How to Navigate COVID-19 Restaurant Guidelines (For Owners)

March 31, 2020 in Restaurants



How to Navigate COVID-19 Restaurant Guidelines (For Owners)

15 million.

That’s the number of individuals employed by American restaurants and foodservice establishments. 

78 percent.

That’s the number of the nation’s 1 million restaurants that are independently owned and operated. 

$899 billion.

That’s the amount of sales revenue the industry was estimated to bring in, during 2020. Undoubtedly, restaurants play an important role in both the economy AND our daily lives. 

Whether ordering takeout after a long day or reserving a table to celebrate with friends, we depend on restaurants to provide us with convenience, sustenance, and joy. However, food establishment owners are now facing an unprecedented situation with a troublesome question: 

How do we keep customers safe AND stay in business amidst new social distancing and safety regulations regarding coronavirus (COVID-19)? 

COVID-19 Restaurant Guidelines: 7 Facts for Owners

On March 16, the U.S. government issued sanitation guidelines suggesting the avoidance of social gatherings larger than 10 people. The administration also advised citizens to avoid sit-down eateries, in favor of delivery and takeout options. The new recommendations came on the heels of 15 state governors already issuing mandatory restriction of dine-in services. 

Unsurprisingly, food establishments across the country are responding to the crisis in different ways. Most fast-food eateries are still providing drive-thru service, while chain restaurants and “mom and pops” alike are creating pick-up order systems. 

In this article, we’ll review current COVID-19 restaurant guidelines, link to important resources, and provide tips for streamlining existing operations. However, please consult your state and local health department for area-specific information. Let’s get started: 

1. Financial relief is available

Unsurprisingly, the largest fixed liability for most restaurant owners is rent. Without dine-in customers and alcohol sales, most restaurants may struggle to stay afloat. Bo Peabody, co-founder of Seated, recently closed his restaurant in Williamstown, Massachusetts: 

“During normal times, delivery and pickup is a nice supplement for most full-service restaurants,” Peabody says. “It could be 5, or 10, or 15 percent of revenue, but when dine-in goes away, it’s probably better to let everybody go on unemployment.”

Fortunately, it appears help is on the way—on March 27, U.S. President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The plan is the single largest economic relief package in the nation’s history at $2.2 trillion. 

Here’s a summary of what the plan provides:

  • $350 billion in cash flow assistance, via 100 percent federally guaranteed loans, to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. 
  • Direct payments of $300 billion to individuals earning less than $99,000 annually, up to $3,400 per family of four. 
  • $250 billion in enhanced unemployment insurance.

The program is designed to be retroactive from February 15, 2020, so laid-off employees and restaurant workers can return to work. The loan’s covered period is February 15 to June 30, 2020. The expected forgiveness amount can be expended on payroll costs, payments of interest on a mortgage obligation, rent obligations, and utility payments.

Additionally, small-business administration loans provide an option for restaurants seeking further assistance. Considering the federal government has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency, the Small Business Administration can offer disaster relief loans of up to $2 million at a 3.75 percent interest rate.

2. Restaurants must organize pickup systems

As previously mentioned, dine-in services are no longer permitted through the month of April. With this in mind, the best way to take orders is via phone or an electronic ordering system. 

While customers can still place orders in person, restaurant staff must enforce 6-foot social distancing. Translation: Patrons should stand the equivalent of “one tall man” apart from one another in line. 

Restaurant managers should assign staff members with the sole purpose of regulating distancing between patrons. They should also place large signage indicating: 

a). Where customers should stand when placing orders, and 

b). Where they should stand, or sit, while waiting. 

Many restaurant owners are asking customers to wait for food delivery and delivery services in their respective vehicles. Customers can place disposable, order number tags on the outside of their vehicles. This “hands-off” ticketing method reduces exposure to germs, compared to traditional vibrating notification devices. 

Additional Pickup System Recommendations: 

  • Employees with sanitized hands must fill all beverage containers (i.e. eliminate self-service station options). 
  • Provide patrons with single-use napkins, utensils, and condiments upon delivering their food items. 
  • Place alcohol-based hand sanitizer along key points in the customer pickup journey. 
  • Remove outdoor tables and chairs so customers don’t feel inclined to sit down and eat. 

Finally, make sure you are communicating new COVID-19 restaurant guidelines with customers via the restaurant website, social media,, and on-premise signage. 

3. Use approved cleaning solutions

COVID-19 restaurant guidelines

Coronaviruses can live on surfaces for hours in the right environment, according to the National Institute of Health. For this reason, restaurants are instructed to disinfect commonly touched surfaces with one of three cleaning solutions: 

  1. Diluted household bleach
  2. Cleaning liquids containing at least 70 percent alcohol, or
  3. EPA-registered household disinfectants. 

Products containing Sodium hypochlorite, Isopropanol, and Ethanol are considered most effective. What if your usual brand of cleaning product is out of stock? 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends mixing 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water to achieve a diluted bleach mixture. Caution for bleach activations: Ensure proper ventilation, while using the product. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.

4. Basic hygiene guidelines haven’t changed (much)

cleaning guidelines for schools

The good news? Basic hygiene practices haven’t really changed. Pretty much everyone learned how to wash their hands when they were a kid. And everyone learned not to cough or sneeze into their hands. 

