If you’re a restaurant proprietor, there’s some good news for you during these uncertain times: according to a report by the World Health Organization, food seems to be generally unaffected by the Coronavirus. This means that take-out and online food ordering are still on the table (no pun intended), despite the fact that dine-in is still temporarily halted in most states.
While this is undoubtedly a glimmer of much-needed positivity, there are several things to keep in mind as your restaurant continues to prepare food for customers to take home, and many sanitation steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your staff – or customers – spreading COVID-19.
One of the most important steps you can take is to gather as many effective cleaning and disinfectant solutions as possible to effectively kill COVID germs in your restaurant. Keep a running checklist of all cleaning supplies, and be sure to note which items are at half-capacity or less. Order these from an online vendor, or from your typical supplier. Just be sure that in any case, the order is placed virtually to limit face-to-face contact with others as much as possible.
You should be cleaning your front door, front of house area, bathrooms, and kitchen multiple times per day. Perform heavy cleaning of food prep areas in the morning, light cleaning – such as wiping down doorknobs and handles – midway through a shift, and heavy cleaning again upon closing.
Some essential cleaning supplies to keep on hand are:
- At least 6 gallons of bleach.
- Several tubs of disinfectant wipes.
- Jumbo bottles of hand sanitizer.
- Surface and glass cleaners.
- Paper towels.
- Food prep gloves.
- Stainless steel cleaner.
- Several bottles of hand-washing soap.
Some high-traffic areas that should be regularly cleaned in your establishment include:
- Front door handle/push bar.
- Equipment handles.
- Cash register and surrounding area.
- Phones and receipt or credit card machines.
- Restrooms, including faucets, flusher, toilets, soap dispensers, and doorknobs.
- Kitchen prep areas – especially before starting shifts and between orders.
- If customers use your pens to sign receipts, sanitize them or toss cheap ones at the end of the day (keep several boxes of new, cheap pens on hand).
If it feels as though you’re being overly-scrupulous, that’s a good thing. When in doubt, sanitize, even if it’s just a preventive measure. It could mean the difference between a COVID infection and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you’re open for take-out, delivery, or both, it’s likely that the front area of your establishment – i.e. the lobby, cash register area, and main counters – are more frequently being contaminated than any other area of the restaurant.
Some friendly advice: if you haven’t already done so, consider making customers wait outside for their orders, and poke your head out the door to announce when their food is ready. This way, you’ll be limiting the number of people who are actually coming inside your establishment. For even more protection, you can install a plexiglass barrier around the register. Wear a mask, and handle all bags/containers with protective gloves.
For payment, try to take credit card numbers over the phone, when the order is first called in. Your customers will then only need to pick up their food, and you won’t have to handle their potentially germ-laden credit cards in person. If your customers are paying with cash, collect their money outside, and make them wait there for their change. Keep a jumbo bottle of hand sanitizer near the register for quick sanitizing after handling people’s money.
Aside from taking these precautions, here’s a checklist for how and where you can most effectively clean the front area of your restaurant:
- Frequently disinfect the entire front door with wipes and disinfecting spray (3x-5x per day).
- Wipe down all counters, phones, and registers with disinfecting wipes (at least 3x per day).
- Wipe down all pens (after each use).
- Mop floors (end of day).
- Clean all restroom surfaces, especially those touched most frequently (flusher, faucet handles, soap dispenser, and doorknobs). This should be done several times per day.
- Sanitize your hands frequently to avoid spreading germs to the aforementioned areas – preferably after every interaction.
By reducing or eliminating germs on frequently-touched surfaces, you can ensure a safe eating experience for customers ordering take-out.
If there’s one area of your restaurant to target for cleaning more than any other, it should be your kitchen. Why?
For one thing, we know that COVID-19 can spread silently, sometimes even before the carrier of the virus develops symptoms. This means acknowledging that any of your kitchen staff could be infected unknowingly, and thus could be spreading the virus around the kitchen on widely-used equipment and surfaces.
In light of this, have your kitchen staff wear medical masks to the extent possible, and wear protective gloves when directly handling and packaging food.
Some surfaces that should be thoroughly and regularly cleaned in the kitchen include:
- Pan handles.
- Oven controls/gauges.
- Microwave and buttons.
- Fridge handles.
All of these, and any other high-traffic surfaces, should be wiped down with disinfectant before and after meal prep for each customer’s order. It is also a good idea to replace all regularly-used items, such as sponges and scrubbing pads, at the end of each shift.
As previously mentioned, one of the best methods you can implement to reduce and avoid the spread of the virus is wearing protective gear. If a member of your staff is a silent or pre-symptomatic carrier of COVID-19, wearing a mask could protect hundreds of people as he or she prepares just one meal.
