Restaurant Covid Training

Jun 25, 2020

Handling difficult customers is an ever-present challenge in restaurants. But, like everything else in our post-COVID world, this too has become more complex. In recent weeks, restaurants have scrambled to reopen by reconfiguring their dining rooms for social distancing and equipping team members with masks, digital thermometers, and disposable menus. Dine-in restaurants are attempting to serve customers with a pent-up need to get out of the house and restart some semblance of normal. Some of these patrons comply with social distancing and mask use, but others are defiantly ignoring these guidelines. This leaves restaurants — specifically, front-of-house employees — tasked with managing customer compliance on top of trying to provide great customer service.

To balance these varied levels of customer cooperation with protecting the health and safety of everyone in the restaurant, team member training is critical. As reopening guidelines and guest attitudes change and evolve, restaurants must continuously monitor what’s happening both inside and outside their four walls so they can train team members to handle guest challenges and update training based on the shifting service environment.

Below is a step-by-step plan for quickly creating and adapting your team member training program in response to COVID-19 guidelines and customer demands:

1. Train team members on scenarios as well as tools. Most team member training programs focus on tools and procedures, like how to use a digital thermometer to take a customer’s temperature, or how to sanitize guest tables. These protocols are obviously important, but what about when a guest refuses to wear a mask? Create a list of possible guest challenges and conduct role-playing sessions so team members are equipped to handle touchy situations, especially those that put other guests and team members at risk, and when to involve a manager. It’s also crucial to remind team members why following their training is essential — not just to them but to guests and the larger community.

2. Review federal, state, and local guidelines every week. Assign one of your managers or your Safety Officer with staying on top of restaurant operating guidelines. By having one person in charge of monitoring these mandates, it places the responsibility on one person and eliminates the need for all managers to keep up with this information.

3. Conduct regular safety and compliance walk-throughs. During each shift, the manager on duty must walk the dining room to make sure team members and guests are complying with all service and safety guidelines. This helps take some of the enforcement pressure off of team members and demonstrates your restaurant’s commitment to the health and safety of all.

covid cleaning
Frequent sanitizing should be outlined in your SOPs

4. Use pre-shift meetings as a key communications tool. Take a few minutes before each shift to gather all team members and discuss how the restaurant is adhering to COVID guidelines. Make it a point to cover a different topic each time, like hand washing, sanitizing, and mask use, to keep team members engaged. If someone on the team has done an exceptional job, recognize and praise them in front of their colleagues. Pre-shift meetings are a great opportunity to answer questions and alert team members to any new training requirements.

5. Conduct weekly management meetings. Gather all managers once a week to review any new guidelines or requirements identified by your designated manager or Safety Officer that might require new training. In addition, each manager presents what they’ve observed during their shifts — success stories, new challenges, and recommended changes to existing procedures.

6. Provide team members access to the latest information, tools, and training. Team members are more likely to carry out what they’ve been trained to do when you make compliance as easy as possible. Make Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), FAQs, and training information readily available through employee bulletin boards or go digital with restaurant operations software.

7. Deliver ongoing team member support. As part of their shift walks, managers should identify team members who may need additional compliance and guideline training. The goal is not to punish but to provide additional support to help those team members be successful. Support can take the form of on-the-spot coaching, an offline conversation, or retraining on specific procedures or scenarios. Providing this level of oversight and development makes it clear to team members that compliance is an ongoing priority.

8. Lather, rinse, repeat. This process of presenting a training plan, administering the training, and supporting the training with oversight and coaching, is critical to making your COVID compliance efforts successful. In fact, this process can be used for any restaurant training program, including the introduction of new menu items, upselling, and food safety.

As restaurants continue to feel their way through a complex and confusing path to normalcy, training all team members should be a constant goal. Team member training is not a “set it and forget it” effort. With the rapid pace of change in today’s hospitality environment, safeguarding the health and safety of your team members and guests is your most important endeavor.


Restaurant Reopening: Alleviating Fear

May 27, 2020

After a nearly two-month nationwide lockdown, the US economy is finally starting to open up. As of today, all 50 states are at least partially open. If you stepped outside this recent Memorial Day weekend or watched internet footage of celebrations, you would think that people forgot that a pandemic even exists–throngs gathered in public places, many ignoring social distancing and facial covering guidelines. The fact of the matter is, no matter how eager people are for things to get back to normal, things are still not normal. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States and according to the World Health Organization Program Director Dr. Mark Ryan, “We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up.”

