Restaurants assess reopening and review security measures

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As the country’s food service industry has been nimble in finding new ways to stay afloat with dining rooms closed to customers, the Georgia State’s announcement in late April authorizing reopening sent a thin beam of light through these dark times. Now that more and more states are starting to reopen, there is increased concern about the protocols for ensuring everyone’s safety and health.

And given the safety precautions that will have to be put in place, post-pandemic meals will be very different from those of a few months ago.

Although obviously keen to return to work, the operators CNN spoke to do not plan to resume service at any time in the near future.

“The safety and health of our customers, employees and the community is our top priority, and until we have more information that we do not put anyone in a dangerous or uncomfortable environment, we will keep our doors closed, “wrote Justin Anthony of True. Group of Story Brands restaurants in Georgia in an email.

“Although obviously keen to resume work, the operators with whom CNN spoke do not plan to resume service at any time in the near future. “

However, they are thinking about what a meal looks like once the pandemic seems under control. Hong Kong offers some insights.

At the Yardbird, a host takes the temperature of a guest before dinner is allowed into the dining room, which is operating halfway. The ubiquitous masks worn by staff remind customers that even if drinks spill and dishes come out of the kitchen, the restaurant’s true nature is hidden until the pandemic is no longer a threat.

But while the international restaurant scene may offer a glimpse of what’s going on, American shipping is unlikely to follow exactly the same route.

“This is an industry that has been highly regulated for decades,” said Larry Lynch, executive vice president of science and industry for the National Restaurant Association, which issued detailed reopening guidelines on April 22.

“We have been very determined and faithful to the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, and have worked with all agencies to create guidelines for the restaurants. [However, restaurants] have to make it operational. Orientation is just that. That shows you the direction. ”

State-by-state security mandates will likely provide further clarification. Those released by the state of Georgia on April 23 noted capacity restrictions and banned salad bars and buffets, for example.

Pending more information from the top, internal industry communications are also helping restaurant owners prepare for the big day.

The James Beard Foundation regularly hosts webinars, such as the one titled “Updating Food Safety and Sanitation Guidelines”, and the American Culinary Foundation offers a free Covid-19 sanitation course for members and non-ACF members.

Rethinking space

Allison Cooke, director and director of hotel design at Core, a hotel design company based in Washington, DC, is working with clients to prepare their spaces for reopening.

“We are always looking for what operational characteristics they need to achieve and the functionality,” she says. She is helping restaurants across the country with “simple strategies they could implement that are low cost and will make their spaces safer.”

The first major change in restaurants will be capacity. To maintain distance, restaurateurs plan to start at 50% maximum, a concept that many first flirted weeks ago before regulations closed dining rooms completely.

Common tables can only contain groups of two at each end, or a group of four in the middle.

As for the two-person bench seats, the two people can end up on the soft seat. Cooke says it will be safer for the servers if both sides are facing each other, so the server does not have to slide between tables to reach the most distant guest.

Identifying congestion points and finding flow will positively affect the way people move around safely in space.

Cooke notes that some paths, such as hallways leading to the bathroom, tend to intersect with busy spaces, such as kitchen entrances, and should be examined.

“Operationally, do you assign a room monitor or someone to monitor the guests? She half jokes. “I think a lot of this goes to the communication and messaging that customers receive before they even enter a restaurant and what the new type of waiting for space looks like and should be. “

And communication will be the key. Signage is the new work of art, reminding customers to be respectful of others, to maintain space and to reinforce the security protocol. Markers indicating six feet may dot the floor.

While open kitchens – essentially an integrated theater – were a draw, plexiglass barriers could be installed. Intimate exchanges at a chef’s counter could also be corroded by Plexiglas.

Stephanie Castellucci, owner of the Castellucci group with six restaurants in Georgia, works with Cooke to make his restaurants safe spaces. She plans to install plexiglass barriers by tables located in places with higher traffic, such as in the POS (point of sale) station of a server.

Every minor detail and point of contact should be taken into account. In addition to constantly disinfecting all surfaces, Castellucci plans to install automatic soap dispensers, trash cans and door openers, in order to get rid of “all the things you would get your hands on,” she says. .

Caring for employees

Like the character of Jennifer Aniston in the movie “Office Space”, the uniforms will require a lot more flair. Restaurateurs will require personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks for all employees.

Frequent hand washing – which is part of the standard protocol – remains vital. Sarah Gavigan, chef and owner of the Otaku group in Nashville, plans to check the temperature of staff members when they arrive at work.

Given the size of many restaurant cuisines, the cuisine is often partly prepared and partly danced.

“People work really tight in the kitchen,” says Carey Ferrara, director of sales and marketing for The Gaslight Group in Savannah, Georgia. “How will you maintain that six foot distance between people?” ”

She thinks it will “probably take a little longer for food to come out,” and admits that six feet may not be completely possible at all times.

