Practical ways to keep your staff and customers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

By Gowri Chandra and Maria Yagoda
Updated March 30, 2020

Note: The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Food & Wine is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, restaurants across the country are shutting down indefinitely, whether mandated by the government or proactively closing in an effort to contain the virus. (Here's a list of the all the states that have closed bars and restaurants, while allowing for takeout and delivery operations.)

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The closures affect millions of American workers, who are now out of jobs and navigating unemployment. This article is intended to help restaurant and hospitality industry workers navigate the impact of COVID-19. This post will be updated regularly.

Connecting your staff to resources

Millions of restaurant workers have been laid off as businesses shutter indefinitely. A slew of programs, grants, and resources—from grassroots efforts to government relief—have begun to take shape. Here is a roundup of many of them. Many restaurants have also created relief funds for their laid-off staff and have promoted them on Instagram.

There are also several local and national movements mobilizing to save the restaurant industry; check out many of them here.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with mental illness or addiction during this period, you can check out our F&W Pro Guide to Mental Health and Sobriety and share it far and wide.

Read more: What to Do When You've Been Laid Off from Your Service Job

Read more: I'm a Cook Whose Job Suddenly Disappeared. I Don't Know What to Do

Read more: Relief Programs for Restaurant Workers Laid Off Due to Coronavirus

Staying informed on new legislation

On March 28, President Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act into law. The bill contains provisions for restaurant businesses and expands loan options for small business owners (though not all programs are available today).

What does that mean for your business and employees?

We broke down everything you should know right now about the bill, from the details of the the Paycheck Protection Plan to the availability of Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Read our guide here.

Pivoting to takeout and delivery

As more and more restaurants and bars are mandated to close, businesses are expanding their options for takeout and delivery, or even launching them for the very first time. Read our story on how to prepare your restaurant for takeout and delivery, which includes tips from chefs around the country who are brainstorming new revenue streams.

“Right now, I’m thinking about an intersection of the following: Food that’s easy to produce, dishes that people want, and at a price point that is correct for the times,” said chef Amy Brandwein, of Centrolina and Piccolino in Washington, DC. “If you want to work with a delivery service, reach out right now. They’re being bombarded.”

In less than 24 hours, Boston chef Karen Akunowicz turned her award-winning Fox & the Knife into an entirely new concept: a takeway fresh pasta and specialty goods operation called Fox Knife. You can read about how she did it here.

Chef Ed Lee has launched a robust to-go menu for 610 Magnolia in Louisville. "The emphasis is on value and dishes that can hold for a long time,” said Lee. “We are considering that dishes may need to be rewarmed or even saved until the next day.”

Canlis, the Seattle fine-dining institution, were among the first to announce that they would be closing their dining room operations, at least for the time being, to launch pick-up and delivery concepts. "We’re shutting down our dining room and bringing the food out to you," the restaurant announced, long before state mandates began being announced. "Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now. Instead, this is one idea for safely creating jobs for our employees while serving as much of our city as we can."

Read more: How to Prepare Your Restaurant for Delivery and Takeout

Read more: How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Food Industry

Supporting the industry

As strange as things feel now, they're likely to get stranger. Hospitality industry workers are leaning on each other for support, encouragement, and advice as the crisis drags on. Industry United is a new Facebook group designed specifically to support restaurants during the COVID-19 outbreak: "This group exists for all of us in the industry to get together to talk about issues that are happening as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here we can ask questions, stay on top of information and help support each other through this trying time."

The F&W Pro Guide to Mental Health and Sobriety is a great resource to share with people who are struggling.

It's also an important moment for advocacy. At every level of the hospitality community—from chefs to servers, restaurateurs to bartenders—people are coming together, to support one another and to demand assistance from local, state, and federal leaders.

There's currently a Change.org petition, signed by Nancy Silverton, Alice Waters, Will Guidara, and thousands of others in the restaurant industry, urging the government to help save restaurants and bars.

