Before Coronavirus dominated the news, the US was experiencing another epidemic: Hepatitis A. Almost every restaurant group in the country has had at least one Hep A case in the past two years. It’s turned the industry upside down.
But one unexpected outcome of the Hep A crisis was to better prepare the industry for the Coronavirus pandemic.
Restaurants learned some key lessons about preventing the spread of Hep A, and other viral illnesses like Norovirus. They learned about how important handwashing is, and how hard it is to do it right. They experienced first hand the importance of communicating symptoms to employees, and started regularly asking employees if they had any of those symptoms. And, unfortunately, many of them learned how devastating an illness can be to their restaurant’s revenue and reputation.
All of these lessons are being implemented in full force during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some of Zero Hour Health’s restaurant clients have already implemented such strong procedures that they’ve had to do almost nothing new from a clinical perspective to respond to COVID-19. They were already doing daily wellness checks, regular sanitizing according to the strictest protocols, and additional handwashing at the top of every hour.
It’s possible that we’ll break the Hep A cycle through the actions that restaurants and communities are taking due to Coronavirus. Because of COVID-19, people are staying home, employers are asking about symptoms, people aren’t working sick, and there are generally fewer opportunities for exposure to Hep A along with the Coronavirus.
Still, restaurants will be very financially stressed by the Coronavirus pandemic, and will be more vulnerable to a single incident.
As franchisees, you can and should prepare yourself now, and keep abreast of local and national health trends both during and after this pandemic runs its course. By keeping updated on the latest outbreaks in your area, you’ll be better situated to be on top of illnesses that have the potential to impact the health of your business and the community. And remember, the changes made in the days leading up to and during the height of this pandemic will positively impact your business, with reduced Hep-A, calls to health departments, and employee illnesses.
Tips for Safely Staying Open for Takeout & Delivery
Many US states are requiring all restaurants to move to takeout and delivery during the Coronavirus pandemic. Those that haven’t yet are seeing dramatic downturn in customers as Americans hunker down to self-isolate. The impact on the restaurant industry will be enormous as customers stay home to avoid Coronavirus.
Here are some tips to handle increased takeout and delivery in a safe way:
- Pay Online: Many are considering limiting delivery and take-out payments to online only. Cash touches lots of hands, and requires close contact. Keep in mind that this option has equity issues – some folks don’t have access to credit or debit cards.
- Hands-Off Takeout: Use a rack just inside the store. Clients can stay in their car and receive a text when their food is ready to go and placed on the rack.
- Hands-Off Delivery: Leave orders at the door rather than interact physically with customers.
- Food-safety Seals: While this virus isn’t particularly foodborne (but rather is mainly transmitted person to person), some restaurants are using bags with food-safety seals which tend to allay the fears of anxious patrons.
There’s also a great opportunity here to share what you’re doing with customers. Anxious patrons will be relieved to know they can grab their favorite meal without unnecessary interaction, or that their curbside pick up is from someone who is gloved. Simply, it just makes them more comfortable.
Tips If You Do Need to Temporarily Close Down Due to Coronavirus
Despite the efforts to make takeout and delivery available, some restaurants are being instructed to shut down temporarily during the Coronavirus pandemic. There are some things you can do as you’re closing up that will make opening much easier when you’re ready to do so.
These tips come from restaurants who have had to close down due to hurricanes, tornadoes, water main breaks, and other unexpected events.
- Empty your walk-in of anything perishable. Give it to your staff to take home as they hunker down during the pandemic.
- Clean and sanitize the walk-in and everything else in your kitchen, especially your three compartment sinks, handwashing sinks, stoves, ovens, grills, hoods, and countertops.
- Empty every single trash container
- Wash every dish, pot, and pan (these will attract rodents if you don’t clean them!)
- Run the dishwasher with anything left in it
- Leave the bathroom spotlessly clean
- Freeze a new, clean garbage pail filled with water and place it in your freezer. That will keep a closed freezer cold for an extra 24 hours. There’s no reason to expect power failures, but you’re not there to know about an equipment failure.
We know that you leave your restaurants in top-top shape every night, but before a longer closure you should take it to the next level. You’ll be happy you did when you can walk in, stock up, and fire up the grill — and the time it takes to do this cleaning will give your staff a few extra hours of work before your closure.
No one can predict how long it will take for COVID-19 to move through the U.S population, but its impact will be felt for years.
Roslyn Stone, MPH is Chief Operating Officer of Zero Hour Health, and the creator of Zedic, the first app providing 24/7 live chat subscription service to help operators manage employee and patron health safety issues.