Reopening Restaurants During COVID-19

Topics: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Restaurants across the U.S. have been greatly impacted by the coronavirus crisis. Some have adapted to take out and delivery while others have closed their doors altogether, and are awaiting for the word from state governors that they may reopen.

The federal government’s Opening Up America Again considers reopening restaurants in Phase 2 of their plan. And, when restaurants can reopen throughout the country, they will have to adjust to a “new normal,” where the risks of COVID-19 exposure to staff and customers remains high.

While some states have already lifted their stay at home orders and are allowing restaurants to open at limited capacity, others are still in the process of determining the dates for permitting restaurants to serve dine-in customers. Businesses should review local, state and federal guidance, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, as they plan their reopening procedures.

Guidelines for Safely Reopening Restaurants

As businesses reopen, restaurants will welcome back patrons to a different dine-in experience. Federal health, culinary and restaurant owner organizations are creating guidelines and protocols for reopening restaurants in a safe manner. Restaurants, both big and small, should abide by these guidelines as customers come back for their favorite dishes.

Restaurants are regulated by state and federal food safety requirements, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code. The guidelines related to sanitation and personal hygiene are the most reliable protocols available to combat risks related to the spread of COVID-19. The CDC has also just released a cleaning and disinfecting guidance for reopening businesses.

Tips for Safely Reopening Restaurants

Cleaning and Sanitizing Guidelines

Reopening restaurants will be based on local and state circumstances and guidelines for cleanliness, social distancing and employee health practices. Brad Wilkins, senior lost control specialists at AmTrust adds, “The successful implementation of these sanitation controls will likely require increased staffing especially during peak periods.”

Here are a few cleaning and sanitizing tips restaurants should keep top of mind:
  • Deep clean before opening: Thoroughly detail, clean and sanitize the entire facility, especially if it has been closed. Focus on high-contact areas touched by both employees and guests, but do not overlook seldom-touched surfaces, too. High contact areas would include doorknobs, door handles, faucets, chairs, point-of-sale screens and tablets.
  • Create a continuous cleaning schedule: Between customers, clean and sanitize table condiments, digital ordering devices, self-service areas, tabletops and commonly touched areas. Clean and sanitize reusable menus.
  • Utilize single-use items: Possible new CDC guidelines include using disposable menus, chalkboard menus, plates and utensils in restaurants. Consider using single-use containers for condiments. Discard any single-use item after each customer.
  • Remove tabletop items: Remove lemon slices and unwrapped straws from self-service drink stations. Consider shutting down self-service areas, such as soft drink dispensers, salad bars and buffets, altogether due to the increased likelihood of contamination as well as to limit patrols gathering in close proximity. Where local and state officials permit salad bars and buffets, they must have sneeze guards in place.
  • Keep the kitchen clean: Implement procedures to increase how often surfaces in the back of the house and kitchen are cleaned and sanitized. Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants.
  • Change table settings: Consider using rolled silverware and eliminating table presets.
  • Cleaning restrooms: Schedule restroom cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day. Also, make sure restrooms are fully stocked with soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Train employees: Employees should be trained on the importance of properly washing their hands and using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. Also, employees should have clear instructions to avoid touching their faces.
  • Keep up customer service: Show both your customers and your employees that you care about their health. Provide hand sanitizer for guests and separately for employees. Post signs about social distancing and cleaning protocols and thank them for their patience as you try to ensure their safety.

Restaurant Social Distancing Requirements

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, restaurants will need to adjust their dining areas and procedures to adhere to social distancing requirements. These procedures include:
  • Update floor plans: Restaurant owners will need to redesign tables and seating arrangements to ensure at least six feet of separation between tables. The same consideration should be taken into account in service areas. Place floor markings to indicate social distancing and, if possible, consider a separate entrance and exit path. Also, designate a location for the pickup of take out and delivery orders with access to hand sanitizer.
  • Social distancing in the kitchen: Where possible, workstations should be staggered, so employees avoid standing directly opposite or next to each other. Where social distancing isn’t possible, consider other options, such as face coverings, and increase the frequency of surface cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Lower customer party size: The number of customers at a table will need to be limited based on local or state requirements.
  • Utilize reservation system: Consider a reservation-only business model or call-ahead seating to space diners arriving at your restaurant. Doing so will help to limit the number of people waiting for their table in the entryway or at the bar areas.
  • Limit contact: The contact between wait staff and guests should be limited. Where the state mandates it, have wait staff wear face coverings when they have direct contact with guests. Or, utilize technological solutions to reduce person-to-person interaction altogether, such as mobile ordering and menu tablets, text for available seating and contactless payment options.

Employee Health

Any sick employees must remain at home. If an employee becomes ill or has signs of COVID-19, the manager should identify the symptoms during pre-work screening and follow the preset guidelines for when the employee can return to work. Per CDC guidelines, the employee should self-isolate for seven days from the onset of symptoms and be symptom-free without medication for three days before returning to work.
  • Post signage of health policy: Post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 is permitted in the restaurant.
  • Taking employees’ temperature: The CDC has not mandated taking employee temperatures, so it is left to the operator’s discretion. The CDC does state that a minimum temperature indicating a fever is 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wear a mask: The CDC reports that face coverings have shown to be effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Some states and local jurisdictions require face coverings for employees.

General Restaurant Safety Tips

Standard safety tips should be followed to protect your restaurant employees. As roles and responsibilities of staff shift with changes, it’s essential to make sure that everyone has training in the latest safety protocols. Investing in a workplace safety program can bring long-term savings in workers’ compensation and other medical costs for restaurant owners. It is crucial that everyone on the restaurant staff understands the safety policies and procedures, and that they treat the training as vital information.

AmTrust is Here for Our Restaurant Insureds as They Reopen

Visit AmTrust's dedicated page on coronavirus information, where you'll find details on what we are doing to assist small businesses as the country reopens. Also, find loss control videos and training material, links to additional resources and our coronavirus resource center. For more information on our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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