Sanitation and cleanliness efforts skyrocketed with the pandemic. While continuing with various phases of reopening, it is imperative for operators to continue to enforce safe food-handling protocols, says Larry Lynch, the National Restaurant Association’s senior vice president of Certification & Operations.
Dedicating labor to increased sanitation efforts represents one approach to eradicating any chance of spreading the coronavirus, and visibly showing the effort to customers and staff alike builds confidence in both groups.
Spending is up 10% to 20% for additional staff, says Jay Bandy, owner of Norcross, Ga.-based Goliath Consulting. “Operators will have someone on staff dedicated to sanitation, and this will be ongoing until they get more efficient.”
In addition to staff education, restaurants continue to invest in other ways to slow the spread of coronavirus. “Restaurants are putting up plexiglass shields or other opaque dividers between booths and by registers, so contamination isn’t an issue between guest areas,” Bandy says. “We’re also seeing dividers throughout restaurants used to close off areas and create pathways for folks walking to their tables.”
In the back of the house, the biggest focus is on warewashing equipment, specifically the use of proper chemicals and ensuring appropriate wash temperatures. “There also has been a move toward touchless handwashing sinks in the kitchen, and we’ll see more of that as people move toward sensors or pedals,” says Bandy. “We’ve also had clients add handwashing stations outside restaurants for employees and customers, which may be a trend going forward.”
There will be more subtle changes to increase the hands-free aspects of restaurant visits, Bandy predicts, including foot devices that open mechanical or automatic entry doors. “We’re now seeing multiple entrances, which more easily flow folks in and out of restaurants for takeout/delivery, grab and go and counter ordering areas,” he says. “Communication is key; we’ve developed a piece for menus, websites and signage letting customers know what the restaurant is doing to keep them safe. Folks want to be very transparent at this time.”
Toby W. Malbec, managing director at ConStrata Technology Consulting in Potomac, Md., details different technologies geared to take restaurant sanitation to the next level:
- Antibacterial or antimicrobial coverings for point-of-sale systems and PIN pads
- Time clocks that also can perform temperature checks on employees
- Tablet-based check-in programs that question employees to assess their risk of illness
- Robotic ultraviolet cleaning devices for tabletops
- Video surveillance systems that automatically alert restaurant managers to sanitation issues
- QR codes that bring up menus on smartphones
- Digital wallets that send customers’ bills to their phones for no-contact payment
Georgia-Florida Sanitation Line
Marlow’s Tavern, a 15-year-old upscale neighborhood chain with locations in Georgia and Florida, invested between $6,000 and $10,000 in its sanitation program at each location in response to the pandemic. John Metz, co-founder, CEO and executive chef, talks about the change in protocol and its impact.The owners of Atlanta-based
Q: What were your goals with Marlow’s Tavern’s new sanitation protocol?
A: Georgia was the last state to shut down and the first one to reopen. Now we’re at 50% capacity. It was about regaining our employees’ confidence first, making sure they were comfortable, and also with our guests.
Q: What sanitation-related changes did you make?
A: We planned our reopening the minute we shut down. We went deep in terms of training and development with all our staff in terms of sanitizing and controlling the flow of guests. We already went to single-use menus prior to the shutdown. Before reopening our dining rooms, we added sanitation stations throughout our restaurants, put plexiglass dividers between booths and tables, and added an advanced air filtration system. We also have one person dedicated to sanitizing tables, chairs and booths, which is a three- to five-minute process between guests. We took away things like check presenters and table settings, while implementing masks and gloves. We also reduced our menu offerings to make it easier to operate and enable us to have less people on staff. A staff member is posted at the door to control customer flow and discourage group gatherings inside.
Q: Were there any challenges along the way?
A: Our team members are younger, and we have to keep them comfortable but make them still aware that we’re on stage [with customers as the audience]. Keeping them separate during work is a challenge, as well as prohibiting our regular guests from gathering in groups. We didn’t really think about this aspect until it happened, but we can’t let guests mix and mingle right now. Another issue was sourcing sanitation supplies. We jumped on this right away, so we were first in line but had to stagger our openings to make sure we could accommodate each location.
Q: Have you made any changes to this upgraded sanitation effort?
A: Our guests are coming back because dine-in sales are continuing to grow. The people who used our curbside/to-go service were the first to come back in, while those who totally sheltered in place are now starting to order curbside/to go. We’re getting closer to last year’s sales volumes as we continue to follow government guidelines. Moving forward, I think masks will stay in place for the foreseeable future as well as our sanitation stations, which are a no-brainer. We’ll keep the plexiglass dividers in for the next several months, then reevaluate their use.