As soon as talks of the first phase of reopening began in the state, Blazing Onion co-owners David and Lorri Jones wrote a list of detailed steps franchisees would have to take at each of the reopening phases.

Many states have begun the process of reopening in phases despite coronavirus still in full swing. The task of reopening is daunting for most restaurants since there is so much interaction between employees and customers.

Although the National Restaurant Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and individual states have provided basic guidelines to help restaurants navigate the reopening process, a lot of the procedure is left up to individual operators and managers.

David Jones, owner of the eight-unit Blazing Onion chain in Washington, has not taken the task of facilitating a safe reopening lightly. As soon as talks of the first phase of reopening began in the state, David and his wife Lorri began jotting down a list of highly detailed steps that their franchisees would need to take during each of the reopening phases.

Everything from hand-washing procedures to customer interaction was reassessed in order to adapt to both the CDC and Washington Hospitality Association guidelines. The Jones didn’t stop there; they knew that the basic guidelines given out by national organizations would not be detailed enough to account for their unique restaurant flow.

Steps specific to the concept

Blazing Onion restaurants are a hybrid between a fast-casual restaurant and full-service sports bar. Their unique layout and operation meant the Jones had to address more components than the guidelines covered.

The Jones used every resource they could get their hands on in order to develop the list. The couple attended seminars, read literature put out by myriad organizations, and even took to Facebook to gather intel.

Jones describes making a post to the Blazing Onion’s Facebook page asking his customers their opinions on various “what-if” scenarios. The feedback he received from followers — along with both support and criticism in response to their reopening announcement — helped Jones gauge what customer’s greatest concerns were. Once identified (among them: social distancing, hand sanitizer stations, charging one employee per shift with sanitizing the dining room), instructions were added to the master reopening list to ensure they were carried out.

Instructions and plans for return to work

A problem many managers face during the reopening process is getting the staff back to work after they’ve been laid-off or furloughed. Jones made sure that his employees only came back if they felt comfortable, emotionally and financially. When staff did return, they received a $3/hour raise in order to help make up for lost wages.

Once back at work, it’s not business as usual. Jones emphasizes how critical it is that the staff was educated on how the virus spreads as well as fully trained in new procedures. Everyone is made to fill out a general health questionnaire prior to starting their shift, and they submit to having their temperatures checked.

The company added new training and new positions, such as managers specializing in Phase 3 reopening training and putting extra staff on the food-running teams.

Implementing new tech

Speeding service while minimizing contact with customers is a balancing act. One solution Jones found was a service call-button system. Tables in the dining rooms come equipped with Kallpods, buttons customers press to summon a member of the waitstaff.

This simple innovation helps to reduce contact between customers and waitstaff because servers only approach the table when they’re called. This quick-call service also helps customers get in and out in a minimum amount of time. Jones is checking into contactless payment options as well.

He describes the need to reassess how the kitchen staff worked together. Minimizing contact between employees in the kitchen was a crucial step, and many parts of the Blazing Onion’s usual workflow had to be changed. This meant everything from educating staff on social distancing rules to rearranging parts of the kitchen to minimize how often staff crossed paths.

The Jones’ reopening checklist is constantly growing in order to address new concerns that come up. With the help of their guide, the restaurants are creating an environment where staff and customers feel comfortable and stay healthy.

To see Blazing Onion’s full list of reopening steps for Phase 1 and 2 of reopening, click here.