A GUIDE TO REOPENING YOUR RESTAURANT POST COVID-19

2020 was a tough year for everyone, particularly for those working in the hospitality industry. Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants were forced to close their doors for months at a time and many people were unable to work. We had to keep apart, unable to share food and drink together or enjoy each other’s company.

But there is hope on the horizon. Here in the UK, the first people have started receiving the vaccine and we can look ahead to summer 2021 with some optimism. Being in lockdown has made us all realise just how much we miss our favourite eating spots. It has also shown the cultural importance of restaurants as places for us to get together and enjoy quality time with friends and family.

At REKKI, we’re confident that things will get better for restaurants in 2021. The pent-up demand is going to be huge – when Australia came out of lockdown in December, restaurant bookings were up a massive 60% year-on-year. We’ve all had enough of Zoom calls and online interaction and as soon as it’s safe, restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes will be overflowing with customers again. Even if social distancing measures are still in place, summer 2021 will be a real boom time for restaurants.

We’ve put together this guide to help business owners in the UK reopen their doors. It outlines some of the most important things you need to consider when reopening your restaurant. We’ve also included advice on the actions you need to take to protect yourself, your staff and your customers during coronavirus.

What planning & prep do I need to do before reopening?

First of all, you’ll need to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and share the results with your staff. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of your workers, including from the risks of COVID-19. It’s important to involve your staff in the decision-making to ensure everyone feels safe returning to work. As one REKKI user put it:

It’s about being there as a human more than just as a business owner. Our staff aren’t just a number on the payroll for us. They’re our everything – we’ve invested a lot of time into them as they have in us and we owe them everything. So we need to be there for them, to support them in every way they need. Alex Fisher, restaurant owner and REKKI user

As well as identifying specific areas of risk for your business, you’ll need to introduce more general measures such as:

  • Making sure any workers who feel unwell do not come to work and follow stay at home guidelines
  • Reminding staff to wear face masks where required
  • Reminding customers to wear face masks when moving around the premises (e.g. by putting up signs)
  • Increasing the frequency of surface cleaning, as well as cleaning of any high-contact points you have identified (e.g. door handles)
  • Instructing staff to wash their hands more frequently, especially before and after handling food, and after touching high-contact surfaces

Before you reopen, you should check you have enough PPE equipment for your staff (face masks, gloves, hair nets), and make sure they are all fully trained in any new procedures. 

It’s important to consider any risks to food safety caused by changes to the business. If you’re changing your menu or preparation methods, remember to review allergen management and reheating processes. If you’re introducing a takeaway service, make sure to consider temperature control while awaiting collection or during delivery. Update your food hygiene procedures accordingly and record any changes in your HACCP plan. It’s also worth checking that your registered waste carrier services are running as expected to avoid any potential build up of waste on site.

You will need to inform your local food authority of your plans to reopen, and of any changes in service, such as introducing a new delivery or takeaway service.

What site checks should I carry out?

Carry out a deep clean of the entire site before reopening, making sure that all food preparation areas are clean and disinfected (this includes work surfaces, equipment and utensils). When assessing the site, you should also check that all areas are free from pests and any evidence of pest activity.

The government guidance identifies ventilation as a key way of reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Before you reopen, check whether you need to service or adjust your ventilation systems, and improve ventilation in kitchen and dining areas wherever possible.

Ensure you have enough hand washing and cleaning materials before you reopen. (You’ll be using a lot more soap, sanitiser and paper towels than normal). Also remember to check that hot and cold running water is available at all sinks and hand wash basins.

When you reopen, you’ll need to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection, so it’s a good idea to create a new cleaning schedule and give staff a chance to become familiar with it. Shared equipment and high-contact areas in particular will need to be cleaned more regularly, and items such as chairs, which wouldn’t normally be cleaned very often, will also need to be wiped down between sittings. You might also want to set up hand sanitiser stations for staff and customers at key points around the site (such as just inside the front door for customers to use when they arrive).

What equipment checks need to be done?

Thoroughly clean all of your equipment and check that everything is working properly. There may be damage if equipment wasn’t turned off properly, or issues caused by lack of use. It’s worth checking the warranty on your equipment and knowing who to call in case it needs maintenance. Verify temperatures on the relevant equipment (e.g. ovens) and re-calibrate where necessary for time or temperature. Run dishwashers and glasswashers empty on a hot cycle before use. Flush through any taps and other equipment with water systems – making sure to consider Legionella risks.

Check fridges, chilled display equipment and freezers are working properly. Remove and refresh any ice left in machines and dispensers. And when restocking, leave enough time for them to reach the required temperature.

What about ingredients & products?

Before reopening, check with your suppliers that you can obtain your usual raw materials and ingredients. If you are struggling to get what you need through your regular channels, or if you want to discover new products, REKKI can help. Use REKKI’s supplier directory to connect with new suppliers in your area, source new ingredients and cut down on your food costs.

Look over your existing stock, checking for any damage to the packaging which might affect the safety of the food. Look out for any evidence of temperature abuse which may render the food unsafe (refer to temperature control records wherever available). Check the use-by and best before dates, and as always, make sure that allergen information is accurate and available for all products.

For any foods that were frozen on closure, check that the labelling and records are sufficient to allow the safe use of the food, and that the length of storage is in line with your assessment at the point of freezing.

What social distancing measures do I need to consider?

When you reopen, it’s essential you have measures in place to enforce social distancing in your restaurant. Provide two metre social distancing wherever possible. Keep groups of customers apart by spacing out tables and managing the number of customers in the venue. You can also use some of these techniques to minimise contact for customers and staff:

  • Space out the arrival times for guests if you have an online booking system
  • Allow customers to book outdoor tables
  • Use floor markers to indicate where to stand and the direction of movement while inside (many REKKI restaurants have introduced a one-way system)
  • Use screens to separate tables, and at the till to protect front of house workers
  • Provide only disposable condiments (or clean non-disposable condiments after each use)
  • Encourage contactless ordering and payment methods

It’s just as important to think about social distancing measures for staff. You might want to try organising teams into fixed bubbles and putting them on the same rota – this will ensure the same people work the same shifts and cut down on mixing among staff. In the kitchen, try to give each chef an individual workstation (which you can tape out on the floor) and if possible arrange for people to work side-by-side or back-to-back rather than facing each other. You can also map out a kitchen flow system to prevent staff from crossing paths.

Government Guidelines Checklist

You can find a comprehensive reopening checklist here: https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/reopening-checklist-for-food-businesses-during-covid-19-form.pdf

Review the full government advice on working safely during coronavirus: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/restaurants-offering-takeaway-or-delivery