Published 01 June 2020
Restaurants and other food businesses are now faced with a unique challenge: how to maintain physical distancing and follow operation restrictions while making the premises inviting to customers.
Food businesses that are permitted to reopen their doors to the public are faced with a myriad of restrictions and regulations that must be followed and upheld. The biggest of the requirements is the maintenance of physical distancing within and outside the premises. Food businesses are in search of different ways to ensure physical distancing, and some are finding creative ways to keep customers apart. While the ways that food businesses will be able to ensure physical distancing will vary from place to place, the most important thing is that the restrictions are achieved and done effectively.
In order to achieve physical distancing, food businesses must seat patrons a specific distance away from each other (the distance varies in different countries and localities). For example, in Australia, food businesses must ensure that patrons are allocated four square meters of space. In the United States, distances vary from no more than 10 diners in 500 square feet, to keeping 6-8 feet distances between groups of patrons. In Canada, the few provinces that have permitted food businesses to reopen at this time are enforcing a strict 2 metre physical distancing rule between diners.
The following are ways that food businesses can easily and effectively ensure physical distancing within the premises in order to follow restrictions and keep customers safe.
Physical barriers have been a go-to resolution for food retail businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. Food service businesses are beginning to follow suit, using physical barriers to keep tables of diners separated from each other. Physical barriers can be made of plexiglass or other non-porous materials. Some food businesses are installing permanent barriers, while others are using barriers that are on rollers so that they can be rolled in and out of the dining room at the beginning and end of service. Food businesses can also use the choice of material to create an ambiance of their liking. Frosted plexiglass can make diners feel that they have privacy, while clear plexiglass can help the barriers to be less obvious and make the dining room feel bigger. Colored plexiglass is another option that can enhance the dining experience while keeping customers safe.
Signage is a quick and easy way to help enforce physical distancing within the food premises. Floor markings are a popular choice among business as they are easy to install and help provide a visual reminder of the distance patrons need to maintain from each other. Floor markings are useful for outdoor areas where customers line up to get into the food business, as well as other areas where line ups occur such as the washrooms.
Other signs that food businesses can utilize include a poster board that displays the rules within the premises (including physical distancing rules) that can be placed at the entrance. Signs can also be placed on tables that are not to be used in order to keep diners a safe distance apart from each other.
Food businesses must reorganize tables in order to ensure that they are spaced out properly within the premises. If the size of the space does not allow for the tables to be spaced out properly, tables must be taken out of service. In order to do this, food businesses must remove tables from the premises in order to ensure that diners are the proper distance from each other. If removing tables is not an option (due to them being fixed to the ground or a lack of storage space within the premises) then there must be indication that certain tables are not to be used. This can be done with signage taped to the tables or by removing chairs.
Some food businesses have outdoor spaces such as patios that can be used to enforce physical distancing. Sitting customers on the patio ensures that physical distancing rules are met while also allowing for more customers to be able to dine at the food business. If there is no patio, food businesses can contact their local governing body to see if there are other potential options. For example, in Wisconsin — under a citywide emergency order — food businesses will be permitted to expand their dining onto public outdoor spaces such as sidewalks, on-street parking spots and possibly even some streets. Governments and food businesses are getting creative with how to ensure physical distancing while encouraging the public to begin dining out again.
Some food businesses are moving one step beyond installing barriers and creating dining pods for their guests. The basis for the idea is to create a full separation of groups of diners from each other by having them dine within their own designated pod. For example, in Amsterdam, Eten Restaurant has created glass greenhouses for customers to dine in that separate them from other diners completely. Other varieties of this solution include tents and plastic shield pods.
Depending on the country and the local government, food businesses are required to reduce their maximum capacity to a particular number. This number must be maintained and by doing so, physical distancing requirements will be achieved. It is important to designate a specific staff member to keep count of how many customers there are within the premises at one time. This is especially crucial for food businesses that allow walk-ins. If possible, stick to a reservation-only model which allows for an easier control of how many patrons are within the premises at a time.
An important way to ensure physical distancing is to reduce the interactions between staff and customers. Food servers should be trained on how to maintain physical distancing when delivering food to the table. One way to do so is to have the server place the food on the table, step back and then have the diners pass the food among themselves. Removing a chair from each table is an efficient way to provide servers with an designated place to approach tables and place down the food. Food businesses can also reduce interactions between staff and customers by providing a flag on the table that customers use to indicate they require service, thus reducing the number of trips to the table.
Other ways to reduce interactions include the encouragement of pre-ordering food before arriving at the premises, using contactless payments only, and staggering seating times for customers.