What will restaurants have to do to survive and succeed in a Covid19 world?

The ubiquitous presence of Covid19 in our society, until and if, a successful vaccine is discovered, tested, manufactured and administered to the majority of the population is going to demand substantial changes in social behaviour. This article attempts to discuss the practical measures that restaurateurs can put in place to mitigate the negative effects of these changes.

Front of house changes

Cleaning schedules will need to be much more rigorous and restaurateurs should be telling potential customers about this “on the door”, on their website and social media. In fact there are those who arguing that you need to make cleaning really obvious. Make your cleaning “theatrical”, a “highly visible performance”. What would have seemed odd or pretentious in 2019 will be reassuring in 2020 and beyond;  much like the presence of a soldier with an automatic weapon outside an airport post 9/11. Cleaning was previously done mostly when customers were not present. In a CoVid19 world customers will be reassured to see it being done. Perhaps the old restaurant performance of having waiters polish glasses could reinvent itself as having waiters ostentatiously sterilising surfaces. You can view our article here on how to add a buffer time for cleaning to your time turn time.

Tables

When restaurants reopen compulsory “social distancing” measures will likely still be in place, as we have seen in China. Even if they are not, your customers might want them. This will mean that you will have to space people out more so that tables are further apart. Maybe you have a separate room or basement that you formerly used only when you were busy? If so, now is the time to make sure that it looks its best and doesn’t look like dowdy. “Siberia” was the name New York restaurant critics would give to the rooms and areas where the out of town “oiks” would be seated. You might have to put your best customers there, so make sure that room is warm and inviting.

A good idea for the lockdown time is to plan these possible layouts. Do you need somewhere to store surplus tables and chairs? Or will you just mark tables as “not in use”? If you choose this, will they be bare or empty or decorated in some way? If the last, then what with? This is going to affect the “look of the room”. You can view another article here that shows how to completely change your table layout in simpleERB.

Table items might need to change drastically as they can be possible vectors of transmission. Anything that more than one person can touch should be got rid of. So condiment sets will have to go. Single use portions will have to come on truly their own, on demand.  Perhaps we might even see customers bringing their own salt and pepper sets.

Menus and wine lists that are handled by different customers are another no-no. Ordering apps are a solution and will surely become much more common. But right now you don’t need that level of complexity or cost.

The first thing to do is to put your menus and wine list (making sure they are up to date) on your website. Customers can simply look them up when they are in the restaurant. Have the url prominently displayed so that people can find them. If you have the customer’s email address, e.g. from an online booking, you can send the menu and wine list to them. If you have a reservation system, like OpenTable, LeFork, RestaurantDiary or simpleERB, you can probably automate this. Paper, disposal menus, will no longer be the province of burger bars and pizza joints but will feature in fine dining. If you are going to go down this route, you need to get them designed now.

You will want hand sanitiser to be available BUT you don’t want people touching bottles on tables. I personally think that it will be the new normal for people to carry their own hand sanitisers. Perhaps you could sell your own branded ones? Fragrance free ones for wine anoraks of course…

Cutlery, however, can’t be gotten rid of. It might be that cutlery will now come in paper wrappers after being sterilised either in the dishwasher or in UV sterilising devices.  Studies on both SARS and MERS show that UV light could inactivate the viruses, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that it will have a similar effect on COVID-19. If it is proven that UV kills coronavirus, these might become a must have for restaurants, like the one you see in your dentist’s surgery. Perhaps they will be wheeled around the restaurant like some dessert trolley? (And blue light helps with that “cleaning theatre!)

Wine glasses – hanging them above the bar might not be the best place for them now…I think restaurants will go back to storing them in cupboards. And again, ostentatious sterilisation might become the new norm.

Wine bottles will be wiped down by wine waiters after the first pour and I don’t think customers will appreciate the waiter handling the bottle for repeated pours.

Payments – you will pretty well want to go cashless and contactless. The limits for contactless can only go up. If customers’ credit cards have to be entered in a machine then they should be wiped down with sanitising wipes before being entered in the machine. This might mean the rapid demise of the “raised numbers” on credit cards which will undoubtedly act as traps for germs and all cards might become smooth like Apple’s.

