this is likely to slow delivery of a second stimulus check. According to most estimates, you should expect your customers to start receiving checks by late August.
The Republicans had planned to unveil their $1-trillion relief bill a few days ago, but it’s been delayed until next week. However, in a bit of good news, Senate Republicans are close to thumbing up another round of PPP loans. According to reports, this second round may focus on providing more loans to small businesses.
14 Indispensable Relaunch Tips
With the news out of the way, let’s move on to our 14 point checklist. Follow every step on this list to maximize your odds of having a glorious, profitable reopening.
#1 Be Seen Helping to Stop the spread
First off, make sure customers see you doing your part to stop the spread. We’ll provide concrete tips on this throughout this post. For now, it’s enough to understand why being seen doing your part is so important. Customers need reassurance. Right now, they need to know that restaurants care about more than profits.
Granted, many customers don’t understand how thin the margins are in this industry. It’s only natural for restaurateurs to become frustrated at a public who just doesn’t get it. Still, you need to do everything you can to let the public know that you take the threat seriously.
To that end, take consistent, specific actions to slow the spread of this novel virus. And do so in full view of your customers. Some restaurant owners are doing everything they can to hide their sanitation efforts. It’s as if they think that doing so will somehow make customers less anxious. This will backfire.
#2 Focus on Cleanliness
Instead, demonstrate to your customers that you’re obsessed with cleanliness and sanitation. Did you know…workers in Waffle House, Panera Bread and Starbucks have tested positive for COVID-19? Here’s what you should do to reassure a skittish public.
- Take preventative measures. If possible, provide hand sanitizer to all tables. Then, space tables at least six feet apart and put up dividers.
- If you discover that an employee has COVID-19, stay calm. Ask them to call their health care provider, and then send them home. Immediately disinfect any area that the employee spent time in. Then disinfect any customer-facing surfaces as well. The employee should self-isolate for 14 days, minimum. They should not return to work until they’ve been symptom free for at least 72 hours.
- Ensure that remaining employees are following a sanitation schedule. Employees should sanitize surfaces regularly, wear gloves/masks and should wash hands every hour.
#3 Set a Sanitation schedule & Watch For Signs of Foodborne Illness
We’ve touched on the importance of a COVID-19 sanitation schedule before. The bottom line is that you must have such a schedule in place, and you must get buy-in from employees. This means:
Monitoring employees for adherence to your schedule
Explaining to employees why hand washing is so important
Identifying and dealing with non-adherers
Here’s a recap:
Employees should sanitize surfaces on the hour, every hour.
Employees must wash hands every time they sneeze, go to the bathroom or touch their face
Employees should clean the lobby or dining area more often than usual
According to the FDA, COVID-19 is not transmitted through food. However, because they tax the immune system, pre-existing illnesses may make employees more susceptible to COVID-19. Therefore, you should follow safe food handling procedures at all times, such as:
Watching for symptoms of foodborne illness.
Symptoms manifest on average between one and three days after eating contaminated food. However, some foodborne illnesses can cause symptoms within 20 minutes while others can take up to six weeks to manifest.
Knowing who is at risk.
Pregnant women and people with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses are at the most risk of foodborne illness. This subset of the population is also at high risk of contracting COVID-19. So you should be especially wary of symptoms in these people.
#4 Know These Employee Cleanliness Rules
Focus on employee safety first. It’s good to make hand sanitizer available, but your employees must understand the importance of constant hand washing, too. The virus can live on skin and non-porous surfaces for hours. This gives it plenty of opportunity to infect others. As mentioned, employees should wash their hands each hour, or whenever they:
Touch their face
Go to the bathroom
Cough or sneeze
But duration is just as important as frequency. Instruct employees to softly sing the Happy Birthday Song to themselves twice while washing with soap and warm water. Next, make it as easy as possible for employees to get to a hand washing station quickly. If employees have to leave their workstation and walk halfway around your restaurant, they won’t wash their hands often enough.
When talking to your employees about hand washing, put the emphasis on thoroughness, not speed. You’re probably accustomed to drilling the importance of efficiency into your employees. This is one area where fastidiousness is more important, though.
The future of your restaurant could be at stake.
#5 Educate Employees
Follow these simple steps to increase employee adherence to your sanitation policy and to get more employee buy-in:
Teach employees the importance of following all OSHA guidelines.
Check this page for the latest.
