For most people, the phrase, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” represents a mantra they have heard at some point in their lives, aimed at ensuring children wash behind the ears or keep their rooms organized. For today’s foodservice operators in the COVID-19 era, though, the phrase should be retooled to “cleanliness or closed down.”
As state and local governments across the country continue to relax restrictions that kept restaurants from hosting guests in their dining rooms — a rule aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 — operators are realizing they have to adjust all over again. This time operators must learn to adhere to new rules and guidelines that reduce dining room capacity to promote social distancing and demand they clean and disinfect restaurants even more frequently than before. Prior to the dining room closures, restaurants had to meet specific cleaning and sanitization requirements as set forth by local governments. So, in some respects this is not new, but in many ways, the cleaning requirements take on new gravity in the current environment. Customers want to see that you are doing it as this gives them more confidence in dining out.
In addition, many municipalities require restaurants to complete a checklist of items to guarantee the operation promotes social distancing, creates and keeps cleaning and sanitizing schedules, and has employee health procedures in place prior to opening. In other words, it’s not enough to do it and do it well. You have to have the paperwork to back up your actions. This can have quite an effect on how any foodservice operator functions.
Despite the obvious changes in spaces to ensure social distancing, like configuring floor plans to separate parties by six feet or limiting seating to outdoor areas, the cleaning and sanitation aspect can really impact a restaurant’s labor requirements. The new regulations likely have restaurants cleaning upward of five times as much as they did pre-COVID-19, only now with less guest traffic. It is imperative that restaurants understand the impact to their labor staffing models to appropriately reflect the increase in labor necessary to meet all of the reopening requirements. The best method to ensure that the right labor is in the right place at the right time is through activity-based labor modeling. This approach will help operators best understand the incremental labor changes.
In addition to the labor changes required by the increase in cleaning and sanitation, operators also need to consider the impact to other areas of their restaurants, such as dry storage and the need to clean and disinfect various workstations. With an increase to the frequency of cleaning comes the proportional increase to cleaning product requirements. Therefore, more space may be necessary to accommodate for the upsurge in cleaning products or increase the number of deliveries to receive smaller batches more frequently.
Another idea to consider is the need for cleaning/disinfection stations, both from a functional perspective and possibly as a visual cue of cleanliness and sanitation. This dual-purpose station can serve to assist in the productivity of team members and keep cleaning products closer, in addition to satisfying customer concerns about the restaurant’s ability to properly clean.
COVID-19 has forced the restaurant industry to continuously adapt and improve all aspects of its business, most notably cleaning and sanitizing. Fortunately, restaurants keep embracing the continuous improvement mentality. As they slowly open under these new norms, restaurants have an even better understanding of the proverb: “cleanliness is next to godliness.”