Creating a COVID-19 Restaurant Playbook: Where to Begin

    These are the main factors you should consider when creating new restaurant protocol.

    Burger King exterior in London.
    Unsplash/Chloe Evan
    Foot traffic will come back. It already is.

    How do you prepare for something that's never happened before? That's a difficult question to answer. "How prepared were you for this pandemic?" might be a better one. While we can endlessly pontificate on the way the virus has changed our world, if we're going to move forward, we have to learn from it. 

    As we see signs of reopening, it's essential to translate these experiences into our new restaurant handbooks, aka our playbooks for the future. These documents contain the protocols and procedures that we consult in hectic times. If you think this is a small measure, think again. This Hong Kong restaurant decided that to keep their 30-site operation going, they'd develop a stringent COVID-19 rulebook, dictating everything from table spacing to temperature checks. More than half of the procedures outlined in their plan have now become government mandates across Hong Kong.

    This article doesn't present a comprehensive list of corona-proofing your restaurant. All operations run with different variables in play, from the hours of operation to the building's location. Still, these are the main factors you should consider when creating a new restaurant protocol in a world reshaped by COVID-19.

    Audit Your Restaurant for High-Risk Areas 

    COVID-19 has upended everything as we know it, from the most granular industries to the economy at large. To truly prepare your restaurant, you have to give it a comprehensive look-over to determine how to prevent the virus from spreading. Some things to consider include:

    • What are your "high risk/high-touch" areas?
    • Think about the various surfaces that guests and staff, must touch throughout a regular day.
    • What are the x-factors (i.e., the factors you can't control) in your restaurant?
    • How can you “get ahead” of them?
    • Where do food and people intersect the most?
    • What are the entrances to your restaurant?
    • What are the areas of your restaurant in which outside bacteria can get in?

     

    Mitigate Those Areas

    Once you've identified the areas that present the highest risk, your plan should outline how to counteract them.

    Payments—The payment from a guest to a server is one process that we'll see forever changed across retail and hospitality. More than ever, contactless solutions, such as those presented through ordering ahead, will have new appeal. You'll still have guests that pay with a card and cash, so establish a sanitizing protocol there (more on this later). Remember to do the same if you employ self-service kiosks. These devices minimize the contact between servers and guests, but still present opportunities for viral spread because many people touch them.

    Food handoff—Whether it's for delivery or pickup, anything "contactless" is the way to go. How you get the food to the guest doesn't need to be complicated. Typically, it's best to decide upon somewhere to place the food for the guest to come and retrieve.

    Using separate equipment—kitchen staff should use individual equipment to minimize the chance of spread and contact between parties.

    Table distancing—When dine-in becomes a reality, social distancing rules advise for maintaining 6 feet of distance between people at all times. Social distancing applies to tables, as well as areas of your restaurant that are prone to lines or queues, like the checkout.

    Plastic Guards—This should have been a given long before the pandemic, but in case, ensure you have any food that's out, like a buffet setting, protected by a non-porous plastic guard (sometimes called "sneeze guards"). Be sure to wipe these guards regularly.

    As we learn more about the virus, our understanding of the protocol will develop as well. Be sure to consult official national and state guidelines.

    Preventative Measures and Routines

    It is often easier to prevent disasters and mishaps than it is to treat them after the fact (unprecedented pandemics excluded). By creating mandatory preventative measures in your handbook, you can illustrate procedures that can stop or significantly reduce these events.

    • Wiping—Outline the significant areas to wipe and sanitize, the frequency, and with what equipment.
    • Hand-washing—Outline proper washing techniques and post them throughout the restaurant. Identify their frequency and other tasks that necessitate washing (for example, moving from one prep station to another).
    • Temperature checks—Though the temperature is just one symptom to monitor in the time of Coronavirus, it can't hurt to keep a daily monitor. You can institute a daily temperature check for your staff when they come in. From here, take note of any anomalies, and address those with elevated temperatures appropriately.

     

    The general rule with these types of hygiene systems is you shouldn't count on merely "remembering." It helps to outline an exact protocol and potentially employ your technology, or restaurant management platform, to make these schedules and keep your staff in the loop. In the heat of a rush, you might not immediately think to wash. The added safety measure ensures no one misses.

    For Your Health

    Though health and self-care are always essential, right now, they're crucial. Healthchecks and a good understanding of how to identify one's health and symptoms are vital. Make it a practice with all staff to do this regularly, before they come into work. Also, strive to create an environment in which sick or potentially infected people don't receive stigma for staying home and, conversely, aren't rewarded for working while they're sick.

    The particular symptoms of the coronavirus may change as our understanding of the virus develops. Be sure to consult competent health authorities, like the World Health Organization, in how best to identify and address symptoms. Share this information with your staff and let them know how they can obtain it on their own.

    The "Wild Cards."

    We've mentioned "x-factors" multiple times in this article. These are the outcomes for which you can't plan specifically, but for which you know you'll need to be extra cautious. Remember that as we reopen, you can do everything possible to prevent any viral spread, but you cannot control what your guests do.

    In this instance, the phrase "the best defense is a good offense" comes to mind. Because you're are never sure, it's best to go above and beyond to be thorough and proactive in preventing it.

    New Coronavirus Protocol: In Conclusion

    At this point, we can stop assuming that it's "overblown." We've all felt the effects, and no attempt to lower the rate of infection matters. Nothing is "too cautious!"

    Don't assume any preventative protocol is "a given." That's why detailed restaurant handbooks and the protocols they outline are essential. They create the processes, and inform your staff, new and old, as they consult them. Remember to review and update your processes frequently (things change) to ensure consistency and that, when something happens; you have a plan to follow to maintain normalcy—whatever that may be.

    Dylan Chadwick is the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.