“Fortunately, chefs with red faces, rude mouths and screaming are no longer tolerated, but their brief glamorization revealed the importance of verbal communication in a kitchen. “

Fortunately, screaming chefs with red faces and rude mouths are no longer tolerated, but their brief golden years have shown how important verbal communication is in the kitchen.

Clear and concise messages between the chefs and between the kitchen team and the waiters ensure the smooth running of the service; however, according to Castellucci, “it’s difficult in a normal environment, then you add these extra precautions [of masks and a six-foot distance] on top of that, and it offers the possibility of missing things. So we are thinking about how we can work more [order] tickets and less on calls. ”

Modified atmosphere

Prepare for culture shock: the atmosphere in a favorite restaurant can be unrecognizable, at least at first.

“There are going to be things that have to happen that will make restaurants probably a little less pretty and a little less lively and take away some of the atmosphere that we all dream of when we go out,” says Scott Shor, operating partner at Edmund’s Oast, a lively restaurant and brasserie in Charleston, South Carolina. “But the new reality – at least in the short term – could simply be that it must look a little more industrial and a little more carefully drawn. “

To ensure that customers eat with the cleanest utensils and drink from clean glasses, tables may not be set up until guests are seated.

Many restaurateurs are struggling with the idea of ​​using disposable tableware when considering reopening. The sustainability aspect leaves them cold, but that could bring temporary peace of mind. Salt, pepper, ketchup and other accessories will only be served upon request. Instead, look for a hand sanitizer.

Fewer guests could mean a quieter restaurant in terms of gossip, but communication between the waiter and diners – especially at six feet and through masks – can result in higher volumes.

“Beside the table, how can we get away from it while continuing to take orders while providing great service,” wonders Shor. “It’s not going to be perfect because someone has to pick up and put things on the table. You can’t sit back six feet and run food around the table and pick up and clean dishes. “

While sharing family-style plates and dishes, menus reigned before the pandemic, chefs now consider the level of comfort of guests with this preparation.

David Schuttenberg and Tina Heath-Schuttenberg, co-owners of the popular Kwei Fei in Charleston, South Carolina, “might see a scenario in which we will add a modifier [a special instruction in our order system] and share things in the kitchen. “However, the two hate losing the shared dining experience. “This is an essential part of who we are,” says Schuttenberg.

Regardless of the redesign planning, all owners recognize that they will not know what is working and what looks good until they are operational (ish).

Castellucci plans to offer gloves and masks to customers when they arrive, but Shor notes that this does not work if you are having dinner because “you have to have access to your nose and your mouth.”

The rise of technology

Across all facets of the dining experience, technology is poised to have the greatest effect.

Several restaurants plan to take reservations only at the start – no meetings allowed – which means platforms such as Resy and OpenTable might see a spike.

Many operators are also planning greater use of personal smartphones to access information online. In addition to printing disposable menus, Ferrara at The Gaslight Group will have “a QR code that will allow you to scan with your phone and see the menu on your own personal device,” she said. The menu specials will also be published on social networks.

Bentobox, a digital platform for the restaurant industry that works with more than 5,000 restaurants in 50 states on their website design, introduced an online ordering tool for restaurants to manage their own service of delivery and delivery during initial closure. He is now working with customers on how the product can fit into the new culinary reality.

In addition to the regular menu, Krystle Mobayeni, CEO and co-founder, says they are looking to go “even further to be able to get ingredients, preparation methods and all those things that you would ask your server to describe, “and incorporate into an online menu.

The platform is also examining how “before someone arrives at the restaurant, they are able to communicate their preferences for things like disposable cutlery and contactless interactions and payments.” So when they arrive, the restaurant knows how to treat them ”. says Mobayeni, and ideally integrate the information with the reservation.

The duel on the check can become the one who can draw his phone the fastest.

“It’s funny because I think there was a time, maybe five years ago, when many different companies were trying to make mobile payments work … but they never really understood”, explains Mobayeni. “But I think now [contactless payment] will really make a return – to be able to pay without having to exchange cards or receipts or [use] pen to sign. ”

For restaurant owners looking to the future, a new element is now necessary for a successful reopening.

“Before, comfort depended on the amount of padding in the back of your seat, the luxurious flavor of your sauce and the quality of your cocktail,” says Shor. “Now comfort is added, how safe do I feel in this environment? How much does this staff seem to care about my safety? If we get this right now, we’re going to be better in the long run for it. ” ”

Kalli Bonham, a regular guest at The 5 Spot restaurant at Gaslight Group in Savannah, still doesn’t feel comfortable dining.

Despite the reopenings in Georgia, “our state has not yet reached its peak with the virus,” she believes, “and it is so important for my family to protect others and to be aware of how we contribute to the well-being of all. ”

Despite the closure of tracking data, Bonham believes that confidence to enter a dining room may depend more on gut instinct than numbers.

“I think we will know when it is time. And at the moment, we have no idea, which tells me that we are not close, “she said.

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