Setting the table in a post-COVID-19 world: The restaurant industry rises to meet its biggest challenge yet (and possibly ever) | Bilzin Sumberg

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Working in the restaurant industry is a chore on a good day. Long working hours, staff turnover, endless customer expectations, seasonality, supply chain issues and intense competition are just a few of the daily headaches. As adept as restaurants have become at preparing for frequent storms, COVID-19 represents nothing less than their Hurricane Katrina. State and local orders issued in response to the global pandemic have forced businesses across the country to close, a crippling event from which some businesses will never recover.

Many resilient restaurants have quickly adapted to new legal constraints by partnering with food delivery services to expand takeout and delivery options. Indeed, on-demand food delivery services like Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash are about the only food-related businesses to benefit from the pandemic. In fact, with stay-at-home lifestyles becoming the potential new normal, financial forecasters predict nearly $45 billion in growth in this market by the end of 2024. [1] Restaurants that can continue to shift to offsite services like take-out and delivery options will likely see faster returns to profitability.

Yet for sit-down restaurants whose business relies on a “pack ’em, take ’em out” model, social distancing is anathema. Additionally, off-site service options will only act as a temporary band-aid over a much more serious injury. As part of an effort to reinvent themselves, restaurants fortunate enough to reopen in the coming weeks and months must tackle the ultimate problem facing the food industry: regaining customer trust. In many ways, tackling the psychological impact of COVID-19 is just as daunting as the virus itself. The long-term success of restaurants in a post-COVID world will depend almost exclusively on not just their ability to make diners feel safe in a communal space, but safe enough to take the calculated “risk” of eating. dining out instead of cooking or getting out.

To buck the trend on customer perception, restaurants will need to stay current and execute a variety of critical safety measures (both mandated and suggested) by the CDC and state governments. The National Restaurant Association [2] for example, recently released recommendations for the safe reopening of catering services, including: (i) providing additional training on hygienic food handling to employees; (ii) increase the frequency of cleanings; (iii) send visibly ill employees home and ask them to self-isolate for at least seven days; (iv) turn away visibly ill customers; (v) limit the size of tables; (vi) updated floor plans to ensure at least six feet separation between tables; and (vii) where possible, use barriers to physically separate tables.

State and local governments have imposed similar standards. In Georgia, for example, Governor Kemp has allowed restaurants to offer dine-in service, as long as they meet 39 virus-related requirements. Among the requirements are contactless payment transactions and a limit of ten customers for every 500 square feet of restaurant space.[3]

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently allowed restaurants in most counties in the state to reopen under new regulations aimed at strengthening social distancing.[4] Florida’s “Phase 1” plan requires restaurants to limit occupancy to no more than 25% of their normal seating capacity. Governor DeSantis also pointed out that restaurants are prioritizing the use of outdoor dining areas and considering moving to single-use paper menus.

Similarly, in California, restaurants in counties that have allowed reopening are required to create workspace-specific plans to deal with COVID-19, conduct employee training, provide testing of temperature and symptoms to workers, to follow social distancing guidelines and to adopt specific cleaning protocols. . [5]

These measures aim to improve public welfare and must be implemented systematically. However, restaurants that effectively report on meeting (or better yet, exceeding) legal security mandates have the best chance of recouping their restaurant clientele faster. When taking additional measures and precautions and formulating reopening plans, transparent and frequent communication with customers is essential.

To this end, many restaurants send email updates to their customers. Others are taking to social media as their procedures evolve, or announcing revised seating plans and patio service options in local publications. Yet others are taking the opportunity to make connections in their local communities by donating to food banks and school lunch programs. Equally important is making employees aware of the changes being implemented so that they can accurately and effectively communicate progress and respond to customer questions.

As new standards, regulations and recommendations for catering operations are formulated, the Bilzin Sumberg team will continue to provide updates that can be implemented and shared with customers’ employees and customers. .

Footnotes

[1] https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/05/11/2031106/0/en/The-Global-Online-On-Demand-Food-Delivery-Services-Market-is-expected-to- grow-by-44-23-billion-during-2020-2024-growing-at-a-CAGR-of-7-during-the-forecast-period.html.
[2] The National Restaurant Association is a restaurant industry trade association whose stated purpose is to serve the restaurant industry by strengthening its operations, mitigating risk and protecting its vitality. To see https://www.restaurant.org/About/Mission.
[3] https://abcnews.go.com/Business/restaurants-mull-reopening-amid-covid-19-pandemic-risk/story?id=70368692.
[4] http://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-coronavirus-reopening-restaurants-20200510-g5ayvlcwrre73oihrtycry33ci-story.html.
[5] https://www.law360.com/foodbeverage/articles/1273036/calif-details-plan-for-reopening-restaurants-retail.

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