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10 Ways Food Establishments are Dealing with COVID-19

Illustrated food worker wearing a mask

COVID-19 has required many food establishments to make a variety of changes, with some types of food businesses facing more changes than others.

Whether you manage a restaurant franchise or a grocery store chain, you’re probably facing some changes of your own. For instance, chances are you’ve already embraced food delivery, curbside pickup, or online ordering.

If your restaurant has reopened for in-house dining, you’ve probably also had to rearrange your dining areas to support social distancing. Or maybe you’ve only reopened your outdoor dining area for now.

Whatever the challenges and changes you’re facing, you’re not alone. The following are some simple ways other food establishments are dealing with the pandemic. We hope they spark some good ideas you can use in your business to make customers and employees feel more comfortable:

1. Sick employees encouraged to stay home

In some cases, this is a major paradigm shift. Pre-COVID, going to work sick was sometimes seen as a sign of commitment. Now, it’s viewed as irresponsible. At some companies, this change also includes new sick leave policies for food workers and employee health screenings to make sure employees coming in are healthy and don’t show symptoms of COVID-19.

2. Straws served on the side

In some establishments, staff members serve drinks with the straw on the side so the customer can insert the straw themselves. This reduces the contact food workers have with customer orders.

3. Different refill policies

Many establishments have stopped letting customers refill their cups. If a customer asks for a refill, they’re given a whole new drink in a new cup. Customers are also asked to throw away their old cup to prevent employees from having to touch potentially contaminated items.

4. Employers provide masks

Although OSHA’s standards for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) don’t require you to provide cloth masks to your workers, many employers are doing it anyway. The FDA and CDC have both recommended that food staff members wear masks while working, and providing masks will help you show your employees that you care about their health and safety.

5. No more reusable menus

Instead of using reusable menus, some restaurants are using disposable menus that can be thrown away after each guest is done with them. Another idea is to put your menu on your website and ask diners to access it online. You could also continue using your reusable menus — just make sure to sanitize them between guests!

6. Different food service strategies at buffets

Social distancing restrictions and recommendations to close self-serve stations have been particularly hard for buffets. As a result, we’ve seen some buffets switch from the self-serve model to making customer meals to order and then bringing them to their table.

Other buffets have kept their self-serve lines open, but added social distancing markers, hand sanitizer, and an employee who reminds guests to sanitize their hands and take a new plate each time they go through the line. They also change the serving utensils more frequently.

7. Takeout customers use their own utensils

Some foodservice establishments are saving on the cost of plastic utensils by encouraging customers to use their own utensils at home when placing a to-go order. They do this by requiring customers to check an extra box during checkout if they want plastic utensils.

8. Simplified menus

Many establishments have simplified their menus to focus on core products or top sellers. Some have reinvented their menu altogether, such as a fine dining restaurant in Seattle that now sells bagels and hamburgers. Simplifying your menu is a way you can reduce costs, as well as combat product shortages.

9. Social distancing measures

Enforcing social distancing requirements has become key, with many retail food businesses taking steps to control the flow of traffic within a store. Social distancing markers have also become common. Establishments are also spacing tables 6 feet apart or, when tables can’t be moved, marking some tables as closed. Some stores even limit the number of customers or guests that can be in their store at one time.

10. More frequent cleaning

Some establishments have employees who are strictly in charge of sanitation around areas where the customers dine. These employees are in charge of making sure germ spread stays low. Tables and other high-touch surfaces are cleaned and sanitized between each guest instead of between a few different guests.

The novel Coronavirus has required food service managers everywhere to make many adjustments. Some changes have been major, while others were more simple. No matter your unique challenges, we hope this list offers some ideas that will help you operate safely.

For more information or to see our collection of free resources for food businesses, visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

— Brian Martinez and Jessica Pettit

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