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

By Gowri Chandra and Maria Yagoda
Updated April 30, 2020
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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.)

Jacob Lund / Getty Images

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.

Communal Table Podcast: Opening a Restaurant During a Pandemic

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.

"It's hard to see the future or even have just a moment of understanding that this will be OK, but just take it one day at a time, let emotions pass, take care of yourself," said chef Kwame Onwuachi on a recent episode of our Communal Table podcast. "You don't have to come out of this with a new skill or newfound purpose—don't have that kind of pressure on yourself."

He continued, "Be OK with not knowing what you're going to do next because it doesn't happen that often. In the restaurant industry we are very task-oriented and we know exactly what's happening next. When we quit a job, we already have started at another place."

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 yet). 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.

On April 16, the Paycheck Protection Program ran out of funds; now it's being replenished. We broke down what the second round of CARES Act funding could mean for your restaurant.

Many chefs and restaurateurs have insisted that current measures are not nearly enough to save restaurants. Tom Colicchio, Kwame Onwuachi, Naomi Pomeroy, and thousands more chefs and restaurant industry leaders have banded together to form the Independent Restaurant Coalition and advocate for more aggressive legislation. The new group has sent a letter to Congress demanding more assistance for independently run restaurants, which are uniquely disadvantaged in this current crisis.

"The plan so far is really insufficient to restaurants needs," said Tom Colicchio in a press conference. "We need additional funding. We’re not looking for a bailout—we’re looking to get back to work when we can get back to work. We were forced to shut down."

Chefs like Jose Andrés and Nina Compton are now calling for a $120 billion restaurant stabilization fund. "We are fighters,” said Andrés. “Nobody works harder than the millions of people that make this big family of independent restaurants. We are fighting to give restaurants a chance.”

In an new essay, restaurateur Bobby Stuckey warns that the closure of restaurants will deal a blow to the American economy that we haven’t seen in ages.

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. Many restaurants, however, have decided to temporarily shutter until restrictions are lifted, out of concern for the safety of their staff. Either way, restaurant owners are making painful choices as they adjust to a new model and try to do right by their staffs.

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, was 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."

For Steve Palmer's restaurants, delivery and takeout are just not cutting it. He’s managing partner at The Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which operates 16 restaurants in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. “For us, it's not viable from a business point of view that the revenues are so low,” he tells Food & Wine. It's an important stream of income for the employees, however; and the tips have been generous.

But it’s hard to scale these takeout efforts—and thereby employ more workers—while observing social distancing and limiting the number of chefs together in one kitchen. What’s more, some officials think that takeout itself is a public health risk.

“I've spoken with operators that think that from a public safety point of view, take out is irresponsible, that we just need to shut everything down,” Palmer says. “Listen, everybody gets to have their own opinion. And there's no guidebook for pandemics. So we're all just doing the best we can.”

As F&W restaurant editor Khushbu Shah wrote in her recent article "It's Time to Delete Your Delivery Apps," make sure to call restaurants directly when ordering delivery or takeout, so they can avoid the predatory commission fees of delivery platforms like Grubhub.

Supporting healthcare workers

Eleven Madison Park, which has effectively pivoted into a soup kitchen, is one of many restaurants across the country cooking meals for the people on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis: doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Daniel Humm and a team of former staffers are working 15-hour days making dishes like bolognese and braised beef for hospital workers and caretakers in New York City.

José Andrés, whose nonprofit World Central Kitchen is feeding healthcare workers across the country, just announced that when his restaurants reopen, doctors and nurses will eat for free.

Small American coffee shops and roasters are also stepping up to support healthcare workers and raise funds for coronavirus relief. Here's how they're giving back while still managing to keep the lights on.

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."

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.”

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.”

Wearing masks

"It would not be a bad idea for the cook staff," Dr. Detels tells us about running 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.