COVID-19 has been a topic front and center for so many restaurant operators throughout the U.S. It seems like only a couple of months ago the question was how we would be able to pay our bills and stay open. Today, with the recent increase in cases that question has taken a new twist.

How can we protect our staff, customers, and business from the tidal wave of positive cases hitting our communities? Many politicians will tell us that the current cases have not overwhelmed the hospitals due to the younger demographics, which seems to be the case in some states. However, the reality is that for all those positive cases it has and will continue to impact the restaurant workforce. If you watch the news broadcasts you will hear about all the testing sites that are available, unfortunately not enough time is spent on the turnaround time of those results. Some states are taking 5–8 days to process the results with a requirement for positive found employees to be given two additional tests that show a negative result before staff can return to work. This lag time will mean a potential 2–3 weeks before someone can re-enter the workforce. 

With so many factors out of our control what can we do? Here is a short list of items that you should be thinking about:

Identify the best COVID-19 testing sites around each restaurant and have the list available in your store so you can reduce the time it takes for staff to be tested. Some sites require appointments, call ahead so the employees know what to expect.

Have a system to contact trace your employee’s schedule based on who tests positive and identify any employees who are not impacted. Keep in mind some employees live with a high-risk person in their home and they may not feel comfortable to return.

Tests can have long lead times, some tests that are rapid results (24–48 hours) can cost between $200–$250 per test. It may make sense to test employees that carry the heavy workload or play critical parts of your business to get the more expensive tests with quicker turnaround times. On-site tests are also available and cost around $120 plus. The tests can be convenient as you can have them onsite in the store and administer the tests. The test is then shipped out over night and may take 24–48 hours for results.

Have a company identified that can deep clean and sanitize your location so it will be safe for your business to reopen. Most will be between 25 to 45 cents a square foot in cost and with a 24–48 hour lead time.

Based on who is available to work and what their skill set level is, design a schedule to last 1–2 weeks assuming some staff will be unavailable.

Now is the time to think outside the box as you are challenged with these new issues. Some solutions may mean, reducing store hours, closing the dining room, getting all items prepped from a local nearby store and having it show up at the location that is short staffed. There is not a one size fits all answer but, hopefully taking steps in advance will give you the best shot at keeping your staff and customers safe during these uncharted times.

Bryan StGeorge is the Chief Operations Officer of Little Greek Fresh Grill. StGeorge has spent the last 29 years in the restaurant business both domestically and overseas. Little Greek currently has 42 locations in six states (Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Texas).

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story