Restrooms

Readers old enough to remember visiting Spain a few decades ago will remember the prominent displays in the restrooms. ”This toilet is regularly sanitised by Sanchez Brothers”. The market for this kind of professional dedicated outside service is going to rocket, (along with 3rd party accreditation which we talk about below).

How will customers open toilet doors? You will want to provide tissues outside restrooms so that customers can open the doors without touching the handles with their bare hands.  And don’t forget bins for the tissues to be disposed in. The same goes for customers going out of the restroom. Print and frame notices about this.

In the long run you will want foot operated doors. And sensor taps on the sinks and toilet flushes that don’t have to be touched. Expect these to become the new normal everywhere. (Quite why they aren’t already is a mystery to the writer.)

Air conditioning

This is a worry. The authors of a Chinese study done in April 2020 wrote:

“We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation. The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow. The guests “upwind” and the staff weren’t affected while the guests “downwind” were. You might want to switch off the aircon….

Accreditation

Singapore has already launched a scheme to audit hotels and give them a clean bill of health if they meet 7 criteria.

An “SG Clean” stamp placed prominently at an establishment will give locals and visitors “peace of mind”, said Keith Tan, CEO, Singapore Tourism Board. He says they “aim to audit and certify 570 hotels and other establishments in the next 2 months and 37,000 eventually.”

“Assessment (re hotel or restaurant cleaning) is done by independent organisations such as KPMG and, along with certification, is free. For hotels, the criteria include appointing an SG Clean manager to oversee the property’s practices, temperature and health screening of employees, arrangements for engaging external suppliers and contractors, cleanliness and hygiene practices, and compliance with health and travel advisories and government orders on Covid-19.”

The first hotel to be certified was Grand Hyatt Singapore, which suffered when several coronavirus cases were linked to a private company meeting held at the hotel on January 20-22.

“Coronavirus cleaned” is going to be a necessary qualification. 3rd party professional services doing cleaning are going to become much more common.

What about the food on the plate?

The science does seem to show that the food itself on the plate is not a vector for virus transmission.

A 2018 overview of both experimental and observational study of respiratory viruses from the scientific journal Current Opion in Virology (COVIRO) explains that respiratory viruses reproduce along the respiratory tract, and that this is a different pathway than the digestive tract food follows when you swallow it.

Your people

You will need to have processes in place to check the temperature of and look out for respiratory symptoms of employees, and ensure that those who have visited COVID-19 affected countries with travel restrictions in place or are under an active StayHome Notice (SHN) or Quarantine Order (QO) are not at work.

You should have in place processes to conduct temperature checking and look out for respiratory symptoms such as cough or runny nose or shortness of breath of employees twice daily.

Those who are unwell with a temperature of 38 degree Celsius or higher, and/or display respiratory symptoms should be asked by the organisation to seek immediate medical attention.

The same thing will have to apply to suppliers who enter your building.

You should keep a “Temperature Monitoring Log”. Again displaying things like this in public might seem weird but will act as reassurance to customers that you are on top of things.

Those who are unwell with a temperature of 38 degree Celsius or higher, and/or display respiratory symptoms should be asked by the organisation to seek immediate medical attention.

At the time of writing the advice re mask wearing differs but I expect it to become the new norm.

Macdonalds have just started introducing it. (April 2020)

There are going to be a lot of questions around “immunity certificates”. You are going to have two scenarios, one where some of your people have had coronavirus and supposedly are immune but other have not been exposed.

Until testing becomes ubiquitous and more research is done, this is going to be a grey area. I  don’t feel qualified to make recommendations here. However it is not hard to imagine restaurants advertising “All staff immune”! This throws up lots of ethical issues like desperate people deliberately infecting themselves to get work.

Kitchen “Goods in” You will need have a think about how delivery people are interacting with you. Can you set up a “reception area” where goods are left in a contactless fashion? You want to eliminate unknown suppliers walking through your restaurant.

