Reopening Restaurants in the Era of COVID-19

Lindsey Mabrey on June 10, 2020 at 3:52 PM

Coronavirus, specifically COVID-19 also called SARS-CoV-2, is an extremely infectious, respiratory illness. The primary mode of transmission is via respiratory droplets (sneezing or coughing from an infected person to others that are in close contact).  Symptoms include fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath and usually appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.  As businesses start to reopen, it’s important to put measures in place to protect your employees and customers. The extent of these preventive measures should reflect the severity of illness in your area.  Here are a few guidelines: 



  1. Organize an Infectious Disease Plan:
    1. Create a Leadership Team.
    2. Prepare for worker shortages.
    3. Review sick policies to ensure employees have adequate sick time.
    4. Open in stages:
      1. Phase 1: Limited to drive-through, curbside take-out, or delivery.
      2. Phase 2: Dining rooms open with limited seating capacity.
      3. Phase 3: Restaurants increase bar standing room occupancy that allows for social distancing and increase capacity of dining rooms.
  3. Employee Medical Screening:
    1. Questionnaires pertaining to symptoms and recent exposure to infected individuals.
    2. Temperature testing is performed on the forehead or collarbone with an infrared thermometer gun.  Those with a fever of 100.4°F or above should not work.
  5. Installing Protection Rules and Controls:
    1. Institute good hygiene rules
      1. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds and use alcohol sanitizer.
      2. Wear a mask or face covering at all times.
      3. Cough and sneeze into the elbow, turning away from others.
      4. Wear disposable gloves, changing them several times a day.
    2. Enforce social distancing as much as possible
      1. Physical guides (taped lines) for spacing at cash registers and ATMs.
      2. Remove some tables to keep the distances 6-feet apart.
      3. Block-off some counter-top stools to discourage crowding.
      4. Use tape or dividers to keep people separate (sneeze guards/partitions at cash registers, food pickup areas, and workstations). 
      5. Restrict the number of employees in shared spaces (kitchens and break rooms).
      6. Rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of employees in the workplace.
    3. Assign higher risk employees (older than 65, immuno compromised, etc.) tasks that limit their exposure to customers. 
    4. Limit customer contact by reducing the amount of reusable surfaces that customers use:
      1. Single-use menus, cutlery, flatware, cups and condiments. 
      2. Utilize touch-free applications (contactless payment systems, automated ordering systems such as smart phone apps and websites); no-touch trash cans, paper towel and soap dispensers.
      3. Discontinue self-serve stations, such as buffets, beverage dispensers, and salad/condiment bars.
  1. Implement a Sanitation Plan:
    1. Target high-traffic surfaces for frequent disinfection:
      1. Front of the house: door handles, hand-rails, tables, chair backs, and restrooms.
      2. Back of the house: equipment, counter-tops, light-switches, refrigerator/cabinet/drawer handles, break areas, cash registers, etc.
    2. Use cleaning chemicals that are proven to kill COVID-19, such as alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70% alcohol (ethanol), chlorine solutions (at least 1,000 ppm), quaternary ammonium, etc.
    3. Follow best practice sanitation procedures – clean dirty surfaces with soap/detergent and water, dry, disinfect with effective chemicals, allowing sufficient dwell time.
    4. Make sure cleaning staff have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and training.
  3. Communication and Training
    1. Ensure employees understand any changes to HR policies and work rules.
    2. Review ServSafe rules with your employees.  (FDA does not consider COVID-19 a food-borne illness, but many good hygiene rules can be used to also prevent the spread of coronavirus.)
    3. Post signs encouraging customers to wear masks and utilize social distancing.
    4. Post signs for employees to reinforce good hygiene rules.
    5. Monitor FDA, USDA, and CDC websites for updated guidance.
    6. Develop a plan if employees become sick with COVID-19:
      1. Sick employees should not come to work.
      2. Parameters for returning to work.
      3. Intense cleaning and disinfecting.
      4. Keep in contact with your local health department on recommendations.
  5. Procure and Manage Materials:
    1. Develop a COVID-19 Materials Inventory List (PPE, Disinfectants, Hygiene Products, Cleaning Equipment and Tools, etc.)
    2. Maintain 30-day supplies of key materials.
    3. Identify alternate sources for hard to procure materials.






National Restaurant Association:

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