Action Plan for Reopening Restaurants

COVID-19 Resources for Restaurants
April 12, 2020

Action Plan for Reopening Restaurants

by on April 19, 2020
Action Plan for Reopening Restaurants

An action plan for reopening restaurants is top of mind for owners and operators. Many areas are starting to discuss gradual reopening of public spaces. The focus for restaurants is understanding when they can reopen dining rooms, and for others, when they can we reopen at all. Last week, the White House released Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phased approach based on the advice of public health experts. Note that these guidelines do not include a timeline. The White House stated that each phase will be implemented based on science and meeting criteria within jurisdictions.

Phase one includes reopening restaurants with strict social distancing in dining rooms. Bars are included in phase two, with social distancing measures in place. Dining rooms will be open soon but with certain conditions. The experience for both restaurant employees and customers will be different than before.

The big questions now are:

  • What should restaurants do to open their dining rooms?
  • What daily controls will need to be in place to keep their customers and employees safe?

After consulting with various local health departments, we have come up with a comprehensive list to follow. There may be some variation between jurisdictions, but for the most part, health departments will all require most of these items to varying degrees. Another good resource is WHO’s guidance for the hospitality sector.

Steps to Take Before Reopening Restaurants

  1. Call your local health department or visit their website for current regulations and guidelines in your area. They can be a wealth of information about the current state of the virus in your area and what they are requiring all restaurants to do prior to opening.
  2. Clean and sanitize all areas of the establishment with disinfectant approved by the EPA to kill COVID-19. This includes kitchen and guest common areas. You may be surprised to learn that there are some sanitizers on the market now that are not approved. Chlorine is recommended at 100-200 ppm and quat sanitizers at 200-400 ppm. Verify all dispensers and warewashers are dispensing and operating properly by using test strips before starting to clean and sanitize.
  3. Hand-washing stations. Make sure all hand-washing stations are fully stocked with soap, towels, and hot water. Add more to your supply and encourage staff to wash hands frequently, at least every 30 minutes.
  4. For pest control, hire a professional to treat affected areas and eliminate any pest infestations. Be sure to evaluate all outer openings and doors. Make sure they are all rodent- and pest-proof.
  5. Vacuum or professionally clean all carpets, rugs, lights, windows, doors, awnings, etc.
  6. Turn on all equipment and verify proper holding temperatures for both hot- and cold-holding units. Also, make sure the cold-holding units have accurate internal thermometers.
  7. Check all equipment and utilities. Evaluate kitchen equipment such as grills, ovens, microwaves, heat lamps, etc., to ensure they are working properly and in good repair. All gas hookups, hot water heaters, and electrical infrastructure should also be inspected.
  8. Call suppliers and other support services. Make sure they are prepared to provide the same services and product they provided before. Ask questions about their own COVID-19 protocols. Make sure they are checking the health of their own staff and providing PPE such as masks.
  9. Make sure PPE such as masks and gloves are in place for all staff. Some areas may not require gloves depending on job role and others may only require gloves as prescribed in the food code. Masks will most likely be required for all customer-facing staff.
  10. Install barriers. For buffet or front counter ordering, install a plexiglass barrier between customers and food, restaurant staff, and POS stations. Position the credit card reader so customers can swipe their own card and sanitize after each use.

Steps to Take After Reopening Restaurants

Including Restaurants That Are Currently Open

  1. Make sure you are following all current laws and regulations from your local health department. Regulations may have changed depending on the severity of the crisis in your area.
  2. Management should monitor themselves and staff for COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who exhibits any illness symptoms should be sent home and tested for the virus. Make sure employees know not to come to work sick or if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  3. Rearrange the dining room to 50% capacity. Remove tables and reposition others to accomplish social distancing of at least six feet between parties.
  4. Establish an organized and orderly process for customers waiting to order takeout or be seated while practicing social distancing. This may need to be done outside of the establishment as most waiting areas can no longer be used for groups of people to congregate like before. Providing markers on the ground or waiting in cars is probably best and could be accomplished by handing out numbers.
  5. Reservations are a good way to control customer flow and reduce waiting. By requiring reservations, staff can plan for guests and reduce the chance of large groups of people congregating together. This also makes it easier to staff the restaurant and control the dining room.
  6. Sanitize guest areas. All tables, chairs, booths, etc., should be sanitized with COVID-19 effective sanitizers after each sitting. Sanitize all other common areas, including restrooms, doors, and host stands, every 30 minutes.
  7. Try to use paper disposable menus or have the menu posted on a wall or common area for people to view.
  8. Incorporate hands-free or no-contact technology for payment such as ordering and paying through phone apps. Try to discourage cash payments or accept cash without providing change. All POS systems used by customers should be sanitized after each use. Any employees handling transactions should not also be handling or preparing food.
  9. Incorporate hands-free technology, such as installing motion sensors for doors and dispensers for soap, towels, and water.
  10. All customer-facing staff, servers, drive-thru operators, hosts, etc., should wear PPE such as masks when interacting with customers. Gloves may or may not be required for all staff.
  11. Install barriers. For buffet or front counter ordering, install a plexiglass barrier between customers and food, restaurant staff, and POS stations. Position the credit card reader so customers can swipe their own card and sanitize after each use.

Moving in the Right Direction

Now that things are starting to move in the right direction for reopening restaurants, everything must be done to ensure proper safety for customers and employees. Don’t forget about all the other food safety best practices that should be followed. The last thing needed is a foodborne illness outbreak on top of a pandemic — we want to go forward, not backward! If everyone can do their best to follow proper safety guidelines, then restaurants will remain open and begin to get back to where they were just a couple of months ago. To stay updated with the latest news and information for restaurants, please refer to COVID-19 Resources for Restaurants.

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Food Safety Nation is a news media site that publishes essential news, best practices, information and resources focused on restaurant food safety, sustainability, technology, sanitation, training and more. It’s made up of restaurant professionals and contributors who are dedicated to providing the Food Safety Nation community with fresh and relevant content in order to improve professional knowledge and restaurant businesses.

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