Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Asia: How restaurants can uphold hygiene status and reassure diners

11 February 2020

By: Adibah Isa

Should restaurants send an advisory to diners? Restaurants in Asia weigh in with best practices to adopt.

A global health emergency has risen in the form of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). A family of viruses, it causes illness ranging from the common cold to more severe infection that manifests in symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. As the outbreak continues to consume headlines, a cautious sentiment against dining out may start to develop. 

As this precautionary change in lifestyle does not bode well with restaurants, what are some of the best ways restaurants can cope? We hear from restaurants themselves and compile some of the best practices that the restaurant community should consider.

Implementing precautionary measures

Across Singapore, restaurants are already seeing a dip in numbers since the outbreak of the Coronavirus in January. As such, restaurant staff are stepping up efforts to alleviate diners of their worries, ensuring that they’re taking responsibility during this period. 1-Group — which owns and operates a portfolio of restaurants in Singapore such as rooftop bar 1-Altitude, Italian restaurant Monti and Basque speciality Una — has taken added precautions even before Singapore’s Ministry of Health raised the risk assessment level to DORSCON Orange. 

“Relevant temperature taking equipment has been enforced at the entrance of the restaurants as the first-level deterrent,” said 1-Group’s digital marketing lead, Cheryl Wu. “Tables and seating spaces have been set further apart, and fitted with disinfectant wipes. Sanitising hand wash has also been placed in all toilets, washing areas and traffic touchpoints across all outlets.”

1-Group has also ensured that their staff are on board with these precautionary measures. The frequency of cleaning and sanitation in restaurants and their kitchens have been increased, with frontline staff being briefed to go on a mandatory leave of absence if they are unwell or came in close contact with someone who is.

In Shanghai, a metropolis that’s geographically closer to the epicentre of the Coronavirus in Wuhan, restaurants are swift in taking action. “Staff are 100% careful and fully prepared, because everybody is scared,” shared Chuck Xu, marketing director of Urban Thai, a restaurant in Jing’An, Shanghai. Sharing similar precautionary measures, the health and well-being of its restaurant staff are monitored daily, with staff wearing gloves and masks.

Tell diners: No fear?

With fears of how social interaction can impact diners’ health, many are opting to cook at home during the Coronavirus outbreak, or rely on food delivery services instead. While it might seem counterintuitive to encourage diners to adopt a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude when it comes to dining out in a time of anxiety, restaurants can alleviate worries by putting out advisories on what’s been done to assure the public. 

“With the risk assessment now raised to dorscon orange, restaurants need to assure its patrons that they are going above and beyond by doubling up on sanitisation efforts and dining in an environment that safeguards their well-being,” said 1-Group’s Wu. 

Here are pointers that restaurants can consider including in their advisory to diners:

  • Ensure diners that their safety and well-being is your utmost concern.
  • Inform diners that your restaurant is monitoring the Coronavirus situation and taking necessary precautions to provide a clean and safe environment.
  • List out all the measures your restaurant is taking, and what diners can expect to do before and during their dining experience.
  • Add a reminder for diners to stay home should they feel unwell.

Additionally, we’ve reached out to our database of restaurants in the region for their advice. Here’s a compiled checklist of the best practices to adopt. Restaurants can tweak this to suit your needs.

Managing staff morale and well-being:

  • Before each service, conduct briefings for staff and share the latest updates regarding the Coronavirus, reminding them of the precautionary measures to take.
  • Send home any staff who show flu-like symptoms, or staff who have travelled in the last two weeks.
  • Temperature checks for all staff before each service.
  • Temperature checks for all suppliers who enter the restaurant and kitchen.
  • Ensure staff practise frequent hand washing with soap and a sanitiser. Managers can consider implementing an hourly check.

Managing service:

  • Regularly clean and disinfect all objects and surfaces (including menus, iPads, tablets, door knobs, chairs, etc) that have been touched. Managers can consider implementing an hourly check.
  • Provide serving utensils for shared dishes.
  • Temperature checks for all diners before entering the restaurant.
  • Make alcohol-based sanitisers available at all major touchpoints: By the table, in the bathroom, by the entrance and exit.
  • Replenish and remind staff to change face masks after every service.

Managing reservations and tables:

  • Ease your reservation and deposit policy to allow for last minute cancellations according to diner’s health status.
  • Send out an advisory to all incoming diners who have made a reservation. Consider posting this on your digital channels, too.
  • Ensure that diners are not seated too close to one another. Tables should be more spaced out.

Managing costs for back-of-house:

  • Make small changes to your menu. Consider removing dishes that might not be in high demand at this time, such as raw items including oysters, sashimi, or seafood. 
  • Relook your ingredient list and order less where possible.

Keep calm and clean on

In summary, restaurants should take this opportunity to reinforce their standards around practicing good personal hygiene. Managers should stay up to date with the latest news and development of the Coronavirus, being mindful to react to facts from official verified sources, instead of hearsay.

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Adibah Isa

A digital and print journalist turned content manager for brands that believe in the power of storytelling.

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