How Can Food Retail Businesses Navigate Reduced Capacity?

Food retail stores are being affected by government mandates stating they must reduce customer capacity.
Food retail stores are being affected by government mandates stating they must reduce customer capacity.

Physical or social distancing is at the top of everyone’s mind recently as governments push for the public to maintain at least a 1 meter distance from each other. Physical distancing has been deemed an essential action that everyone can take to slow the spread of COVID-19, along with increased hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes properly. This recommendation is having a direct effect on food retail businesses in several ways.

Limited capacity allowed in stores

One of the main ways that food retail stores are being affected is through mandates stating they must reduce customer capacity. By reducing the amount of customers allowed in an establishment at one time, the hope is that the spread of COVID-19 in retail food businesses can be curbed.

If you have been mandated to reduce your capacity, there are some helpful steps you can take to navigate reduced customer capacity.

Set up boundaries

If you are a larger food retailer, you should consider setting up physical barriers outside of the premises. Larger food retailers that see a high number of customers daily, such as Costco, have done this to restrict the amount of customers that can enter the store and to help enforce crowd control. This way, before customers even get close to the entrance of the store, they are lined up with adequate spacing of at least 1 meter between them. Along with ensuring physical distancing, this also stops customers from crowding around the entrance to the establishment.

Designate staff to the entrance

With capacity restrictions in place, it is essential that food retailers actively count the number of customers they are allowed into the store at one time. It is extremely easy to go over the capacity limit and put the food business at risk. Choose a few staff members who will be dedicated to standing at the front entrance of the establishment to let customers in. A constant tally must be kept on how many customers have been let in, and once max capacity has been reached, they must not let any more customers enter the premises until a customer has exited. This requires math skills, reliability and focus. Make sure to allocate staff wisely.

Address complaints

Customers may be visibly upset if they are restricted from entering the establishment or told to wait in a line with other customers. Many people are under increased stress and pressure recently and struggling to come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an important opportunity to demonstrate calm for all of your customers by addressing any complaints promptly and satisfactorily. While you cannot make exceptions for any customers, you can make them feel heard by listening to them and calmly explaining why the restrictions are in place.

Display signage

Displaying signage at the entrance to the food business or within the parking lot is an effective way to communicate with your customers. This will help customers to understand what to expect when they come to the entrance of the store, and why these measures are being put in place. Informing your customers of the importance of a reduced capacity will also help to garner support and understanding for the situation.

Care for your staff

Reduced capacity means less customers in the store which results in less demand for staff per shift. Rather than letting go of a number of staff completely, consider slightly reducing the hours of several staff members. This will allow you to schedule much more staff members within a given day, and allow everyone to keep some shift hours, even if they are reduced.

You can also take the opportunity to see if there are any areas in the business that need extra attention and that staff can be re-allocated to. The COVID-19 pandemic has made food retailers increase cleaning and sanitizing protocols considerably, and many are choosing to dedicate more staff specifically to that task. You can also dedicate staff to ensuring that physical distancing between customers is enforced once they are within the store. Now is the time to get creative and utilize your staff effectively to stop the spread of COVID-19.