While operating during COVID-19, safety is a necessity at every touchpoint of the foodservice industry ― for consumers, for employees, for service technicians and other channel members.
Beyond following the minimum protocols, how can you make safety an asset for your business and set yourself apart? Insights from Datassential’s coronavirus research and leaders from around the industry can provide direction on navigating the current environment ― and position you well for the future.
Why communicating about safety is critical
Think about how people digest information and the sheer amount of content they receive on a daily basis.
Operators and service companies need to consistently ― and in many ways, overcommunicate ― how they promote safety and interact with customers in a way that adheres to ever changing guidelines.
The more you incorporate safety updates into your existing communication channels, the more people will align your operation or business with these practices.
Understanding consumer expectations
Datassential asked what sit-down restaurants need to do in order for patron to feel safe dining there. They identified seven initiatives that they’ve deemed “initial table stakes”:
- Spaced out tables
- Employees wearing masks
- All common areas are visibly wiped down regularly
- Restrooms extremely clean
- Employees wearing gloves
- Sanitizing products provided to customers
- Smaller capacity
Joe Spinelli, president and CEO of Restaurant Consultants, Inc., has completed over 9000 restaurant-related projects. He doesn’t see significant changes happening on the architecture side of the business but does see restaurants modifying their dining rooms to accommodate consumer priorities.
Some are separating tables and cutting back on seating ― while reconfiguring rooms so guests don’t feel like they’re sitting in empty rooms. He’s also seen restaurant clients look into air purification systems and clear panel dividers to demonstrate a commitment to safety.
“As an owner, you have to send a message to the customer base about what you’re doing to protect them,” said Spinelli. “A good message that shows how you are retraining staff and going beyond what’s standard will make them feel secure about where they’re going.”
When assessing their restaurant options, consumers indicate the importance of safety measures being communicated and implemented ― whether for dine-in, delivery or takeout.
More than half (52%) of those surveyed indicated that it’s difficult to find out which restaurants have taken safety & sanitation precautions.
According to Datassential, for delivery and takeout, customers want to know that the restaurant is:
- Sending ANY sick staff members home (58%)
- Requiring cooking staff to wear protective gloves, masks and hairnets (57%)
- Requiring delivery/food packers to wear protective gloves, masks and hairnets (52%)
All of these metrics are significantly higher for Boomers, who are generally considered at higher risk. Not handing food directly to me, tamper-proof seals on food packages and packing food in wipeable/cleanable containers were also tactics mentioned by more than a third of respondents.
When dining in, customers expect restaurants to take measures to address other guests not following protocols. Asking, “what should a restaurant do if patrons refuse to practice social distancing while inside?”, the Datassential research found that:
- 40% thought the restaurant should ask them to leave immediately
- 43% thought the restaurant should ask them to leave if they refuse to comply several times
- 17% thought the restaurant should ask them to comply, but don’t ask them to leave
Service technicians & safety
Service technicians that work with foodservice operations also have a role to play.
Katie Poole, executive director of customer experience, commented that her company, Clark Service Group, isn’t just following customers’ protocols, but incorporating additional training to better contribute to their overall safety.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark Service Group had their technicians complete ServSafe training through the National Restaurant Association (NRA). ServSafe offers food safety and other training for foodservice professionals.
“We’re an extension of the teams serving food, so either we’re contributing to their safety culture or detracting from it,” said Poole. The ServSafe training helps reinforce the “why” and motivates Clark Service Group technicians.
Beyond a focus on training, service companies can also think outside the box to keep their technicians safe.
Kirby Mallon, owner and president of Elmer Schultz Services, knows that entering into an unfamiliar kitchen can be very stressful.
“We’ve talked about servicing equipment off-hours,” said Mallon. “There’s a school of thought that these technicians are very concerned about rolling into a kitchen with 10 people working, so maybe we ought to go into the kitchen at midnight.”
As businesses take protocols, preferences and best practices into account, it’s important to not overlook those that you’re ultimately looking to serve safely ― your customers.
Bar and restaurant owner Catherine Manabat reiterates turning to your community for guidance as they make decisions about what’s next and how to open safely.
“We’re doing the best we can and paying attention to when the right time to open is. Ultimately, it doesn’t make sense to open if there’s not a community to come,” said Manabat.
Communication tactics to consider
With the challenges facing foodservice operations and channel members, communication plays an important role in fighting for your business’ survival. Whether acquiring new customers and partners or staying engaged with those you already have, here are a few tactics to consider:
Join the Back to Open discussion
Safety and consumer confidence go hand-in-hand as operations figure out how to get “back to open” and plan for the future.
Here’s to getting back to open!