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Restaurant Survival Strategies Amidst Coronavirus Fears

Restaurants are social settings, and you must expect that your guests will be concerned about possible exposure to the novel coronavirus. What can you do to appease their concerns, keep them safe, and continue to flourish as a business?

This coronavirus is officially called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  SARS-CoV-2 produces the disease called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Scientists have been feverishly working on learning about COVID-19.  We don't need to repeat all of the information from The World Health Organization (W.H.O.), which you can find here. However, we have assembled some ideas specific to restaurants.

For whatever it is worth, this information will be useful during any cold and flu season, so developing these procedures for your restaurant now is an investment for the future, as well. After all, if your guests are sick, they won't be eating your food, unless you specialize in chicken soup!

What is important to note is that SARS-CoV-2 is not airborne. It does not just float around until it lands on a surface. Instead, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus hitches a ride on water pellets that the person exhales. The expelled droplets land on a surface usually within three feet (one meter) of the person who coughed. When a person touches that infected surface, the virus attaches itself to your hand. However, it cannot enter your body via the skin, which is a very functional shield. It can only enter your body via your mouth, nose, or eyes.

It is important to note that a person may have COVID-19 without having any symptoms at all. So your goal should be first to keep your personnel and all surfaces virus-free. Second, keep guests away from each other while they are in your restaurant. That is not as impossible as it sounds.

You've probably already heard all the admonitions on handwashing. Washing your hands with regular soap is good enough, but lather well for 20 seconds, then rinse. It is still unclear how heat or cold affects SARS-CoV-2, so don't expect that if you wash with hot water, you can wash faster. It doesn't work that way. Just wash your hands for 20 seconds anytime you touch a questionable surface, for example, the back of a chair or a door handle.

Keeping the restaurant sanitary is extremely important. Here is a link to an approved list of products by The virus can live on plastic, glass, or metal surfaces for days. Wipe down all kitchen surfaces; stove knobs; door handles; bathroom surfaces; chair backs; counter-tops, and tables. In other words, sanitize wherever someone may have touched a surface, several times a day. Consider doing a thorough sanitizing at the end of every day.

Additionally, you can provide hand sanitizer in a pump dispenser at each table in your establishment. This should help put your guests' minds at ease.

Reorganize Your Restaurant
You may currently have your restaurant seating set up to maximize the number of covers that you can serve. You may have to adjust that approach so each table is a separate oasis. Keeping tables at least three feet from each other should do the trick. You may also want to consider strategically placed Shoji screens to protect guests from a neighboring diner's cough.

What do you do about buffets? Consider having servers deliver plates to guests. It may beat the purpose of a buffet, but it may be a better solution than eliminating that choice.

What do you do about fixed seating like booths and bars? You can't move your booths around, but guests within a booth are somewhat already isolated, so germ spreading should be contained. If you're unsure because your booths are very close to each other, consider closing every other booth. The same goes for bar stools. If your bar has fixed bar stools, it may be prudent to impose an empty barstool rule between groups of friends. New friends can make their own decisions. It will test their trust!

Manage personnel
If any personnel are sick, they should stay home. If you can, support self-reporting and self-isolation by paying sick employees. You want to encourage self-reporting and self-quarantine not just for the sake of your community, but for your business. If your guests recognize that your place of business is as safe a place as they can expect, then they will be more likely to frequent it.

Enhance access to your food
You may want to consider signing up for a food delivery service. What your guests may be missing in ambiance, they may be gaining in peace-of-mind. Sanitize the delivery packaging that you use.

Consider taking orders via telephone and delivering to the sidewalk. It may require special permission, but it is something worth considering. Is a food truck appropriate for your restaurant?

Medical Masks
The consensus is that masks should be worn only by people who are sick or by hospital personnel. If an ill guest would like to eat at your restaurant, you should politely decline for the benefit of the group. Offer delivery or pickup options, instead.

Lastly, communicate to the public the steps you have taken to keep your customers free of sickness. The goal is for them to feel that they are as safe in your restaurant as they are in any place outside of their home. If guests choose to stay away during the coronavirus scare, at least they will know that you took every precaution for their benefit. They will be back when the outbreak is eventually over, and they will appreciate your efforts.

Let us know
What steps have you taken? Let us know by email or social media. Follow us and hashtag #foodwinespirits. We'll give you a shoutout for your efforts.

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