“Just as many individuals live from paycheck to paycheck, so too do restaurants and bars. There’s no nest egg. No reserve fund. No glass to break in case of emergency,” the Change.org petition says. “We cannot work from home, and even if we temporarily convert to delivery and carry-out, we lose most of our revenue and the tips our employees depend upon to survive. Without significant help, many if not most of us will vanish, and our communities will be deprived of their gathering places, generosity, and memories old and yet to come.”

Read more: Chefs Launch Petition Urging Government to Help Restaurants and Bars

Read more: Local and Nationwide Movements Mobilize to Save the Restaurant Industry

There's no playbook for dealing with this crisis, which has left hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers jobless in a matter of days, but there are chefs and industry leaders who are trying to take leadership where the government will not. José Andrés, for example, is converting his D.C. and New York City restaurants into community kitchens.

For smaller restaurant owners, such measures may not feel possible. Many will have to make things up as they go until the government takes action to protect these businesses and the workers who are suffering the most.

"Some people don't want to work, some wanted to be home with family, so we're just focused now on giving shifts to those who need them," said Alison Wagner, of Dimes in New York. (The restaurant's spinoffs, Dimes Deli and Dimes Market, are still selling limited items.) "We know we're still in the early stages and just want to get our staff settled."

In response to the crisis, a slew of programs, grants, and resources—from grassroots efforts to government relief—have begun to take shape, along with a regularly updated Hospitality Industry Alliance | COVID-19 Facebook group. For a list of local and national resources for laid-off workers, see our roundup here.

Read more: As Coronavirus Shutters Restaurants Across the Country, a Swell of Support for Workers Rises Up

Read more: Anxious Restaurant Owners Await Government Action

Read more: New York Restaurant Creates Relief Fund for Undocumented Workers

Communicating PTO policies for sick employees

Aside from preventative self-quarantine, having sick employees remove themselves from the work environment—even if they’re not sure they’re sick, or they don’t think it’s coronavirus—is by far the most effective single action. According to the L.A. Department of Public Health, this is the number one step staff should take, outweighing even washing hands and sanitizing surfaces. Its importance cannot be overstated.

“The early stages of COVID-19 infection are really indistinguishable from things like flu,” Dr. Roger Detels, M.D, tells us. He’s the Dean Emeritus at UCLA School of Public Health. “So anybody that has any sort of respiratory symptoms, fever, or doesn't feel well really should stay at home and not come to work until they’re over the episode.”

Listen: How Restaurants Are Weathering Coronavirus

Having a policy in place is of little use if people don’t know about it or feel like they can actually use it.

Josh Weeks, co-owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Plumed Horse in the Bay Area, told his staff, “‘If you're sick, if you have any symptoms whatsoever, stay home. I don't care if it's for three days or two weeks, however long it takes, we will cover your pay. I want to make sure that we have a healthy staff who don't feel the need to come in because they have to pay bills."

Read more: As Coronovirus Spreads, Let Sick Restaurant Workers Stay Home—with Pay

Wearing masks

"It would not be a bad idea for the cook staff," Dr. Detels tells us about operating a takeout operation during the crisis. "They're actually bending over the food. And as they dish it all up and put it on the plate and put it out to be picked up by the waiters, there is an opportunity for respiratory droplets to travel, because the food is not held more than six feet away. Very few people have six foot arms.”

This might be operationally challenging for a variety of reasons: the discomfort of wearing a stuffy mask in an already-hot kitchen, ensuring masks are regularly stocked, and enforcing the rule.

Wiping down all surfaces 

Increasing the frequency of this basic sanitary procedure is a powerful step. Per this coronavirus restaurant guide from the L.A. Department of Public Health, high-touch surfaces deserving special attention include: counters, tabletops, refrigeration doors, cash register counters, bathroom fixtures, toilets, trash cans, and phones. They advise using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered product that cleans (removes germs) and disinfects (kills germs).

Limiting points of contact

Cash, as we’ve all heard at this point, is a carrier of germs. Encouraging guests to use their credit card limits concerns for themselves and staff alike. Even better, iPad platforms like Square allow patrons to not hand over their credit card to staff.

Keep your delivery drivers safe by following these guidelines.

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