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COVID-19 Cleaning Procedures for Restaurants

By: Kim Lorang

COVID-19 has taught the world a lot. Most obviously, the pandemic has taught us the importance of being flexible and adapting to new challenges quickly. While restaurant operators are overjoyed at the prospect of re-opening their doors after months of closures, it is safe to say that the guidelines for re-opening have left many feeling overwhelmed and confused. While it is evident that COVID-19 cleaning procedures will be critical, how necessary is it for restaurants to invest in new touchless options?

Want some information on what the re-opening guidelines are? The National Restaurant Association put together a great guide you can check out here.

While some rules remain clear (social distancing, outdoor seating only, etc.), other rules have changed, sometimes frequently. For restaurant owners and their staff, the most significant question mark relates to how long the virus can live on surfaces and what they need to do to limit the spread through touch. Months ago, the understanding was that the virus was very easily transmitted through surface touching. It was suggested that people wipe down all of their groceries, and restaurant operators soon became overwhelmed as they wondered how they would eliminate touchpoints in their dining rooms.

When you think about all of the things you touch in a restaurant, it is abundantly clear how many changes most operators would need to make! How would guests view the menu? Should individually packaged utensils be handed out instead of silverware? Will self-serve soda and salsa bars need to be eliminated? What would be the best way to offer guests condiments? The loftier investments come from eliminating touchpoints in bathrooms, where upgrades like touchless faucets and foot or elbow pulls for bathroom doors could be challenging to swing financially when a restaurant is already dealing with the fallout of being closed for months and re-opening at a limited capacity.

Recently, it was announced that perhaps surface transmission was not quite as severe as it had been previously believed to be. This caused suppliers to scramble to put the brakes on creating new products to meet the demands of outfitting restaurants with touchless options and left many dealers with a surplus of items they assumed would be hot items, that now may be unnecessary. While it is true that touchless options may no longer be a requirement, it is interesting to think about the positives that could still come from installing items that will make guests feel safer in a restaurant.

While COVID-19 cleaning procedures may not require the installation of touchless equipment or designating staff members to do nothing but clean tables thoroughly after each guest, going above and beyond in your sanitation efforts may earn you big points with customers, leading to fierce customer loyalty and increased profits.

At a time when, even more than usual, optics are everything, think about how your customer’s mindsets may have changed over the last few months. Pre-COVID, it may have been viewed negatively if guests saw (or smelled) your team performing deep cleaning tasks in the dining room. Many times, tables would be wiped down between guests, but items such as salt and pepper shakers, menus, coat hooks, and decorative items would not be disinfected thoroughly. Now, diners are much more aware of those touchpoints, and of the many people who have touched those items before them. Showing your customers that you take sanitation seriously by instructing your staff to wipe down every single item on a table, and not being shy about customers seeing their efforts, will go a long way in building trust and ensuring customers feel safe in your establishment.

In an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll, roughly three in four Americans cited dirty restrooms as a top reason they would not visit a hotel. For restaurants, Americans ranked restroom issues in the same order in which they rate problems in hotels:

Foul odors—66 percent
Clogged toilets—63 percent
Closed or out-of-order—51 percent
Out-of-stock essentials—46 percent
Broken soap or paper dispensers—35 percent
If you didn’t think keeping your restaurant’s restroom in tip-top shape should be the top of your list pre-COVID, it’s time to adjust your mindset and train your staff on ensuring your restroom is always sparkling.

While things like foot pulls and touchless faucets may no longer be requirements, they are items that your customers would take notice of and appreciate! When a restaurant owner goes above and beyond the reasonable expectations and invests in items that make the overall experience better for their customers, those investments will pay off over time in spades in the form of repeat customers, referrals, and rave reviews. A happy customer whose expectations have been met is not always likely to take the time to leave a review. A customer whose expectations have been blown out of the water will be excited to share how extraordinary their visit was! As the old adage goes, you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the state of its restrooms. If an establishment does not take the time to clean such a public-facing space, how can customers trust that the kitchen and other areas they don’t see are clean and sanitary?

While some “extreme” measures are not deemed necessary when it comes to COVID-19 cleaning procedures, it stands to reason that implementing some of them will benefit those who choose to invest in going the extra mile to provide sanitation options above and beyond what’s required. In addition to showing your customers you care, increasing your sanitation efforts will also ensure you never miss the mark with the Health Department.

Perhaps this added emphasis on cleanliness is not all bad. After all, it will now give restaurant owners an additional way to shine and separate themselves from their competition! We know one thing to be sure of the foodservice industry: it is made up of extremely hard-working people who make it their life’s work to provide excellent service levels.

Implementing preventative measures when it comes to cleanliness and sanitation will be the key to restoring confidence in dining at any dining establishment. We know that the dedicated foodservice workers across the country are ready to step up to the plate!