Let’s take a look at some timely statistics to get a better understanding of where things stand. Surveys from McKinsey & Company reveal that 80 percent of American consumers who have not yet returned to out-of-home activities are “are largely waiting for medical authorities to voice their approval, safety measures to be put in place, and a vaccine to be developed.”  Datassential reports that 57 percent of people are more concerned about a public-health crisis over 43 percent who are more concerned about an economic crisis.

Additionally, consumer confidence is lower than it was in early March as shown from a recent study from Morning Consult. Further, businesses have strict safety mandates to follow in each state and county where they operate. Complying with proper health protocols is top of mind for consumers and businesses alike. This coupled with the fact that many are feeling a negative financial impact from COVID proves that businesses, particularly restaurants, need to establish real value and differentiate themselves from the competition.

It’s not just the consumers–workers are fearful, too. A survey of 1,000 American workers conducted by PwC illuminated many concerns about returning to work. 56 percent stated they would prefer that their employers provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks. 51 percent wanted customers to be required to follow safety and hygiene practices.

A man prepares for a food delivery trip during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what restaurant owners need to do to assuage the valid concerns that both their employes and guests have during this crisis:

  • Follow mandates as outlined by your local and state governments: this may vary among states but would usually include reducing dine-in capacity, strict sanitation protocols, following social distancing (for ever one in the establishment), establish a maximum amount of guests per table, and restrictions on bar service.
  • PPE for your employees. Invest in personal protective equipment for your employees. This includes facial coverings, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and sneeze guards.
  • Establish work guidelines. Create a plan for how to deal with employees who feel they may have contracted COVID, or whether or not they have concerns about their personal safety. Share these guidelines with employees so they understand you have procedures in place to handle their concerns.
  • Commitment of Safety: post on your website a statement on how you are following guidelines that ensure the safety of both patrons and employees. Make it clear that their health if your priority.
  • Use social media. Utilize social media to illustrate that your restaurant following proper safety guidelines and procedures. Remind them that you are still offering multiple options for ordering–curbside pickup, takeout, contact-less delivery and drive-thru.

If you have questions about how to strategically reopen during this difficult time, Synergy is here to assist. Please contact us with your concerns about navigating this new environment.


New Normal for Restaurants?

Apr 29, 2020

With strict stay-at-home orders in effect and limited businesses open, carry out, and delivery are the only options permitted to foodservice operations. Now, as states begin to open their economy, restaurant owners are looking for ways to create a safe environment for their guests while adhering to recommendations by state and federal guidelines. There are many factors restaurants want to consider before reopening, including cleanliness and sanitation, to-go and delivery, social distancing, and updated menu options.

What we expect to see in the coming months:

Face coverings and gloves: All restaurant staff may be required to wear some type of face mask including, staff in the back of the house and the front of the house. All kitchen workers would be required to wear disposable gloves. Whether or not guests will have to wear one remains in question. Currently, San Francisco’s mayor has ordered restaurants to turn away customers who aren’t wearing a face covering.

Sneeze guards: Not only for use at buffet stations, sneeze guards, or acrylic barriers may also be seen at the checkout stand as an extra measure of precaution. Plexiglass situated between diners may not be too far-fetched, either.

Contactless payments: Say goodbye to cash (for now) and say hello to more contact-free payment options. This includes accepting payments by phone, online, or through a mobile app.

UV light: Standard cleaning procedures will be more stringent. Restaurant owners may invest in UV sterilizing cabinets for kitchen knives and other UV light technology to provide increased sanitation throughout the restaurant.

Limited occupancy: With the term “social distancing” now ingrained in all our minds, it will come as no surprise that restaurants will limit the number of people that enter at a time. States like Tennessee are mandating a restriction of 50% occupancy rate, and Texas is preparing to reopen restaurants at 25% capacity.

No physical menus: Laminated menus will no longer be available and will instead be replaced with single-use, disposable, paper menus to mitigate the spread of germs.

Updated menu options: Do not expect dine-in traffic to increase—customers will continue to expect to have take-out options that cater to their needs. Restaurants will need to update their menus options to include family-style meals.

Denying service: Guests may notice signage stating that they may not enter if they have a fever or feel ill. Temperature checks of guests may become standard practice.

The fact is, the outside world is going to look and feel a lot different than it did before, particularly at restaurants. If you would like more information on reopening your restaurant, please see our COVID-19 resources. Please note that Synergy is available for remote support at discounted rates during this time.