Check the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines, or Global Health Organization’s guidelines, for using protective gear correctly to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, or closely follow any directions provided on mask or glove packaging. Ensure your staff are well-versed in wearing their gear correctly to effectively reduce the spread of germs.
What does “protective gear” constitute?
- Standard face masks (cotton or polyester), or N-95 respirators.
- Disposable Nitrile or latex gloves.
- Disposable lab coats or aprons.
While there’s no guarantee that the virus won’t spread when these protective measures are practiced, the likelihood of your staff infecting customers will at least be greatly reduced.
Perhaps the best means of avoiding and reducing the spread of COVID-19 is by frequently washing your hands. Hand-washing with soap should occur before and after transactions with customers, contact with a member of your staff, before and after using the lavatory (to avoid the spread of germs to bathroom surfaces), and after any other interaction which may require sanitation.
While hand sanitizer is a decent disinfecting solution in the absence of soap, nothing is as effective as standard soap and water for killing germs. Research shows that washing your hands for twenty seconds, or as long as it takes to sing “happy birthday” twice, is an ideal amount of scrubbing time to effectively sterilize your hands.
Hand-washing is one easy measure that you and your staff should be practicing thoroughly and frequently during each shift!
This safety measure may already be apparent, but it can’t be emphasized enough that all frequently-touched surfaces should be thoroughly sterilized as often as possible. You can find individual cleaning checklists for typical high-traffic surfaces in our library of checklists, including front-of-house and kitchen surfaces.
In addition, it’s recommended that you avoid touching whatever can be pushed, opened, or closed with a sleeve, glove, or your shoulder. Try to limit touching with bare hands, as this is one of the quickest ways to spread germs.
Review the CDC’s website for business-specific recommendations for reducing the transmission of COVID. During times of health crises, it’s always important to familiarize yourself with what the Center for Disease Control is warning or recommending.
In general, the CDC recommends that:
- Employers who have any cold or flu-like symptoms should be sent home immediately.
- Any employees exhibiting symptoms should take the proper self-isolation steps.
- Employees who have a sick family member, or are living with someone infected by COVID-19, should avoid coming to work and self-isolate.
- You wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds.
- You avoid touching your face – particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth – to reduce the likelihood in infection.
- You practice social distancing, keeping approximately 6 feet of space between yourself and others.
Since social distancing is one of the most effective ways to stop the quick spread of COVID-19, it’s a good idea to revisit your restaurant staff schedule and reduce your restaurant staff to one person running the front of the house, and as few people as possible cooking and preparing food in the kitchen. Ideally, your entire staff should be less than ten people per shift.
If possible, it would also be effective to space out kitchen staff so that each has his or her own workstation, approximately six feet away from another staff member. If your kitchen is small, consider further reducing staff until these conditions are met.
As with any good business, it’s important to regularly communicate with employees to ensure that everyone in your establishment is on the same page regarding personal hygiene, cleaning, and social distancing. Be sure to communicate your standards and CDC standards to your staff, and hang some checklists around high-visibility areas of your restaurant that will remind everyone in the building to follow certain safety guidelines. A hygiene agreement form is a good idea, with items such as:
- Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after handling food, or interacting with another person (staff member or customer). At a minimum, hands should be washed every thirty minutes.
- Face masks and protective gloves should be used throughout each shift.
- If you or someone at home is sick, stay home to avoid spreading germs.
- Practice social distancing in your work area to the greatest extent possible.
- Avoid sneezing or blowing your nose in the kitchen area. This should be done in the bathroom, followed by thorough hand-washing.
- Keep fingernails short and clean, even under protective gloves.
- Hands should be washed after changing or removing gloves.
You can build onto this checklist as you see fit, and review these items with your staff before hanging it in your kitchen and around your establishment.
This is one item that isn’t addressed very often, but you and your staff should minimize cell phone usage throughout any given shift, unless you absolutely depend on a cell phone to conduct business. Cell phones, on average, are one of the most germ-laden objects we come into contact with each day. Touching your phone and then touching another surface can spread germs from your home around your restaurant, and ultimately, to your customers.
In light of this, keep cell phones and other personal objects – such as wallets and car keys – safely tucked away during each shift. If you absolutely must touch them, wash your hands immediately afterward for the recommended twenty seconds.
It’s also a good idea to invest in a UV-light phone sterilizer, which you can find for cheap on Amazon. This will kill all germs your phone accumulates throughout the day, so that you won’t have to worry about infecting yourself or others by merely taking a call. Even if you don’t have a UV light sterilizer, you can wipe down your phone case – and even phone screen – with an antibacterial wipe after each use.
While there’s no guarantee you can completely keep Corona at bay, these ten steps are a great place to start, and may significantly reduce the likelihood of catching or spreading COVID-19 among your employees and customers. Always check CDC guidelines if you’re unsure about COVID-related information, and immediately self-isolate and contact your doctor if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms.