Asian women wearing protective mask standing in cafe during covid-19 preventing.

How COVID-19 Permanently Changed Restaurant Service Standards

To date, there is no connection between the intake of food and the contraction of the coronavirus. So that means the restaurant industry has remained the same, right? Wrong. As we know, the customer is not only buying food from a restaurant. They are buying an experience. So how do restaurants survive in a time when person to person contact should be limited and experiential dining is the norm? The answer is to adapt. The food service industry has changed. Have you been watching?

When COVID-19 began to grip most of the country in the early spring, many Americans began to analyze their daily activities. For many people, it was their decision or state order to “stay home and slow the spread”. This resulted in a huge impact on our local and national economy. According to the Brookings Institute, “As of 2016, Americans spent more than half of their food budget eating outside the home.” When the decision was made to stay home, customers stopped coming through the door to most restaurants. However, that didn’t stop your local diner, pizza joint, or coffee house. Restaurants became innovative. In fact, they had to in order to stay afloat.

Every restaurant has a landlord waiting on the rent, a food supplier ready to drop off the next delivery, and most importantly, a multitude of employees who rely on that lunch service tip in order to survive. Brookings reports, “Food preparation and service is the second most common occupation in the United States. Waiting tables is the eighth most common. There are more than 12 million Americans working at over 600,000 food service and drinking establishments nationwide. In order to survive, restaurants made changes to their staffing procedures, in-house dining, to-go, delivery service, technology, and most importantly, their health and hygiene.

Now more than ever, restaurants depend on their employees as the front face between the restaurant and customer. They set the precedent of the entire establishment. And now, those front faces have to wear a mask. Temperature checks are now standard practice before each shift. Employees change gloves with higher frequency. The restaurant relies on employees to carry out frequent sanitation of high contact surfaces.

Even how customers dine-in or take out had a makeover. If dine-in is available, limited seating and six feet between each table is advised. A customer might spot posted signage or decals on the floor enforcing social distancing. At most host stands; hand sanitizer is available and distributed upon entering. That’s just inside the restaurant. To-go and delivery will never be the same but in many ways, it’s better.
Many establishments jumped on curbside pick-up as a convenient service for customers. Tents are now common fixtures in restaurant parking lots. Lots of businesses who had not already made the switch to third party delivery apps invested with the announcement of “contactless drop-off”. Some even implemented an online ordering platform to help increase social distancing and decrease person to person contact when placing an order.

Restaurants have gone digital in many ways other than just the food handoff. Even the Georgia Restaurant Association recommends making, “technology your friend” in their Reopening Guideline. Some have implemented digital menus, contactless payment methods, and upped their ante on social media. In fact, social media has been crucial. Updating customers through texts, emails, and social media posts can literally determine financial success. When customers are unsure about a restaurant’s safety procedures, they could move onto another more trusted establishment. Restaurants that update their customers more frequently and have established an open discussion between management and customer will benefit during these unprecedented times. Communication is key, but not only for your customers.

Sanitation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends restaurants, “Establish a disinfection routine and train staff on proper cleaning timing and procedures to ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants.” The restaurant and its staff have to communicate a plan and implement it with the potentiality of “revising the plan” when necessary. Frequent sanitation is possibly one of the easiest, but most effective ways to increase trust between customers and restaurants. And even if a restaurant is taking measures to create a safe environment, those measures have to be noticeable enough to a customer during the visit ultimately raising the bar to a new level of dining experience. Dr. Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, said in the New York Times, “A restaurant that looks exactly like it did before [COVID-19] is probably not the kind of restaurant I want to go to.”

So, how can a restaurant ensure that customers will notice that they are going above and beyond industry service standards? With A Closer Look’s Health and Hygiene solution, a restaurant can expect a program that will help identify problem areas within the restaurant through a discreet evaluation, give them an easily accessible reporting and monitoring platform through the Health and Hygiene Maturity Risk Matrix, and receive direct critical feedback from customer experiences based on health and hygiene measures. Building and maintaining the trust and confidence of customers will dramatically impact restaurants’ reputation, brand, and ultimately, financial success. Though many service standards have changed for the restaurant industry in the last few months, Health and Hygiene remain the most urgent and vital. With the Health and Hygiene program, restaurants can be sure they are following the most up to date standards by utilizing innovative technology to their advantage.