Be on the lookout for mask deniers.
Some people, for whatever reason, seem to think that masks are harmful. Actively watch and listen for mask deniers on your staff. Then point them to educational resources, like this video from YouTube channel It’s Okay To Be Smart. In extreme cases, you may need to ask mask deniers to stay home if they persist in spreading misinformation. Again, the future of your restaurant could be at stake.
Read up on how COVID-19 could affect your workplace so you can answer questions from your staff.
For instance, employees are likely to be very concerned about how contagious the virus is. If you’re prepared to answer these questions ahead of time, your employees will feel more confident.
#6 Employees: Take Advantage of the Curiosity Window
Your reopening may mean bringing on new staff or rehiring old staff. Either situation presents you with opportunity.
New employees will be eager to learn.
New employees will be curious about COVID and will want to learn how to prevent infection.
Old employees will be excited to return.
And they’ll also be interested in learning how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Often, old, established employees can be a bit complacent. Maybe they were a bit too comfortable before COVID struck. But now, they’ll be happy to be back at work. Leverage their renewed passion and energy. See this as an opportunity to retrain them in key areas.
New employees, likewise, will be eager to keep their jobs. So here, too, you have an opportunity. Drill into them the importance of your new sanitation procedures so you can all keep customers healthy. This in turn drives repeat business.
#7 Employees: Provide Reinforcement
Don’t leave it up to crew leaders or managers to provide feedback to employees. You want to be as active as possible here. As the owner or store manager, your employees need to see you in the trenches. Coach employees on how to wash their hands and when. Let them see you sanitizing surfaces. Demonstrate to your managers how to properly handle inventory and deliveries in a post-COVID world.
When accepting deliveries, you should insist that all delivery personnel wear masks. If they refuse, you should consider finding a new supplier. Or, at the very least, lodge a complaint.
At the same time, let your employees see you evaluating the cleanliness of the office, stock room and other non-central areas. This will reinforce the idea that sanitation everywhere is key. By all means, if you see employees who are skimping on hand washing, give them real-time feedback. Remember, employees should sing the Happy Birthday Song softly to themselves twice while washing. Alternatively, you can provide a 45 second timer.
#8 Handle Boxes & Cartons Carefully
Picture this: your employees are unloading boxes from your supplier. Or a delivery person is bringing boxes into your store. That person is infected with COVID-19. They’re wearing a mask, but they sneeze. Some of the mucus droplets from the sneeze escape the mask and land on the box.
COVID-19 can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard.
So you’ll have viable virus particles in your store for a day or so. Not good.
You should also consider the possibility that boxes may have been contaminated before reaching your store. To address this risk, here are a few simple guidelines you can follow:
Be safe. Your staff should use disposable gloves whenever handling recently delivered boxes
Never bring boxes into the food prep area. Instead, open boxes in the stockroom, fridge or freezer and bring the food item itself into the food prep area.
If for some reason you must bring a box into the food prep area, do not let the box touch a food prep surface. Put a sheet pan or other easy-to-clean pan down first. Then put the box or carton on that.
Remove and dispose of gloves afterward. And then wash hands.
Concerns over viruses may be the new normal, so consider these to be guidelines for both today and tomorrow. Once you adopt these new safety procedures, don’t be shy about letting your customers know.
#9 Take Advantage of Online training
There are several organizations and companies currently offering free COVID-19 response and preparedness training to restaurant owners. Among these are:
ServSafe Reopening Guidance: COVID-19 Precautions
ServSuccess, in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association
The free Food Handler Training program
Take advantage of these free resources while they last!
#10 Create New Positions
One step you can take right now to boost customer retention is to create new staff positions. Specifically, you should:
- Assign a sanitation officer. The sanitation officer’s job is to actively sanitize the lobby or dining area.
- Assign a sanitation procedure host. The sanitation procedure host or hostess educates customers on new sanitation policies and procedures.
Both positions are vital, but they vary significantly in their functions. The sanitation procedure host is a customer-facing role. They help customers understand why things are different now. For instance, customers may wonder why tables are spread further apart than normal. Or they may want to know why they’re being asked to stand well apart from other patrons while waiting for food.
Believe it or not, not all the public is well informed about the COVID-19 situation. The sanitation procedure host can ease tensions. He or she also plays a vital role in showing customers how seriously you take their safety. The sanitation officer also contributes to this in a big way.
