Most restaurants will soon offer dine-in service at reduced capacity, but they'll have to devise strategies that track people instead of food to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Restaurants that use food safety training programs such as ServSafe are uniquely qualified to follow safety protocols for food flow through the operation and prevent foodborne illness.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new and different challenge for operators. All 50 states have started phased approaches to reopening the economy. Most will soon allow dine-in service at reduced capacity, so restaurants will have to devise strategies that track people instead of food to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Many of you are operating with takeout, drive-thru or curbside service, making meals for first responders or families in need, or serving your communities in some other capacity.

As you welcome patrons back inside your restaurants, however, not only will you have state and/or local guidelines to follow, you’ll also be faced with the challenge of keeping your staff as safe as you keep your customers from potential exposure to COVID-19.

An excellent place to start learning about what guidelines are likely to be required is the National Restaurant Association’s “COVID-19 Restaurant Reopening Guidance.”

In our upcoming series, we’ll look at strategies and changes in your design that can help you reopen safely while rebuilding your business and building visibility in your community. Here’s some of what it covers:

  • This overview — areas to consider and questions to ask yourself.
  • Keeping staff safe — Procedures and design considerations to encourage social distancing and protect employees.
  • Keeping guests safe — while the six-foot rule is not a great solution inside restaurants, there are ways to reset seating arrangements that help mitigate potential spread of infection.
  • Keeping food safe — how to receive, prepare, exchange food from BOH to FOH, and serve in ways that minimize the chances of contamination.
  • Rebuilding trust and your business — steps to rebuild customer trust that dining in your facility is safe and amplify visibility in your community.

Identify control points

You may already have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan in place to ensure food safety. Think of your reopening strategy like a HACCP plan for people instead of food.

Look at how relationships (CCPs) between groups of people in your restaurant can cause the coronavirus to spread and take steps to eliminate or mitigate the hazards.

While transmission of the coronavirus is possible from surfaces, especially common contact surfaces in close quarters like a restaurant, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that person-to-person transmission is the most common path to infection.

“You need to evaluate new food safety and sanitation protocols as spatial challenges,” says Caitlin Taylor, RA, design director at MASS Design Group, Boston. “Rethink your restaurant spaces to limit close contact and droplet spread, mitigate infection via frequently touched surfaces.”

Look at potential contact points between BOH staff and FOH staff, between FOH staff and guests, identify the hazards for virus spread, then look for solutions to reduce risks.

Questions to ask

As you start planning, examine your existing spaces and consider these questions:

  • Could you use separate entrances for staff and guests?
  • Does your restaurant have a delivery dock or do deliveries come through shared space?
  • Is there space that can be designated for staff to change into PPE (clothes, masks, gloves, etc.)?
  • Do you have a space that can be set up as a safe food exchange zone between BOH and FOH or staff and guests?
  • How much and what type of seating did you have before the shutdown? How much of it can be moved to accommodate social distancing?
  • Do you have outdoor spaces you can use for extra seating or storage?
  • Does your space have access to ventilation from outdoors?
  • Will customers and employees be able to clearly see and understand the steps you take to keep them safe?

Here are some resources to get your started.