The norm for retail bakeries and other foodservice establishments across the country has been pivoting from in-person dining, at least in the past few months. During that time, state and local governments advised or mandated closing on-premises dining in foodservice establishments due to the threat of the coronavirus. The National Restaurant Association even launched an online guide to track the ever-changing restaurant industry coronavirus mandates by city, county and state.

Operators quickly came to the realization that to continue bringing in revenue during this difficult time, they would need to adapt business models to optimize off-premises options. This includes curbside pick-up, drive-thru and delivery. That will continue in the near future, even as states and cities ease restrictions on businesses.

The National Restaurant Association provides some tips to help foodservice businesses make the most of their resources and keep foodservice safe during this outbreak.

Businesses need to rethink their customer interactions. Utilize technology to make curbside pick-up and drive-thru safer and more comforting for customers. For drive-up service, designate a parking space curbside or in your parking lot with signage. You can also ask customers to call when they arrive to pick up their orders or use location technology through an app.

You should also rethink payment options. Opt for cashless transactions (often touchless) through mobile payment apps and credit card readers. Customers can even pay by giving their credit card over the phone, if they’re comfortable with that. For cash and card transactions, have designated employees wear gloves to handle these payments, and make sure they change gloves between transactions.

Streamline your drive-thru by making sure the drive-thru station hand sink is clear and accessible so employees can wash hands often. It should be stocked with soap and paper towels, to make it easier for employees to always keep their hands clean.

You should also enforce food safety in this critical time. Essential food handling practices in the back of the house must remain the same. Packaging supplies will be critical also. Containers must be able to hold the integrity of the food for longer than normal. Use clear lids if possible to keep employees from opening packaging to verify orders. This reduces deterioration and contamination risk. Bags should be sealed, with a sticker or staples. Finally, you should look at revising your menu to make it more mobile friendly. The National Restaurant Association suggests focusing on menu items that are popular, quick to serve, travel well and fulfill the needs of homebound families and individuals.

All of these tips won’t matter if potential customers don’t know you are offering pick-up, drive-thru or delivery. Let them know on your website, social media channels and through emails what your hours, menu and policy will be for these services.

The importance of safe food-handling

Larry Lynch, senior vice president of certification and operations for the National Restaurant Association, stresses the importance of enforcing safe food-handling protocols to help protect the public health while continuing to serve customers. He offers three simple rules for operators to achieve that goal.

1. Create a safe, clean environment – “Let’s focus on employees first. Reinforce good hand hygiene with your staff members. Everyone must continually wash his or her hands. Yes, hand sanitizers are good to have on hand, but they’re never a replacement for a vigorous 20 seconds of hand washing.

Make it as easy as possible for your employees to walk to the nearest handwashing station. Do not put restrictions on the time needed to do that and emphasize the importance of using proper handwashing technique. Make sure the sink is accessible and stocked with soap and paper towels.

Also, remind everyone to avoid touching their mouths, noses and eyes. That’s the easiest way to transmit the virus. And if you touch any surface, do not take any chances; wash your hands!”

2. Enhance your sanitation efforts – “Frequently clean the surfaces people come into contact with. That includes anything they touch or breathe on. And don’t just clean and sanitize surfaces once in a while; do it constantly.

Also, check the cleaning products and sanitizers you’re using and make sure that they’re products that the Environmental Protection Agency has sanctioned — and follow the guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends — as effective in protecting against the virus’ spread.”

3. Make sure customers know you’re practicing food safety – “The public is overwhelmed with information about the virus. Some of it is true, some not so true. That’s why it’s important you do two things:

  • Demonstrate that you’re implementing best practices and be prepared to share with them why ordering food from your restaurant is safe. Reassure your customers that you know the best practices recommended by the CDC, EPA, FDA and others, and that you are following those recommendations.
  • Relay to them that your team is preparing the food safely, packaging it securely, and that you have created a contactless environment for the customer — from the point where the order leaves the restaurant to the point where they receive it.”

Finally, Lynch offers this general advice for foodservice establishment owners: “Be knowledgeable about the safety of food and its preparation, based on FDA guidance. Your ability to be your customer’s ‘trusted advisor,’ by being knowledgeable and able to point to recognized sources, will put them at ease.”