This pandemic has been a truly unprecedented time for every industry, but restaurants and their staff have been hit particularly hard. Food services are essential and will most likely remain open in some capacity even if there's a second shut down. Until then, your waitstaff is directly interacting with customers every day, making them more vulnerable to catching the virus.
Epidemiologists continue to uncover more information about virus transmission. Initially, many believed that it was passed primarily through surface contact, but it's become clear with time that the virus is primarily airborne. Scientists have also found that masks are at least somewhat effective in keeping the wearer healthy even if someone who's infected with the virus isn't wearing a mask. This information is important for you and your servers and a great incentive to follow safety protocol. Here are a few starting points for keeping your waitstaff healthy. Remember it's always important to follow the guidelines of the CDC and consult a physician before implementing changes to make sure they're current and effective.
Educate your staff.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are unique in some ways—like the loss of smell and taste—and totally normal in others—headache and low-grade fever—which means that it isn't always easy to monitor. Take the time every week to go over the symptoms with your employees, so they're carefully monitoring themselves before they step foot into work. If they understand what they're looking for, there's less of a possibility of them unknowingly infecting their fellow employees or customers.
Education is your first line of defence when it comes to maintaining healthy employees. Encourage them to distance themselves from diners as much as possible, especially if the customer isn't wearing a mask. There'll be times when that's impossible—for example when they're delivering food from the kitchen—but having as little physical contact with customers will reduce their risk of catching COVID at work.
Your employees should be frequently washing their hands anyway, since they work with food; however, it doesn't hurt to remind them. Encourage waiters to wash or sanitize their hands after every interaction with the public. It's better safe, than sorry.
Apply for a small business loan.
Ensuring that your employees are safe will cost some money. For example, you should be providing them with PPE like masks and face shields if possible. A loan will allow you to do so without interrupting normal financial operations.
If you can find a way to provide paid time off for your employees during this time, that could make a huge difference when it comes to keeping everyone safe. Many people who have worked as waiters and waitresses have admitted to coming to work knowingly ill before COVID because they need the money. Even a small amount of paid sick leave will allow them to actually stay home if they're exhibiting symptoms.
Provide your staff with effective gear.
If you want everyone to remain safe, you need to make sure they have the resources they need to protect themselves. Purchasing reusable cloth masks for employees is a great way to reduce waste and avoid contributing to mask shortages. However, make sure you do your research before buying them. Not all reusable masks are as effective as others. First, make sure they're adjustable to provide a tight fit. Second, make sure the fabric is tightly woven and prevents aerosol particles from exiting into the air. You can read up on research done at the University of Chicago that compares different common fabrics and how well they're thought to prevent the spread of the virus.
Require mask-wearing at all times.
To keep your staff safe, they need to be wearing this safety equipment at all times. It might not be comfortable to wear for a whole shift, but if they're going to be in the common areas, they need to be wearing a mask. Encourage your employees to take breaks in their cars or distanced outside if they want to take their masks off. Masks seem to be the most useful defence against virus spread. A lot of break rooms are small and difficult to distance in, which is why it might be best to take their break out of the building.
Switch to outdoor seating.
Poor air circulation can contribute to the spread of the virus. Since your customers won't be eating with masks on, it's best to have them eating outside in the open. Many HVAC systems weren't designed with this kind of crisis in mind. Depending on the system you have, it could just be blowing viral particles around and around.
Research hasn't shown how long the virus can stay in the air indoors, making it a dangerous variable. In order to keep staff and customers safe, try to get permission to do patio seating or open up a part of your parking lot for dining instead. Airflow will be considerably better, it's cheaper to buy heating lamps than replace a whole HVAC system, and it'll be easier to distance customers outside as well.
If customers need to use the restroom during their meal, have a system in place to sanitize it after every customer if possible. This might seem tedious, but it could end up saving a life.
Encourage smart choices outside of work.
Your employees are only under your watch when they're on the clock; however, the choices they make in their free time can directly influence everyone else. In order to keep your business up and running, as well as keeping your team healthy, everyone needs to be making smart choices outside of the work environment. If you've armed them with the proper information, they should understand how to mitigate risk.
Encourage your employees to avoid traveling to states where they will need to quarantine when they come back. If they do travel, make sure they're not coming into work. If you hear that someone is planning on going to a large gathering, suggest that maybe they avoid that situation, or at least wear a mask and distance if it's unavoidable. Now, more than ever is a time for each person to think about their co-workers and truly work together to ensure everyone's safety.