What risks face restaurants and bars post-COVID?

As we prepare for the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, we explore the risk to restaurants and bars.

It was only in May this year that restaurants and bars were able to welcome patrons indoors, after months of temporary closures and having to resort to takeaway services only. Since then, many of us have enjoyed visiting our favourite places with friends and family.

With lockdown restrictions eased in July and the public able to spend time in venues, in unlimited groups, many bars and restaurants may be looking forward to a post-pandemic recovery with no more unexpected closures.

Friends drinking outside of a pub, wearing masks

However, the risk of coronavirus has not disappeared, and the danger remains higher indoors, especially in busy places. Many people will experience anxiety when visiting restaurants and bars without restrictions, including customers and staff. Due to this, many businesses may choose to continue implementing precautions in their venues to address the ongoing risks, prevent outbreaks and allow their workers and customers to feel safe.

This guide explores the threats that still face restaurants and bars, even after restrictions have ended, and what measures you can add to your workplace to promote COVID safety.

Social distancing

During the pandemic, social distancing has been one of the tactics we have most been encouraged to follow to protect ourselves from the risk of coronavirus. In more recent months, this has meant not gathering in groups of more than six people.

Following the lifting of lockdown, there are no longer limits on how many people can gather at one time. Therefore, restaurants and bars will accommodate larger bookings beyond the ‘rule of six’ guidance.

Although larger groups may now be allowed to sit together, it is still worth spacing tables and seating out to distance separate groups and reduce people mixing. Screens and dividers could also be utilised to keep people apart. This could also enable nervous customers to feel more comfortable when dining.

Another option to allow distancing and reduce mixing is continuing to offer table service (and perhaps only table service) to prevent the number of people moving around your restaurant or bar. This again will limit contact between those who are not in the same group while enabling your staff to move around freely.

Another way to allow for distancing is to reduce the number of people present in your workplace at any time. Pre-booking could continue to be essential for this, especially if you have limited space to work with.

Similarly, if you expect visitors – such as couriers or suppliers – in your workplace, encourage them to come at off-peak times or use separate areas than your customers. This can minimise footfall around the venue.

Don’t forget that social distancing measures should also apply in your staff areas where possible, including spacing out workstations, minimising the number of workers in one space at any time and staggering break times to stop crowding.

Masks

Another measure that was ended by the easing of lockdown was the need to wear masks. While masks are no longer legally required, the government has encouraged people to wear them in indoor spaces where they may feel compromised.

Waiter setting table while wearing mask

As such, you may choose to ask customers to wear masks when moving through your premises, such as upon entrance or when visiting the bathroom. This will be particularly important in crowded areas, such as busy entrances or doorways.

Your staff may continue to wear masks or visors when serving customers to protect their health and allow customers to feel more at ease.

Ventilation

Coronavirus is an airborne virus, meaning that germs can be passed between people through the air. Due to this, ventilation has been cited as a preventative measure by spreading particles further, so they are less like to spread from one person to another.

When sitting indoors, it’s therefore helpful to utilise ventilation to mitigate the danger. This could include leaving doors and windows open to let in fresh air or having an efficient air conditioning system.

As we venture into the winter months, when fewer people will be willing to sit at outside tables, having good ventilation could prove key to stopping outbreaks and future lockdowns that force hospitality to close.

Cleaning

Cleanliness has always been essential in the hospitality sector. However, since the emergence of COVID-19, cleaning has taken on new precedence in reducing the risk of transmission and assuring customers.

As we enter the ‘post-pandemic’ phase, it is still crucial that you implement a robust cleaning regime into your business. This means cleaning all workplace areas at the end of each shift, including storerooms, kitchens, front-of-house, bathrooms and equipment. You should also look to thoroughly clean tables, seating areas and tableware between customers for additional safety.

Waiter cleaning a table

Make sure it is clear who is responsible for cleaning and when it needs to be done. You should also ensure that any staff (internal or external) who are undertaking cleaning duties have the equipment they need, including bacteria-killing products.

If a positive case were to arise in your business, you might also need to close temporarily to enable a deep clean of the workspace before reopening.

Hand hygiene

Another critical protocol that people have taken, and should continue to take, in the fight against coronavirus is good hand hygiene. By taking a robust approach to hand hygiene, you can reduce the risk of germs spreading through skin and surface contact.

You should encourage your staff to wash their hands frequently throughout the day, including after dealing with customers. This particularly matters for any team handling food and drink. If staff are busy and have limited time to wash their hands, it may be beneficial to give them personal hand sanitisers to carry on the move for constant access to hand hygiene.

Alongside this, consider placing a hand sanitiser station at your bar or restaurant entrance so that customers can sanitise upon entering.

It also reduces the spread of other diseases, such as flu and the common cold, so can have more comprehensive benefits for public health. This includes minimising sick leave taken by your employees so that you can enjoy uninterrupted productivity and service levels.

Test and trace

Although lockdown restrictions may have scaled back, there is still the need for testing and contract tracing as we seek to limit cases and prevent the need for future lockdowns. This particularly matters in the coming weeks, where cases are predicted to rise.

The NHS Test and Trace App will prove helpful in this period by enabling contact tracing. You should display a Test and Trace QR code in your business to allow customers to ‘check in’. For customers who do not have the app, you should keep a record of their details (which can be done through your booking system) so that you can get in touch if a positive case were to stem from your business.

COVID test swab

Similarly, if a member of your staff tests positive or is told to self-isolate, you must allow them to do so. This may cause difficulties in staff shortages; however, it is essential to prevent coronavirus transmission and stop more of your staff from getting infected. It will also enable you to keep customers safe while they’re in your business.

You should also encourage your staff to participate in testing, either at work or at home, to identify any positive cases early on and prevent the risk of disease spreading to other staff or customers.

Working patterns

The hospitality sector is currently experiencing a skills shortage, making staggering shifts and creating work ‘bubbles’ more challenging. Although bubbles are not necessarily required under new government guidance, it may still be a wise move for those who can facilitate them.

The BBC predicts up to four million people could need to self-isolate after contact with a positive case in the coming weeks. If staff members were to test positive, it could mean that anyone who has worked with them will be required to self-isolate, which can cause a headache for staffing levels.

By utilising work bubbles where possible, which places the same employees together, you can minimise the knock-on effects. If someone in one work bubble tests positive, only those sharing the same shifts will need to isolate, while the rest of your staff are free to come in. This can enable productivity to continue and prevent understaffing.

Conclusion

The removal of restrictions has caused mixed emotions, with many people excited for a future with more freedom and others concerned about the impact of rising cases. For businesses owners, including those operating bars and restaurants, it may be challenging to balance the need for post-pandemic recovery with the ongoing risk of coronavirus.

However, by implementing suitable measures into your business, you can ensure you lower the threat to your workforce and protect customers. When many customers have concerns, this may help you welcome them back more easily by promoting safety.

It will also enable you to reduce the chance of positive cases in your restaurant or bar, which could lead to temporary closures, staff self-isolation and shortages.

If you are wondering how to adapt your business and employees for the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, we can help. We utilise the most up-to-date information and government guidance to provide efficient training, tailored to your workplace. This can empower your staff to do their jobs effectively and safely as life returns to ‘normal’.

We can also help you to source protective solutions for your business, including wearable hand sanitiser.

Get in touch today to speak to the team about your needs and how we can assist.