The cardboard outer on a case of tomatoes might have contamination but the inner tin of tomatoes will probably be safe. So you will want to wipe down the outer. However, that might not be the case for freshly packed butcher meat so the inner will have to be wiped down before going into storage.

Mail can be left for 3 days before opening. Put it in rotation. (You are a restaurateur, you understand “rotation”)

Again, if UV is proven to work in killing the Coronavirus,  then UV disinfection cabinets for incoming produce might become common.

Kitchen workflows

Can you physically change the layout of your kitchen to allow stations to work “alone” and minimise interaction?

Can all stations work “alone” and then deliver to the “pass”?  If all your people are immune this may become academic, but in the short term this will be important for the safety of your staff and your ability to retain them. This might mean rewriting your menu now to eliminate production processes that cause unnecessary crossover of people.

Virus survival – the virus can remain viable on food is limited, but in general, viral loads remain more stable on non-porous surfaces like metal and plastic, and break down faster on organic surfaces like cardboard.

Here is a good summary, (correct as of April 20.)

“Useful updated scientific evidence on survival times of virus.  Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), also appears to be affected by high temperatures.

Researchers cultured and incubated the virus for up to two weeks before testing its stability, or how long it persists on a surface, to determine how infectious it is under different temperatures and environmental conditions. The virus was found to be highly stable at a temperature of 4°C (39.2°F), yet appears to be sensitive to high heat, rendering it inactive within five minutes of being exposed to a temperature of 70°C (158°F).

To determine its stability on different surfaces, the researchers then used a pipette to place the virus on cardboard, paper, plastic, and other materials and left it at a room temperature of 22°C (72°F) with a humidity of about 65 percent.

No infectious virus was found on printing or tissue paper after three hours, yet it took two days for it to no longer be detected on wood and cloth. On the other hand, SARS-CoV-2 is more stable on smooth surfaces – it took up to four days for the virus to lose its presence on glass and money and it persisted on stainless steel and plastic for a week.

“Strikingly, a detectable level of infectious virus could still be present on the outer layer of a surgical mask on day 7,” write the study authors in The Lancet. However, because of the way the virus was administered, the findings do not necessarily depict how easy it is to potentially “pick up the virus from casual contact.”

Although the virus can be “highly stable in a favourable environment,” the researchers found that it is susceptible to standard disinfection methods and can generally be removed at room temperature within five minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to use approved disinfectants to kill germs on surfaces, particularly areas of the house that are frequently touched like tables, doorknobs, light switches, toilets, and electronics.

Much is yet to be discovered about SARS-CoV-2 and what is known changes frequently. Previous research found that the virus is detectable on copper for up to four hours after contamination and up to 24 hours on cardboard, but the virus is believed to degrade quickly on most surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 virus was also shown to be present in the air in an aerosolised form for up to three hours, though researchers are quick to advise that this does not necessarily mean it can be transmitted through inhaling infected air.”

Delivery / Collection

It’s going to be much more popular post lockdown. One big question will be how to do it without paying GrubHub/Uber/Deliveroo/JustEat exorbitant fees?

We are sure new solutions will arrive here in the form of shared transport solutions, however it is unquestionable in our view that “ghost” kitchens are going to become much more common at the expense of the restaurant trade.

How about talking to other restaurateurs now about the possibility of setting up your own? One pizza guy, one Thai gal, one Indian guy, one burger girl, one sushi guy, and maybe you have a viable model for a shared  “ghost” kitchen in your neighbourhood dedicated to delivery and collection. Probably one of you is going to have surplus space.

The measure discussed above about keeping suppliers out of your restaurant also apply to delivery drivers and customers collecting.

So what is a restaurateur to do?

There is a lot to think about, so the advice is “get started”! For almost everything there is a fix. Nobody is pretending it is going to be easy coming out of this and so much depends on how well our politicians put fixes in place for the “macro economic” problems, but it is the restaurateurs who have prepared that are the ones who are going to be best placed to survive.

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