From Spirits to Hand Sanitizer

Apr 02, 2020

The coronavirus has taken a huge personal and economic toll on well, everyone. Many businesses have essentially been forced to cease operations or severely cut back their workforce during this crisis to slow the spread of the novel virus. The hospitality industry has especially been hit hard in multiple ways. Restaurants have been mandated to stop allowing dine-in guests and only offer drive-thru, delivery, or carryout, all while the general public has been told to stay at home.

With public fear of viral transmissions continuing to grow, the trustworthiness of eating food from outside the home is dropping. This phenomenon is worrisome to most restaurant owners. However,  some food and beverage businesses are pivoting beyond offering takeout by changing their entire business model and offering. 

No doubt, people are finding several items hard-to-find in stores and online: face masks, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer. High demand and hoarding have made these products a scarcity, and unfortunately, many feel afraid and vulnerable without some of these safety products. Innovative-thinking distilleries have come to the rescue turning their key ingredient—ethanol alcohol– into something we all need now—hand sanitizer.

From Los Angeles to Maine, distilleries are trying to do their part. The recipe is simple: you’ll need at least 80 percent ethanol alcohol plus hydrogen peroxide glycerol and distilled water, according to the WHO. For some distillers, it was a no-brainer solution to the shortage. Several distilleries have donated their hand sanitizers, while others have options for others to purchase.


It’s not just your neighborhood brewery getting into the hand-sanitizing arena. Last weekend, Anheuser-Busch announced that it would redirect its sports and entertainment investments and begin producing hand sanitizer and donating it to the Red Cross. Tito’s vodka has joined in on the effort and said it would donate the hand sanitizers to their community and those most in need.

If you’re seeking a place to get hand sanitizer, Parade did a great job compiling a list of distilleries across the nation who are producing them. You can see the list here.

Synergy applauds the resourcefulness and generosity of these distillers, who are making a positive change through creative ingenuity


Restaurant Finances: Critical Steps to Take Now and Before Reopening

Mar 26, 2020

With so many restaurants taking massive hits to the bottom line in the current crisis, there are a number of financial tactics to put in place now to help control costs, get a handle on inventory, and establish an accurate P&L Sheet. In addition, once dine-in business makes a come-back, you’ll want to take additional steps to be prepared for new business. It’s time to set yourself up for future success and plan for cost adjustments to maximize financial success.

What to Do Today

  • Take a full inventory and place a value on that inventory
  • Track all lost product and assign a cost based on inventory
  • List and calculate all Accounts Payable
  • List and calculate all tax liabilities, including sales, payroll, and property taxes; pay these on time to avoid incurring penalties
  • List and calculate ongoing payroll costs (salaried managers, etc.)
  • List and calculate all Fixed Costs
  • List all short- and long-term debt; product balance sheet
  • Project cash flow through 7/1/2020
  • Review general liability insurance for business interruption provision and determine what is the deductible amount
  • Stop all non-essential services
  • Professionally shut down all non-essential refrigeration
  • Keep all utilities set for 65/78 degrees to conserve costs
  • Ask landlord for rent deferment
  • Ask all vendors for payment delays
  • Curtail all marketing services

Take a full inventory and place a value on that inventory

What to Do Before You Re-Open

  • Take a full inventory
  • Calculate COGS loss
  • Call all vendors to find out:
    • What is owed
    • What they have on-hand
    • When can they restart services and distribution?
    • What are the new terms, if any?
  • Zero out POS
  • Call landlord to discuss rent situation
  • Project cash flow 60 days out, including taxes, rent, distributor costs, and utilities
  • Call all essential vendors to determine status on HVAC, refrigeration, and plumbing
  • Cost out all new schedules; trim where necessary and start with fresh staffing levels. Now is the time to make the changes you wanted to make.
  • Start with new and/or limited menu; ramp up over a 60-day period

Doing Good During COVID-19 Times

Mar 26, 2020

The world, as we know it now, has changed. From business to personal life, everything has been upended—even on a global scale. While everyone on Earth is digesting the news and trying to adjust to a new way of life, it’s challenging to sort through all the chaos and bad news. In these grim times, it’s a breath of fresh air to read uplifting stories about people doing good and giving back.

This new environment we see ourselves in spares no one. Unfortunately, in what seems like overnight, people young and old are finding themselves food insecure. Whether it is due to a sudden layoff or because children can no longer depend on the meals provided at schools to feed them, hunger is hitting home. Thankfully, kind-hearted individuals are trying to do what they can to combat this.

