Restaurant Associations Release Guidance for Reopening

A handful of states, including Georgia, Tennessee and Alaska, have begun to allow restaurants to reopen—with some restrictions. Oklahoma and Texas plan to allow restaurants to reopen with limited capacity on May 1; Montana plans to do the same on May 4. Stay-at-home deadlines in other states are set to expire this week, with extensions or reopening plans to be revealed. 

In Georgia, which was the first state to allow restaurants to reopen as of midnight April 27, the Georgia Restaurant Association worked with the National Restaurant Association, representatives of the Food and Drug administration as well as academia, the Conference for Food Protection, Ecolab, public health officials and industry representatives to develop a set of opening and operating guidelines specific to Georgia to help restaurants reopen safely. 

These guidelines include limiting patrons to no more than 10 per 500 square feet inside at once; limiting party sizes to no more than six guests per table; requiring employees to wear masks at all times, and encouraging staff members to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, and avoid touching their face. The guidelines also prohibit the use of salad bars and buffets and require restaurants to use pre-rolled silverware. In addition, items must be removed from self-service drinks, condiments, utensils and tableware stations; these items must be provided by workers instead. Click here to download the full guide.

The National Restaurant Association also released guidance for reopening, but strongly noted that all restaurants are different, and there may be different requirements from state to state, municipality to municipality. Click here to download the full report.

Some of the key guidelines include: 

  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize entire facilities prior to reopening, with special focus on high-contact areas.
  • Disinfect between seatings, and clean and sanitize table condiments, digital ordering presenters, self-service areas, tabletops and other common touch areas. 
  • Remove lemons and unwrapped straws from self-service drink stations.
  • Update floor plans for common dining areas and redesigning seating arrangements to ensure at least six feet of separation between table setups.
  • Limit party size at tables to no more than the established “maximums approved” as recommended by CDC. 
  • Where practical, especially in booth seating, introducing physical barriers, and considering a reservations-only business model or call-ahead seating to better space diners. 
  • Reminding third-party delivery drivers and any suppliers that you have internal distancing requirements. 
  • Limit contact between waitstaff and guests. Where face coverings are not mandated, consider requiring waitstaff to wear face coverings (as recommended by the CDC) if they have direct contact with guests. 
  • If practical, physical barriers such as partitions or Plexiglas barriers at registers are acceptable. 
  • Try not to allow guests to congregate in waiting areas or bar areas. Design a process to ensure guests stay separate while waiting to be seated. The process can include floor markings, outdoor distancing, waiting in cars, etc. Consider an exit from the facility separate from the entrance. Determine ingress/egress to and from restrooms to establish paths that mitigate proximity for guests and staff. 
  • Where possible, workstations should be staggered so employees avoid standing directly opposite one another or next to each other. Where six feet of separation is not possible, consider other options (e.g., face coverings) and increase the frequency of surface cleaning and sanitizing. 

The guidelines also encourage anyone in charge to have an up-to date ServSafe Food Manager certification and to offer food handler training for employees (something currently being offered for free by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation). https://www.servsafe.com

In addition, the guidelines encourage “making technology your friend” through the use of contactless payment systems, automated ordering systems, mobile ordering apps, website updates and simple texts to communicate and conduct business with customers and without the need for close contact. 

When it comes to dealing with sick employees and screening guests, the National Restaurant Association’s report includes some guidance; here is additional information on COVID-19 workplace safety and sanitation from the CDC and other agencies. 

The FDA also recently released an updated report on how to safely offer food pick-up and delivery services during COVID-19.

There are no recommendations from the National Restaurant Association or from state health departments regarding updating HVAC systems; consider checking with your supplier regarding cleaning recommendations and/or to at least change air filters at this time. A recent report showed how the virus spread through one Chinese restaurant via the air-conditioning systems. We will continue to research that information and keep you updated.

Third-party research firm Datassential has created a helpful tool in collaboration with IFMA that’s free for all food industry members. The “COVID-19 Foodservice Impact Model is a customizable spreadsheet that calculates operator and consumer spend by segment and total, pre-, during- and post-coronavirus pandemic, by comparing the 2020 forecast with 2019 actuals and how a non-COVID 2020 would have looked. You can also use the tool to model for a potential second wave of the virus. Sign up to download it here. For more information about the tool and a downloadable PDF with tips on how to use it, visit here.

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