The aspect of the foodservice industry that’s most consistent now is inconsistency. Consumers’ comfort level with the coronavirus varies, as do the rules and regulations from one region to another.
This impacts the way operators interact with guests and how we, as a supply chain, support all foodservice operators. The best way for the industry to weather COVID-19 and positively impact the industry is by working together. If I’ve learned one thing over the course of my career it’s that we are at our best when collaborating with our industry partners.
How do we start to move forward? The first thing is not to make any snap decisions. For example, when the pandemic first hit, there were a lot of things we thought would happen that ultimately did not. Consensus was that salad bars and other self-serve options would quickly become distant memories. Yet, through thoughtful innovation and collaboration, some operators keep finding ways to make them work.
As tempting as it may be, we can’t jump to the end of the story to see how this all turns out. We must take it one day at a time and one customer at a time. Everyone will have different thoughts, approaches and comfort levels when it comes to safety. The key is to be flexible and not presume you know everything.
Another important element that must receive focus is the health and safety of your customers and staff. If customers don’t feel they are safe in your business, they will not show up. For customers to feel safe, they must see that staff take their safety seriously, too.
Making customers feel safe requires visible changes. Clear signage and outlining protocol for waiting areas ensures guests and staff follow the proper guidelines for social distancing. Also, let your customers see sanitation in action, and you will gain their trust. Of course, the operation segment and geography play a big role in determining what’s appropriate. How a senior living operation serves customers will differ from a K-12 school, which will differ from a white-tablecloth restaurant.
Because the new rules lack clarity and seem to constantly change, the next step is to educate yourself on the requirements of the city, county and state in which you operate, and follow those rules first. Understand that these rules are evolving and will differ by region or even within states. As the rules of engagement continue to evolve, your knowledge base will continue to do the same. Educate yourself from a variety of sources, including the CDC, local health departments and your supply chain partners.
The constant churn within the industry will require all of us to stay current on the latest trends, too. Be sure to educate yourself on new products or applications that can help meet new demands such as handwashing stations, automated faucets, ultraviolet cleaning solutions and more. By strategically implementing these kinds of product solutions you will help to bolster staff and customer confidence.
The challenges we face are many but it’s what inspires resiliency and innovation. And, while the COVID-19 pandemic may be historically unmatched in its disruptive impact, the foodservice industry traits of dedication and hard work are unmatched. We’ve been through hard times in the past and this crisis is no exception: together we will meet the challenge and together we will succeed.