Restaurant Reopening: Understanding and Complying with the “New Normal”
As the nation enters month four of the COVID-19 pandemic, the only thing certain is that nothing is certain. Summer has arrived, cases are fluctuating, and states are in various phases of reopening or – in some cases – pausing reopening. For restaurants, both quick-service and dine-in, many difficult decisions are being made quickly. These include how and when to open dining rooms, how to properly clean and disinfect surfaces, how to handle interactions between staff and customers, and more. Before reopening, all restaurants and food service establishments should ensure they have a plan for reopening safely and hygienically, to ensure the health of both staff and customers. While all food service establishments certainly had a cleaning plan in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, they now need to reevaluate this plan for a new age of cleaning.
The New Normal
Whether a restaurant has been in operation for a year or a decade, everything owners and managers thought they knew about operating has likely changed in the last 3 months. Welcome to the 'new normal.' Many restaurants will be transitioning from drive-in/walk-up only service to dining room and outdoor seating. Others may be opening their doors and kitchens for the first time in months. Most restaurant and franchise owners are faced with making decisions they've never had to think about before.
Before considering reopening your dining room and/or patio, be sure to research the laws and regulations for your city and state. What does the 'new normal' look like in your region? For some restaurants, it may be outdoor dining only. In other cities, dining rooms may reopen at a reduced capacity. To find information about your state's reopening guidelines, use this U.S. Chamber of Commerce interactive map. If your state has cleared full or partial restaurant reopening, follow these CDC cleaning and disinfecting guidelines before opening your doors. Most importantly, ask yourself what the safest route is for you, your staff, and your customers.
Create New Protocols
The next step in adapting to the new normal is to reexamine and revise your cleaning protocols. Tabletops, floors, touchpoints, and restrooms will need additional attention, as well as first impression zones. Think about the conditions of your entryways and how they impact the customer experience from the moment they walk in the door. Look at high traffic spots such as registers, soda fountains, and host stands. What are you communicating to the general public in the way you maintain these spaces?
The most important part of this process is to communicate both the how and the why of new changes with your staff to ensure they feel protected and educated. An educated staff that understands what they are achieving by implementing new protocols feels empowered, because they know what they are doing makes a difference - they are affecting change through their efforts.
Make Your Staff Feel Valued
In addition to communication, there are other ways to make your staff feel valued during challenging times. Provide them with proper training and PPE. Empower them with fast, easy-to-use solutions centered around repeatable, sustainable processes that they enjoy doing. I am currently working with a quick service dining operations manager who has transitioned from mops to a battery-powered UniVac machine to great results.
'I like that I'm getting a better clean with your machine,' he told me, 'I love that my people like using it.'
It's important to recognize the significance that worker morale has on effective cleaning. If restaurants have tools and processes in place that the staff embrace, then their outcomes are better because they've invested the time and energy to do it right.
Communicating with Customers and Rebuilding Trust
Once you've communicated with your staff, you need to communicate with your customers what you are doing to ensure their safety. If you don't quickly rebuild confidence, you can't keep your business growing or even go back to where you were before the pandemic. Some customers may be extra critical of the condition of every surface they see in your restaurant from the moment they walk in. The condition of the restroom is generally equated with the condition of the kitchen, so make sure your cleaning plan includes increased restroom cleaning. Seeing spotless restrooms and entryways, quick spill clean-up, and frequent table and countertop cleaning makes it clear to your customers that you care about their health and welfare.
Communication with customers expands beyond providing a clean dining space. Make it easy for your customers to follow social distancing rules with table signs that signify which tables they are allowed to sit at. Post signs that explain what steps you are taking to keep them safe. Make disinfectant wipes available to them so they may clean their own table. There are a number of ways to rebuild customer trust, and even the smallest gesture could be what keeps them returning to your restaurant over a competitor.
A Move to Science
The industry as a whole is making a global change in how it approaches cleaning. This makes it a perfect time to move away from traditional methods and invest in a transformational and science-based approach. The best way to deal with disease is not to treat it but to prevent it, and not all cleaning methods are capable of preventing disease.
For years, many people have believed that if it looks clean and smells clean, it must be clean. But what if you had a tool that could actually measure cleanliness so you, and your customers, know just how clean your facility actually is? A small and simple tool called an ATP Meter is an easy way to measure cleanliness. When used in conjunction with a hygienic cleaning program, you can prove how clean your restaurant is. With this powerful data in hand, you can determine where your cleaning practices are working or not working and create a more effective cleaning plan.
Science based cleaning goes beyond providing a superior clean. It sends a better message to your customers. Is an image of a mop in dirty water what you want to present to those dining in your restaurant? When customers see you using new, innovative cleaning technology, this is another way of communicating with them that you are going above and beyond to keep your restaurant clean and safe.
The 'new normal' isn't disappearing anytime soon. It's important to keep up with changes and keep adapting. But if you move to a science-based approach and continue a clear and constant stream of communication with staff and customers, your restaurant should be able to adapt, and even thrive, in the new normal.
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Marc Ferguson currently calls Cincinnati, OH home where he lives with his wife and 4 kids. He has been with Kaivac for eight years developing international markets and is now helping lead the development of its new Food Service division.
Marc has worked with owners of leading QSR restaurants like McDonald's, Chick-fil-a, Five Guys and Wendy's to implement lower-cost cleaning programs using Kaivac solutions to significantly improve floor safety and hygiene.