A person washes their hands under a sink faucet.

The proactive restaurant owner’s guide to coronavirus

The increasing spread of coronavirus continues to make headlines around the world, and business owners and operators across all industries are paying attention. It’s imperative for professionals in the restaurant and foodservice industry to do the same.

As of this week, there are more than 94,000 confirmed cases around the world. There are currently just over 30 confirmed cases in Canada, primarily in Ontario, B.C., and Quebec.

While headlines can be highly inflammatory, it’s important to remember that at the present time, the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to rate the public health risk of COVID-19 as “low.” The constant media churn invites panic, but that reaction is still premature. However, it’s important for business owners to be proactive in taking steps to ensure the continued safety of both their employees and their customers.

Keep yourself educated on coronavirus

Knowledge is power, and in the case of an ongoing public-health concern such as COVID-19, it’s important to make sure you’re keeping up with the latest developments. Panic and hysteria are largely borne out of lack of and/or inaccurate information; staying informed allows you to be prepared without panicking.

Arming yourself with the facts has a twofold benefit: First, you’re able to make informed decisions about policies and practices to keep your business safe, and second, you’re able to answer questions from both staff and clientele, assuaging some of their fears and inspiring confidence in you and your business.

Enforce proper hygiene and sanitation policy

The good news is that many of the recommended practices for avoiding the spread of germs are fundamental to basic restaurant sanitation and hygiene. Hand-washing, wearing gloves while handling food, and regularly sanitizing tables and other surfaces should all already be part of your employees’ daily routines. It may be worth considering reminding and encouraging employees to wash their hands more frequently, and sanitizing high-traffic surfaces and other areas more often.

Some specific recommendations:

  • Washing hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water when hands are visibly dirty; after sneezing or coughing; before, during, and after preparing food; after toilet use; after coming in contact with a potentially ill person.
  • Covering your mouth and nose while sneezing/coughing with a flexed elbow or tissue, and throwing tissues into a closed garbage bin immediately after use.
  • Rigorously enforcing food-safety practices including thoroughly cooking foods (especially meat and eggs), wearing sanitary gloves, keeping work stations clean, etc.

Monitor your employees’ wellbeing — and let them take sick days

Coronavirus is spread through person-to-person contact, and public-health organizations including the WHO recommend keeping a three-foot distance from anyone coughing or sneezing. Anyone who’s ever worked in foodservice knows that employees are almost constantly in close contact with coworkers and customers.

Taking sick days is often a source of anxiety for foodservice staff, both financially as well emotionally, due to a sense of responsibility to their team — we’ve all felt the pain of one missing staff member on a particularly busy day. Make sure you communicate with your employees that they can and should refrain from coming to work if they are showing flu-like symptoms, particularly if they have recently travelled, or been in contact with travellers. 

Consider expanding your delivery services

Some experts are predicting an uptick in delivery as more people opt to stay home — or are confined to their homes while they exhibit symptoms. With the increasing popularity of mobile and third-party ordering/delivery, you should already be thinking about how to incorporate increased delivery capabilities into your operations. Accommodating not only this rising trend, but also customers’ potential needs for in-home foodservice, will be an important part of your operations strategy.

Talk to your supply chain

At present, it’s worth noting that there are no cases that have shown any evidence of humans being infected via the consumption of contaminated food. The greater concern, however, is possible supply-chain disruptions as international transport routes may be affected and products and services from China and other heavily affected regions are suspended.

Check in with your suppliers and distributors about whether they expect any disruptions to their operations. It typically takes as much as 30 days for items from one area of the world to be shipped to another — but this doesn’t mean you should step back and take a “wait and see” attitude. Open communication and being proactive will go a long way to ensuring you continue to get what you need, when you need it, to keep business running smoothly.

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