However, world health organizations are asking individuals to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands. Restaurant managers should remind staff to avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouths while on the clock and always practice food safety guidelines. Here’s a review of the basics: 

Hands Sanitation Guidelines

  • Cover coughs with the inside of elbows.
  • Wash hands for 30 seconds with warm, soapy water, OR
  • Rub hands for 20 seconds with 70% alcohol-based sanitizer. 

With that said, compliance isn’t often a matter of NOT knowing what to do; it’s a matter of forgetting what to do. Foodservice workers juggling ringing phones, in-person interactions, and workstation duties may forget instructions that aren’t second-nature. This brings us to point number five on our list  of COVID-19 restaurant guidelines:  

5. Restaurant employees should sanitize hands (more often)

sanitation guidelines

Restaurant and foodservice employees are accustomed to washing their hands before handling food, after using the restroom and after taking out the trash. But that’s about it.

The National Restaurant Association Sanitation Guidelines concerning COVID-19 recommend service workers be significantly more vigilant.

Before every shift, managers should review hand sanitation rules with employees. They may also want to place illustrative posters in common areas that remind everyone of proper procedures:

Sanitize hands after completing the following FOH and BOH tasks: 

  • Using the restroom
  • Leaving kitchen/prep areas
  • Returning to kitchen/prep areas
  • Clearing tables and dirty dishes
  • Taking out the garbage
  • Handling money
  • Touching the body/clothing

Additionally, restaurant staff should practice typical hygiene procedures before leaving their homes. Showering, wearing clean clothes, and trimming fingernails are advised. A little reminding can go a long way toward both front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH) compliance.

6. Update restaurant communication systems

Another part of employee compliance is clear communication. Managers must explain why the new sanitation guidelines for restaurants are important, what they are doing to keep everyone safe, and when staff should contact them with questions. 

Undoubtedly, restaurants and foodservice establishments are in uncharted territory. With reduced supply chains, in-house seating bans, and worried patrons, reliable communication systems are more important than ever before. Government agencies may, unexpectedly, modify existing mandates at any moment. And staff members may run into unforeseen challenges due to patron requests, menu item shortages, and sanitation woes. 

For these reasons, restaurant managers should evaluate the efficiency of their existing communication channels. In addition to updating employee contact information, management should ask themselves: 

  • Can we quickly reach ALL employees with current systems?
  • Can ALL employees easily reach us with current systems? 
  • Do we have separate communication channels for groups?
  • (i.e. suppliers, managers, FOH, BOH, owners/investors)

While text messaging employees works just fine, it’s not the most efficient way to communicate updates. Consider how many messages the average young adult receives from friends, classmates, and family members on a daily basis. Can management be certain their important messages will be prioritized? Probably, not. 

Which is why business messaging apps are becoming more popular. Smartphone apps like Slack, Glip, and MaintainX provide a central location for team members to talk without distraction. 

sanitation recommendations

The user-friendly communication solutions combine instant messaging, private forums, and file sharing into one collaborative hub. That means restaurant managers could create private communication threads for FOH, BOH, suppliers, owners, and 1-on-1. 

Additionally, MaintainX provides the added benefit of digital work order creation, sanitation procedure development, and asset management. 

digital work order

Whether you use a business app or something more general like WhatsApp, consider relying on a more organized communication system than email and text messaging. Put simply, the more streamlined the communication systems, the less likelihood of service and sanitation errors.

7. Simplify safety and sanitation checklists

Though it may seem obvious, it’s worth mentioning: Restaurant safety should not exclusively focus on coronavirus. Employees must continue to follow routine safety and sanitation checklists. 

Unfortunately, slippery floors, moldy soda machines, and faulty machinery aren’t going on vacation. At best, such oversights tarnish restaurant reputation in the form of unfavorable Internet reviews, socially shared photos and unsatisfied customers. At worst, safety procedure negligence harms patrons and employees. 

As reported by QSR Magazine, one in 20 on-the-job injuries and illnesses worldwide occur at eating and drinking establishments. For these reasons, restaurant owners must create repeatable safety inspection processes that can be easily maintained.

The keyword is easy. Most fast-food restaurants already have safety inspection checklists in place; the problem lies with their execution. While the reasons for lackluster compliance are multi-faceted—short staffing, unmotivated employees, cumbersome instructions—the issue may be improved upon with modern, digital checklists. 

MaintainX allows employees to quickly access safety inspection procedures from their very own smartphones. Conversely, management can now see when tasks are marked complete in real-time

COVID-19 restaurant guidelines

Not only does the app produce a higher level of accountability, but it also provides dependable documentation for years to come. Translation: No more lost paper trails. 

MaintainX: Supporting the restaurant industry

How much longer must restaurants comply with “no dine-in” policies? We’re not really sure. Some local governments have restrictions in place through April 31, while others are marked TBD. 

It is our hope that government financial assistance, organizational improvements, and creative ingenuity will help our favorite restaurants persevere during this unusual time. If you are looking for an easier way to communicate with restaurant staff, we invite you to download MaintainX for free

Global organizations like McDonald’s, Marriott, and Hilton are already using MaintainX to manage maintenance and operations without the paper stacks. Click here to try it on iOs or Android

Additional Restaurant Owner and Management Resources:

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