A new survey offers insights — plus, restaurant owners open up about enforcing mask rules and taking safety precautions
For many, dining out was once a relaxing way to bond with friends or family — or pick up a quick bite when cooking seemed too daunting. But now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, dining out can present new health risks.
Although opting for outdoor seating or take-out is generally considered safer, experts say there’s currently no way to make the experience completely risk-free. But during these uncertain times, the restaurant industry’s been suffering. It’s projected to lose $240 billion in revenue this year, and as cases spike in new areas, many states’ reopenings have been halted.
With social distancing guidelines across the country in flux, the online neighborhood hub Nextdoor asked 745,000 people in the U.S. how they feel about dining in — or out. The survey, conducted in late June, showed some clear trends.
Nearly 9 in 10 respondents indicated that they’re ready to support their local restaurants in some capacity. Most just aren’t sold on indoor dining — 53 percent of respondents said they prefer outdoor seating or takeout. Furthermore, 9 percent of those surveyed said they’re sticking to delivery. But 11 percent said they’re avoiding restaurants altogether.
Nextdoor users also submitted some pressing questions about how restaurants are working behind-the-scenes to keep patrons safe. So our Wake-Up Call newsletter turned to eateries across the U.S. — from a ramen restaurant in New York City and a vegan soul haunt in Detroit, to a French restaurant in Richmond — for answers. Here’s what they had to say.
You can’t wear a mask while eating. How are you planning on keeping your customers safe?
Carol Foster of Caffé Molise & BTG Wine Bar in Salt Lake City, UT: “All of our staff wear masks. We have separated staff into ‘table delivery’ and ‘table clearing’ to avoid any contamination. Patrons are asked to wear masks unless they are seated at their tables. We ask that anyone who enters the building has a touchless temperate check by a manager. Those who have a temperature of 100.4 F or above are not allowed entry, and are encouraged to seek medical attention. We have an optional ‘contact information’ form that patrons can fill out in case we should need to get in touch after their dining experience. These forms are kept securely in our office and destroyed after 30 days. The information is not used for marketing.”
Junki Ikeda of Cocoron in New York, NY: “Our goal is to avoid any droplets spreading. We’ll have air purifiers in our small spaces and air circulators, especially near the entrance of the door. We’ll also have a strong kitchen fan. We won’t seat people near the entrance, and we’ll tie a rope to prevent people from coming inside.”
How will you make sure that there won’t be too many patrons dining at your restaurant at once? Can you tell us how you’ve rearranged your restaurant to ensure that people are sitting six feet apart? What will you do to enforce this rule?
Carol Foster of Caffé Molise & BTG Wine Bar in Salt Lake City, UT: “We have spaced all tables to six feet apart or further. Our capacity is impacted by about 50%. According to county mandates, we can offer tables of up to 10 people maximum. When larger groups wish to dine, we inform them that tables cannot be moved together and seating is a max. of 10 per table. Management oversees this process.”
Whitney Cardozo of Chez Foushee in Richmond, Virginia: “It’s much more than seating people six feet apart. I have to build a new business around an invisible enemy. We have to anticipate how customers are going to feel comfortable when the stakes are so high.
Gone are the days of walk-ins and last-minute reservations. Restaurant operations will need to be meticulous. Staffing will have to change to meet the cleaning protocols and reservation numbers. Additionally, a new job, Captain of Clean, a staff member solely dedicated to wiping, cleaning all common areas, and assisting the servers in best safety practices, may be created.”
Junki Ikeda of Cocoron in New York, NY: “We’ll be accepting customers only through reservations on our website, and will be marking six feet apart. If people don’t comply, we’ll ask them to leave. We’ll also be offering private dining for small groups of families and friends.”
What is your policy on masks for servers and the kitchen staff? What are your cleaning protocols? Can you tell us the safety measures you’ll put in place inside the kitchen to ensure that the kitchen staff is safe?
Junki Ikeda of Cocoron in New York, NY: “We’re checking body temperatures and not allowing staff to work if they have a fever above 98.6F. We’re also requiring employees to wear doubled-masks or masks with a thick paper towel, and use gloves and tongs to pick up food. We’ll be washing all equipment in a dishwashing machine, and cleaning the restaurant with towels soaked in bleached water. We’re also having employees get tested for Covid-19 every month. “
Kirsten Ussery of Detroit Vegan Soul: “We clean every hour and throughout the day. We do a deep cleaning once a week. All staff have temperature checks and health screenings prior to starting their shifts each day and they are required to wear PPE all day. Kitchen staff wear cloth masks as well as protective face shields and gloves.”
Carol Foster of Caffé Molise & BTG Wine Bar in Salt Lake City, UT: “All staff are required to wear masks in the building, wash their hands frequently, and have their temperature taken and recorded. We have a three-step cleaning and sanitation protocol that all staff are trained on. We have cleaning and sanitation logs for the kitchen and front-of-house, carried out every 30 minutes, checked by management throughout the shift. We focus especially on high-touch surfaces in addition to other areas.”
Whitney Cardozo of Chez Foushee in Richmond, Virginia: “I have an 83-year-old mother living with me, so we have had the policy of wearing masks since March. I provide them for the staff and anyone that enters the building. When staff clocks in, they get their temperatures checked. In addition to the masks, I’m hoping to do a significant reorganization of kitchen space to allow the staff to space out more.”
If you have a customer who’s not following social distancing rules or who isn’t wearing a mask, what will you do? Have you thought about when you would refuse to serve a customer? If so, what are some reasons?
Carol Foster of Caffé Molise & BTG Wine Bar in Salt Lake City, UT: “When we have encountered customers who refuse to comply with our in-house policies and county mandates, we try to accommodate them as best as we can. When space allows, we seat them far away from any other tables. If we can’t safely accommodate them, we offer take-out service.”
Junki Ikeda of Cocoron in New York, NY: “We’ll be offering masks to people who don’t have them. We will cancel your reservation if you break social distancing rules or make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Whitney Cardozo of Chez Foushee in Richmond, Virginia: “This is tricky because we are in the hospitality business. By going to a reservation-only policy, we’ll be able to ask if anyone has been sick and if they’re okay with following policies on mask-wearing when not eating, beforehand. We are living with a new social contract, and certain behaviors are expected of everyone. Social distancing and wearing a mask are reasonable measures to avoid making others sick! At the end of the day, we do not force non-compliant customers to eat at our restaurant. If it is too much trouble, we can suggest they dine elsewhere or order from the take-away menu and wait outside.”
Jeff LaPadula of P.S. Kitchen in New York, NY: “If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask we will refuse them service.”
How can neighbors be most helpful?
Kirsten Ussery of Detroit Vegan Soul in Detroit, MI: “Be patient with us as we try to adapt to this new normal and deliver the best service we can.”
Carol Foster of Caffé Molise & BTG Wine Bar in Salt Lake City, UT: “The vast majority of our customers have appreciated the additional measures we have undertaken to ensure the safety of our staff and community. As a family-owned and operated business, we are eager to keep serving our community as we have for the past 27 years. We have received wonderful feedback from our patrons. We encourage our neighbors to dine with us when they can, and if they can’t, we continue to offer curbside pickup, and gift cards. “
Jeff LaPadula of P.S. Kitchen in New York, NY: “Neighbors can be helpful by following the rules, whatever they may end up being.”
Whitney Cardozo of Chez Foushee in Richmond, Virginia: “Chez Foushee is on a street with many restaurants and bars. As restaurants and small businesses we need to support each other through standard policies. Implementing similar safety practices in day to day operations consistently would send a strong message for safe and peaceful dining.”
This originally appeared on Medium.
This post has been updated.