Take, for instance, celebrity chef José Andrés, who has converted his Mercado Little Spain restaurant into a community kitchen providing takeout meals with substantial discounts or, in some cases, free. Big chains are joining in on the giving: Burger King is offering two free kids meals with any purchase when you use their app. Moe’s Southwest Grill is giving a free kid’s entrée with every adult entrée purchased. Over at &pizza, they’re giving away free pizza to all healthcare workers and hospital staff. Local restaurants are also doing their part to feed our health care workers and residents alike. Large institutions like Disney Resorts have reportedly donated their surplus food to help local communities. Excess inventory of vegetables, fruit, dairy, packaged goods, and banquet meals was donated to Second Harvest Food Bank.

What about hospitality workers who’ve suddenly found themselves jobless? At Furlough Kitchen, a Dallas pop-up nonprofit, laid-off hospitality workers can receive a free curbside pick-up meal Monday through Saturday beginning March 25th. In West Palm Beach, Hospitality Helping Hands or H3, is also helping feed hospitality workers who’ve been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On their first day, they provided over 1,200 meals to those in need at no cost. H3, like many nonprofits, relies on donations to keep their operations going. Feel free to check out their respective websites and consider donating.

It’s a great time to help others in need right now, and any good news is a little ray of light while we navigate these uncharted times.


Pivot Strategy for Curbside and Delivery

Mar 18, 2020

As states and the federal government limit restaurants to drive-thru, take-out, and delivery business, foodservice establishments are forced to pivot their business model overnight. Third-party delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub are responding with free delivery and lower percentage fees but as more people hunker down at home, these services may not keep pace with demand. 

By switching to curbside pickup and self-run delivery, restaurants can maintain a level of cash flow, provide work for key staff members, and serve their local communities during these incredibly challenging times. And while it’s tough right now to think about it, this crisis will end and guests will flock to restaurants once again. Weathering this public health crisis presents operators the opportunity to hone their systems for survival today and prosperity tomorrow.

Knowing Your Guest: Evolving Perceptions and Concerns

We’ve all seen the news reports of empty grocery store shelves, and Costco lines circling the block. As concern for personal health and safety skyrockets, public perception surrounding the safety of restaurant food grows. According to a Datassential survey conducted during March 13 and 14, consumer’s fears are focused on the cleanliness of employees and food safety. Based on previous viral outbreaks like Norovirus and E-Coli, today’s restaurant guests are acutely aware of hygiene issues in restaurants and workers coming in sick. 

These concerns, coupled with the unknowns surrounding coronavirus, compound each other in the minds of consumers nervous about home confinement and getting access to essentials. In putting together a business strategy focused on take-out and delivery, it’s critical for restaurants to provide verbal, written, and demonstrated policies that address customer fears. 

Below we’ve included detailed and actionable steps on how to pivot to today’s restaurant business reality while building trust with customers, staff, and the community. This plan is based on three objectives; namely, cutting expenses, preserving sales, and improving operations.

Step 1: Cut Your Menu

A smaller and more focused takeout and delivery menu helps reduce expenses and complexity in this critical time. You also want to reduce menu complexity for your customers who are undoubtedly overwhelmed during these uncertain times. When paring down your menu, look at your product mix and identify top sellers along with items with good profit margins and those that are easy to make. Look for menu items that cross-utilize a number of ingredients to keep inventory low. 

Most important, select menu items that will look and taste great out of a to-go box. For some customers, their take-out order is an introduction to your food. It’s critical to make a great first impression so stick with items like undressed salads, cold sandwiches, and sauced foods for your to-go menu. Items that don’t hold up well include hot fried foods, nachos and quesadillas, and delicate fish.

Beyond your standard menu items, consider adding family meals and meal kits to your to-go menu for a value-driven price for families on limited budgets. These can include pre-cooked mains and sides with storage and reheating instructions, or build-your-own meal kits for items like tacos or rice bowls. Offering multiple days worth of meals for a discounted price are attractive to customers who need to watch their spending. Designing to-go items tailored to the unique needs of your customers demonstrates your commitment to them, and reinforces your positive brand image in their eyes.

Step 2: Pay Attention to Packaging

Your to-go packaging is just as important as the food inside, so make sure that team members who package to-go meals understand what packaging to use for each item. To address customer concerns about food handling, use a sticker to alleviate any worries about tampering. Create a checklist for your to-go orders to ensure that team members are checking order accuracy, correct packaging, and utensils. On this checklist, it’s helpful to include a list of specific cleaning and sanitizing procedures you’re following in the kitchen to reassure customers about your commitment to safe practices.