Your sanitation officer stays in the lobby or dining area, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.
Recall from your ServSafe training that there is a difference between cleaning and sanitizing:
Clean means that a surface or item, such as a plate, has no visible dirt, debris or filth on it
Sanitized means that a surface has been made more or less germ free, at least temporarily
Your sanitation officer is responsible for making sure that your lobby is both clean and sanitary. They will sweep and mop the floor, but they will also sanitize tables, refill hand sanitizer, and wipe down other surfaces.
If you assign crew to these new positions, you will see a boost in revenue.
#11 Communicate with Customers
Along the same vein, let customers know what you’re doing to keep them safe. This may include posting about your new sanitation positions on social media. Or it may mean asking for buy-in from customers themselves. For instance, if you see a customer not wearing a mask on your premises, politely ask them to do so. This shows other customers that you’re concerned for their wellbeing.
You can go a step further and put a sign on your door informing customers that they must wear a mask in your restaurant—assuming your area doesn’t require you to do so already. You could also type up a summary of all of the new sanitation procedures you’ve put in place and post that on your front entrance. These small gestures add up. They will result in you getting more business than your competitors for reasons we’re about to get into.
#12 Leverage Customer Psychology
If customers don’t feel confident in you and your commitment to safety, they won’t do business with you. Consumers won’t dine out if they think they’re risking their health to do so. This skittishness may mean you have to work harder to earn their business. But you can put this cautiousness to good use. Simply following all the items on this checklist will put you ahead of your competition. But there are other ways you can leverage customer psychology:
During a pandemic, customers will be driven by emotion.
If you can make them feel safe, they will choose you over your competitors. Display your new sanitation procedures on your digital signage. This may not look sexy, but it will put your customers at ease.
Customers have quite a bit of pent up demand.
They want to eat out, but to do so, they must be able to justify the risk to themselves. Use your digital signage to display images centered around family and your commitment to keeping your customers safe. Remind your customers that you’re human too. Remind them that you have a family and loved ones you care about. Be human.
Bottom line: in order to earn business in this environment, you must make customers feel safe. Consumers want to spend money at your restaurant, but you have to assure them that doing so is safe. The best way to do this is to lead with a we’re all in this together message. A modern point-of-sale system that supports digital signage and mobile devices is the best way to do this.
Another way to leverage customer psychology is to use name brand cleaning supplies. Brand name cleaners may cost more, but your customers will recognize them, making them feel safer. This will pay dividends.
Use these big brands:
Arm & Hammer
#13 Recognize the New Normal
Concern over viruses may be the new normal. If COVID-19 has taught society anything, it’s that our civilization is rather fragile. If COVID-19 was just a little more virulent, things would already be much worse. In the years and decades to come, consumers will be wondering when the next COVID-like situation will present itself.
Don’t expect dine-in orders to return to what they were before. You will probably continue to rely on delivery and take out to some extent. Customers may become even more hesitant to dine in if another novel virus strikes.
#14 Don’t Get Complacent
Complacency will kill your business fast.
If heightened health awareness is the new normal, you can’t afford to sit on your laurels. Educate yourself about changing nutrition fads. Learn more about how viruses spread. Find out how to communicate clearly with millennials, too, because they’re not going anywhere.
To avoid complacency, do the following:
Remind employees of your company mission on a regular basis
Don’t assume you and your managers are on the same page
Tell employees that their contributions make a difference, and think of ways to demonstrate this to them
Avoid or shake up routines—except where sanitation is concerned
Focus on team building
Conduct regular crew performance evaluations
Provide employees and managers with incentives
Lead by example
Above all, try to predict the next big crisis. There’s a saying in the business world: you’re either entering a storm or leaving one. No matter how long COVID lasts, you can be sure that some other crisis will rear its ugly head eventually. Brainstorm with your managers to come up with contingency plans. A pinch of paranoia can be beneficial here.
Next, keep tabs on negative employees. These are low energy workers who tend to do just enough to avoid being fired. They’re problematic in and of themselves, because of poor performance. But they can also spread their attitude to other employees. Sometimes it’s better to fire than to let a poorly performing employee stay. If you have a lot of these deadweight employees on staff, that’s a sure indication that you’ve become complacent. You should cut the dead weight.
We hope that this post has given you solid ideas on how to overcome the COVID-19 situation. If it has, could you consider giving us a share? It would mean the world to us. Thanks!