Published 21 July 2020
While some businesses are being required to close their doors again due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, food businesses must be prepared in case of another closure.
Many food businesses have been given permission to reopen to the public in recent weeks as long as specific conditions are met and COVID-19 regulations are followed. These reopenings have been long awaited by many businesses, many of which have suffered from significant financial loss due to temporary closure. Unfortunately, some countries are beginning to see COVID-19 cases climb back up again after a slow reopening, prompting governments to pull back on easing restrictions. In these cases, some food businesses are being required to close their doors again and move back to providing take-out or delivery service only. This is a reality that is possible for many businesses across the world, so it is vital that food businesses be prepared. Here are some ways that food businesses can be prepared for any changes to COVID-19 restrictions:
During the lockdowns, many food businesses were required to close their doors to the pubic and only provide delivery or take-out service to customers. For some businesses this was not a possibility, but for others it was preferable to a complete shutdown as it allowed for some sort of business continuity and revenue generation. These business models required a different way of working than some businesses were used to, and many had to make significant changes to adapt and be successful with this type of business model.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing in some countries and jurisdictions, now is not the time to do away with the take-out or delivery model if it was implemented during the early days of the pandemic. Situations are still in flux around the world, and food businesses can easily be required to shut their doors again due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in their area. By keeping up with the take-out and delivery model, food businesses can adapt to a changing situation more easily and continue to bring in revenue despite any restriction setbacks.
For those businesses that continued to operate during shutdowns with take-out and delivery service, most had to operate with a reduced menu. This was due to many suppliers being closed or short on stock, as well as food businesses needing to adapt to the change in customer flow and the services they could offer. Even if businesses were providing take-out or delivery, on average there was significantly less customers that were purchasing meals. This meant that food businesses needed to cut down on the amount of food kept on the premises and make strategic decisions about streamlining the menu. Also, providing only take-out or delivery service required that food businesses cut back on their menu items. Not all dishes maintain their appearance and texture after traveling in a food container, and some dishes simply cannot be provided in this manner.
Despite the easing of restrictions in many areas at this time, it is advised not to begin ordering large quantities of food, moving back to a full menu or even adding complex dishes to the menu. If a lockdown is reinstated, food businesses who are affected will be required to close their doors again — and this can lead to major food waste and financial loss if there is too much food in stock. It is vital that food businesses continue to operate cautiously and maintain a reduced menu if it is feasible to do so.
Food businesses must maintain open and clear communication with customers about what the food business will do should there be a need to close up temporarily again. If a food business will continue to provide take-out and delivery services, make sure that this is clear to customers. This will help customers feel at ease knowing that they will still be able to get their favorite meals even if restrictions tighten again.
Also, food businesses should have a plan in place for communicating with customers should the business need to close. Signage for doors, windows or other areas of the business should obtained and kept on the premises in the event that they need to be used. Staff should also be trained on what to say to customers either in person or on the phone in the event that they will no longer be permitted to enter the premises.
Food business owners and management must also ensure that all staff members are kept up-to-date on the current situation. Keeping staff members in the dark about fluctuations in business operations can lead to confusion and distrust. All staff members need to be made aware of any tightening of restrictions that may be coming and how that may affect their roles in the business or their jobs. It is important to demonstrate to staff members that they are important and that management will always keep them updated on any changes.
After reopening to the public, food businesses should continue to have open and frequent communication with their suppliers. It is essential to know what the suppliers plan to do in the event of another shutdown or any changes that affect their operations. This allows food businesses to come up with their own plan and strategy should their suppliers become unable to fill orders. It is also helpful for food businesses to inform suppliers of their plans should they need to close down again; this allows for suppliers to be prepared too. Discussions about what to do and who to contact should orders need to be stopped are essential. These discussions can help reduce issues down the line should a shutdown happen.
If a food business does not have a pre-closure checklist in place, now is the time to create one. A pre-closure checklist helps food businesses to be prepared in the case that they are required to close again. This checklist should address items such as communicating with employees, retrieving workwear, ensuring suitable security for the premises, communicating with landlords and dealing with food in the establishment. This checklist should be reviewed and updated frequently. Management should know where it is kept and be ready to use it in the case of a required shutdown.
In the case that a lockdown is reinstated, it is important to acknowledge that there will be food on the premises no matter what. This is why it is important to have a plan in place for what to do with food should lockdowns require a food business to shut their doors again. Food businesses must take stock of the food that is frequently on the premises and determine what food could be kept on the premises in the event of another shutdown. Foods that cannot be kept in storage during closure include prepared, cooked, ready-to-eat and thawed foods. Also consider foods that will spoil or expire.
For foods that cannot be kept on the premises during another shutdown, make a donation plan. Food businesses can be food donors as a donor can be organizations like restaurants or food retailers who want to donate food that cannot be used, rather than throwing it away. Food businesses should take the time now to research what foods are acceptable for donation and what charitable organizations and charities are in the area. Speaking with these organizations now about their requirements will also help with preparing a plan. By taking these steps now, food businesses can reduce the amount of food waste that will occur should they have to scale back operations and close their doors again.
*Note: In many countries, there are specific laws in place to provide protection for companies and individuals who choose to donate food. It is important to note that depending on your country and locality, the laws may vary slightly in their wording or application. It is advised to contact your local legislative authorities for advice about donating food. *
It is vital that food businesses stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 information from their local governments. Information is changing daily, so food businesses must plan time each day (or every other day) to read COVID-19 updates.
There are many sources of information about the COVID-19 outbreak, some more reputable than others. It is important to find high-quality sources that contain the type of information needed to run the business (local and state government websites are often best) and then bookmark them online and set a schedule to check them.
Staying informed is essential to knowing what restrictions apply to a food business and whether current COVID-19 case numbers are leading the locality towards shutting down again.