Step 3: Enforce Food Safety and Employee Health Policies

Considering the public’s concern about restaurant kitchen cleanliness and food handling procedures, it’s more important than ever to retrain and reinforce proper hygiene and sanitation practices. Below are a few ideas to help you exceed these standards:

  • Managers should familiarize themselves with the CDC’s guidelines on hygiene, as well as answers to questions about food and the coronavirus
  • Create a team member check-in procedure to make sure they are not showing any signs of illness, their uniforms are clean, and they are practicing appropriate personal hygiene practices.
  • Retrain all team members on correct handwashing and glove usage. Set a 15-minute kitchen timer all day to remind every team member to change gloves and wash their hands.
  • Retain kitchen team members on sanitizer bucket and solution usage. Quat sanitizer solution is effective for only two hours or if it becomes dirty. Set a 60-minute kitchen timer to remind team members to fill a clean sanitizer bucket with fresh sanitizer solution.
  • Set a regular schedule for a manger to check dishwasher functioning and water temperature, as well as usage and inventory levels of required cleaning and sanitizing chemicals. Place orders when 25% of chemical pars have been reached.
  • Ensure that all to-go packaging, napkins, and utensils are stored underneath a shelf or tabletop, wrapped in a bag, or are turned upside down to prevent physical contamination. Keep packaging inventory in cases until needed.
  • Instruct managers to monitor the kitchen for food safety compliance and spot-train as needed.

Step 4: Develop Low- or No-Contact Guest Service Steps

When setting up procedures for taking, filling, and completing to-go and delivery orders, design each step to minimize contact between team members and guests for everyone’s health and safety. As you develop your service procedures, include ways to demonstrate your commitment to recommended hygiene steps. Below is a set of recommended steps of service for to-go and delivery orders:

  • If you’re using third-party delivery services, encourage guests to place their orders on your website by clicking links to delivery companies. Many are waiving restaurant fees if guests place orders from the restaurant website.
  • If your POS is enabled with touch-free payments, encourage guests to set up Android or Apple Pay through your website and social media feeds.
  • For guests using a third-party delivery service, let them know  on your website that they can request a no-contact delivery by texting their driver.
  • Designate a manager or shift supervisor to take phone orders and enter them accurately in your POS system. Make sure to capture a guest name and phone number for each order and a pick-up time for advance orders. For curbside pickup orders, provide guests with a phone number to call when they arrive for their order.
  • For advance orders, package orders no more than 20 minutes in advance to maintain food temperature and quality.
  • Package all orders using the above-mentioned order checklist and a clean set of gloved hands. Once the order is filled and checked, staple the checklist to the outside of the order bag.
  • When guests arrive and call for their order, have a greeter wearing gloved hands open the door and direct them to the cashier. If the guest is paying with a credit card, the cashier uses hand sanitizer and puts on a new pair of gloves before ringing up the purchase. Once the cashier hands the credit card back to the guest, the cashier removes and discards their gloves in front of the guest.
  • Place signs at the cashier and on the front door listing specific cleaning and hygiene practices you are following to instill confidence in guests.
  • Consider using staff members as delivery people, as long as they have required personal auto insurance. Train your staff to deliver orders while wearing new gloves for each order and by calling the guest to let them know their order has been placed at their front door. 

Step 5: Make Marketing Organic and Authentic

In this precarious climate, you may resist the use to market to your guests for fear of looking opportunistic. You can avoid this by taking a “let’s help each other” messaging approach. With more of the population facing home confinement, a message of caring and honesty makes a genuine and lasting impact. 

Some marketing and messaging suggestions include:

  • Have your top leaders and owners post to social media instead of your marketing team. This may sound counterintuitive but their lack of polish will make their message feel more authentic. 
  • Be forthcoming and honest in your messaging. Everyone is facing a new set of challenges right now, so encourage guests to do business with you so you can provide them with freshly prepared foods brought directly to them.
  • Ask guests to post a review on Yelp that describes the great experience they had with your take-out and delivery.
  • On social media, post photos of your team members wearing gloves or sanitizing the kitchen to emphasize cleanliness. If you are donating food to local charities, make sure to spread the social word.
  • Besides bounceback coupons, you can include kids coloring books and crayons, small toys and games, or cookies with a handwritten message to make a heartfelt connection with guests.

No one knows what the next few days and weeks will hold for the foodservice industry. By putting these strategies in place, restaurants can work  to weather the coronavirus storm and ultimately come through with a stronger brand identity in their communities and a more efficient business overall.