Here’s a question for you to consider as a restauranteur or food business owner, “When you re-open for full service, how are you planning to maximize the feelings of connectedness that diners will crave even more than your best-selling food?”

I was among a fortunate group of business owners who were able to meet with CPG Brand Positioning Expert Eric Kiker again last week. We talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, specifically how these concepts can be applied to the restaurant & foodservice industry, and our discussion started with this meaningful question.

It’s a well-known fact that people choose to dine in restaurants for more than just the pleasure of consuming a meal. While the meal is the centerpiece of celebrations, productivity, and entertainment, it is most often a source of comfort and community. As we renew our commitment to food safety protocols, we will also need to think about how we can satisfy the emotional needs of our guests and team members.

I’ve been discussing a “high-level implementation plan” to help business owners safely restore the feelings of connection and community, broken down into two categories:

1. Moving Forward Mindfully

Many of us are familiar with the concepts of “mindful cooking” and “mindful eating”. In this arena, I’ve been discussing the concept of “mindful service” interpreted to mean that everything we do will incorporate the mindset of “safety first” for each of our guests and team members.

To quote Vision Strategist Al Paris with what is undoubtedly my new favorite saying, “Safety is the new Hospitality.” We are experts in creating memorable guest experiences; now we’ll need to demonstrate that we can create a safe experience for guests as well as a safe working environment for team members.

As it stands in the United States, the CDC continuously provides and updates our over-arching guidance related to COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association just released extensive reopening guidance, including detailed checklists and FDA Best Practices. As we are in the midst of a global pandemic, one of the best things we can do is also examine how fellow operators are navigating the same challenges in other locales.

The New York Times recently referenced the “SOP: COVID-19 Playbook” published by Syed Asim Hussain, Co-Founder of Black Sheep Restaurants. This would serve well as a comprehensive guide for all restaurants regardless of category, and will likely be considered in the joint guidance expected to come from the Food & Safety Board of The Aspen Institute and the James Beard Foundation.

– Practical Solutions

No matter when it happens, as states begin to reopen by order of their respective governors, restauranteurs, food business owners, employees and the communities they serve may not feel completely ready.

While the CDC currently (as of 4/27) leaves the decision of whether to administer COVID-19 tests up to employers, choosing to test employees as they enter the workplace may provide valuable data to determine if employees pose a direct threat to your entire team or guests. Christina M. Reger, Esq. can best interpret regulatory guidelines related to COVID-19, and how they apply to your particular workplace.

This is the time to finally move the industry forward and lead our communities back into our safe spaces. We start by updating standard operating procedures, employee manuals, and written Employee Health Policies to include expanded protocols for cleaning, disinfecting & sanitizing, handwashingface masks, temperature checks, reporting of COVID-19 symptoms, illness, as well as contact tracing and work clearance requirements.

As part of your comprehensive cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing program, you’re going to want to be able to display a certification stating that your establishment was treated by a program such as Western PurCleanShannon Sked, B.C.E is uniquely positioned to describe the benefits of this innovative solution in more detail.

Between professional treatments, Sani-Professional also offers an effective range of EPA-registered products that will allow your staff to easily clean, disinfect, and sanitize surfaces hourly, or as needed. Trusted food partners Sysco and US Foods each carry the full line of products.

– Employee Care & Training

The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally exposed economic inequities, including the fact that it is time to replace the practice of tipped wages with fair & sustainable wages. If you did not previously offer benefits, explore a low-cost telehealth option, or get in touch with Maria Campbell CEC, MBA to learn more about health & wellness options via Cooks Who Care.

I generally advise restauranteurs & food business owners that “training is a process, not an event” and adopting this philosophy will be even more critical as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Making sure that your newly hired & returning team members are fully committed to these protocols will require initial training, digital checklists (I like to refer to these as “opportunities for compliance”), and analytics to allow business owners to see precisely where knowledge & practice gaps exist.

JOLTZenput, and Rizepoint are not only three of the top “digital food safety & restaurant operations execution” platforms, but they are also proving to be invaluable instruments to help organizations quickly train (and re-train) employees, standardize tasks, embed best practices into day-to-day operations, and measure overall food safety compliance during and beyond the pandemic.

2. Messaging

As restauranteurs & food business owners, you have an intrinsic duty to care for your guests and your family of team members. You will want to showcase all of the measures taken to keep them safe and communicate this with an abundance of transparency and enthusiasm.

While menu prices will certainly need to increase, clearly communicated mission statements (in your newsletter, and on your social media channels) can be designed to educate guests and generate support for your new practices. In my next article, I’ll go into more detail about how to avoid hidden menu pitfalls that generally cause restaurants & food businesses to lose money.

We’ll also want to think about the subliminal, nonverbal messaging. As we continue to embrace social distancing, how can you demonstrate creative ways to restore and improve the guest experience in your establishment?.

Disaster may have brought us to this moment, but an attitude toward mindful service, multi-channel communication, creative solutions, and thoughtful messaging will serve to elevate your business (and ultimately, the entire industry) to a healthier place.

Finally, reach out to me if you would like help with strategic planning, if you need to create a detailed implementation plan or update your SOPs, or if you need further analysis to determine the best technology-enabled solutions for your business.


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