Proper cleaning and sanitation of contact surfaces can’t be emphasized enough.

State, county and local requirements for phased restaurant reopening may vary widely, so it’s important that you know what to do so you can plan accordingly. If you’ve remained open for pick-up, delivery or drive-thru service, or have been preparing meals for others in your community, you’ve likely followed safety precautions for your back-of-the-house employees preparing those to-go orders.

As you plan to welcome guests back inside your restaurant, however, you’ll need to reassure service staff you rehire that they’ll be as safe as possible, and will have necessary tools available to help prevent the spread of or exposure to COVID-19.

Some of the safety measures you’ll take will be new protocols for traditional personal hygiene rules employees already follow. Others will require rethinking your existing space to accommodate new requirements such as social distancing.

Separate & sequence spaces

Just as your food safety or HACCP plan follows the flow of food through your operation, your reopening plan should follow the flow of people through your space and minimize the potential for cross-contamination between different groups — suppliers, back- and front-of-house employees, guests and delivery drivers, for example. To that end, here’s how MASS Design Group suggests you might divide spaces.

  • Clearly designate and mark a loading area for suppliers to deliver product. Mark an exchange area where shipments can be received, unpacked and inspected, then brought inside by your staff, not suppliers, to prevent contamination. If you need dollies or a cart, supply one.
  • Can you provide a staff entrance separate from your guest entrance? Set up an area immediately inside where employee temperatures can be checked and logged.
  • If possible, set aside a space where employees can wash their hands and put on PPE. All staff should don PPE before entering the kitchen or FOH.
  • Establish an “exchange zone” where food can be transferred between the kitchen and guest dining area. Clearly mark entry points for kitchen staff and FOH staff, distinguishing between “service” out to guests and “return” back to kitchen/warewash to reduce potential contamination. In many locales, bar areas won’t be allowed to open immediately; they could be repurposed as exchange zones in the interim, as an example.
  • Reconfigure your guest dining to facilitate the six-ft. distance rule.

Read 6 Great ways to social distance your dining room

Prevent surface contact transmission

While the CDC now says infection from transmission through contact with surfaces isn’t nearly as likely as person-to-person airborne transmission (sneezing, coughing, etc.), in a public setting such as a restaurant the risk can increase due to the number of common surfaces people touch. The food safety procedures you’ve drilled into your staff, such as proper handwashing, using and changing gloves, not touching their faces, and proper cleaning and sanitation of contact surfaces can’t be emphasized enough. Make this speech part of every pre-shift talk.

More tips include:

  • Clean and sanitize tables between seatings, including tabletops and edges, and chairs. Try to get rid of tabletop items such as condiments (better to bring these when they’re asked for), check presenters (can you take mobile payments?), table tents, creamers, etc. The less clutter on the table, the easier it is to clean thoroughly, too.
  • Use disposable paper menus, or ask customers too look at the menu on their phones. If you use reusable menus, clean and sanitize them after every use.
  • Use wrapped, single-use disposable items such as straws. Consider eliminating table presets and using rolled or plastic wrapped flatware instead,
  • Make sure employees regularly clean and sanitize other often overlooked but commonly touched surfaces such as railings, door handles, restroom doors and handles, countertops, headsets, POS terminals, etc.
  • Make hand sanitizer available to both employees and guests by setting up additional stations throughout your restaurant.
  • Consider adding a handwashing station to your dining area somewhere near the exchange area to encourage the ritual of washing hands before meals.

For more information, consult these resources: