COVID-19 has made constant cleaning paramount
It’s not enough to wipe down guest tables with a damp cloth any more. In the COVID-19 world, restaurant operators need to clean and sanitize everything that anyone touches. Pizzeria owners are establishing protocols and processes to keep employees and customers safe and keep the eatery open.
While nontraditional methods such as UV light and disinfectant fog machines have gained attention lately, most operators are using sanitizers they can buy from their current cleaning supply vendors. While certain details about reopening restaurants vary from state to state, guidance on how to clean surfaces is pretty consistent, and available from sources such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Restaurant Association and state restaurant associations.
Here are some best practices for cleaning restaurants during the coronavirus crisis, and after.
Make a list
Maintaining a list of tasks can help clarify each staff member’s responsibilities. “We start each shift with checklists to ensure all safety requirements and COVID-19 procedures are being followed,” says Tony Ciola, third generation restaurateur at Tony C’s Coal Fired Pizza, with two locations in Austin, Texas.
First, Ciola says, employees complete a Daily Health Screening Checklist each day before working. Another checklist, the COVID-19 Take-Away Checklist, shows processes and procedures. Managers sign off on each item, and if one area needs improvement, the manager notes the corrective action they took. Among the tasks: high traffic areas must be cleaned and sanitized every 20 minutes, and sanitizing supplies and sanitation solutions must be checked regularly.
At Tony C’s, the checklist provides specifics about each job function’s cleaning tasks. Bartenders and servers provide single-use condiments and garnishes to customers upon request, as there are no condiments on the bar or table. Bartenders and servers provide guests with a sanitized pen for credit card transactions, and after the guest uses the pen it’s placed in a separate area for sanitizing. Hosts wash their hands and wear gloves to roll silverware. Servers do not pre-clear tables, but inform bussers that a table or booth needs to be cleaned or sanitized. Bussers use different gloves for cleaning and sanitizing. The menus are disposable, or guests can scan a QR code to order.
Clean early and often
At The Backspace in Austin, Texas, an employee that has been with the eatery for 10 years performs a detailed deep cleaning of the restaurant before opening. “He gets here a few hours before anyone else and follows the detailed checklist which includes sanitizing all counters, door knobs, chairs, and tables,” says general manager Tara Davies. The staffer also sanitizes prep areas and restrooms, and ensures that the food-safe sanitizer and other supplies are fully stocked and accessible.
The rest of the staff uses the food-safe sanitizer on high contact surfaces after each guest leaves. “We have a checklist for them to help them ensure they get all of the surfaces and so our management team can double check that it’s getting done with our new expected frequency,” Davies says.
John’s Incredible Pizza Company offered all-you-can-eat buffet dining for 23 years, until the pandemic. “COVID-19 forced us to completely rethink the way we serve food to our guests,” says Brad Jashinsky, director of sales and marketing at the Rancho Santa Margarita, California-based chain. “We knew that we had to move away from being a buffet to be able to reopen.”
Today customers at John’s Incredible Pizza can order from a smartphone app, plastic menus, or from a kiosk in-store. Team members deliver the food to the table, and they also clean the plastic menus and table numbers. The host meters the kiosk line and ensures that a team member cleans every kiosk before the next group is directed to it. The chain, which has locations in California, Nevada and Oregon, hired additional staff who are dedicated to bussing and cleaning.
Show and tell
The former Ernie’s Bar and Pizza recently reopened in Denver as Earnest Hall Pizzeria Birreria Coffeehouse. The eatery had closed for renovations in 2018, and reopened during the pandemic. Employees sanitize high traffic areas such as customer pagers, door knobs, payment devices and the bases and legs of tables after a guest interaction with the item or every 15 minutes. “Guest pagers get wiped down before they are handed out and after they are dropped off when food is ready,” says Dan DeVito, director of special projects for parent company City Street Investors. “All front of house staff from general manager on down wear a protective mask, while disinfecting with a spray bottle and towel.” After the items are clean, staff display signage noting that the space has been sanitized and is ready for guest use.
At Dallas-based Pie Five Pizza, a subsidiary of Rave Restaurant Group, Inc., all team members wear masks, and many of the restaurants have installed Plexiglas partitions at the register to minimize person-to-person interaction. “We’re stringent about the front of house cleanliness,” says Aaron Archuleta, director of operations. “We think it’s important for guests to see a clean restaurant where team members are constantly cleaning so that they have the confidence to know that we’re also adhering to those same standards in the back-of-house and behind the line.”
Make permanent changes
Pie Five plans to continue its strict cleaning regimen for the future, but certain details will likely change. While single-use items such as disposable flatware can help keep everyone safe now, they have an impact on the environment, so Archuleta says Pie Five may go back to reusable items in the future. What won’t change is the frequent cleaning and sanitizing, and ensuring team members wash their hands every 30 minutes.
No one knows what a post-pandemic environment will look like, but operators say the way they approach cleaning will change. “COVID has taken already high standards in dining experience and has demanded a new permanent attention to every detail,” says DeVito, from Earnest Hall.
Others agree that the changes will be permanent. “Our cleaning practices are something we’ve always taken seriously,” says Davies, from The Backspace. “However with COVID-19 it’s definitely brought to our attention the importance of consistency, thoroughness, and accountability.”
For more information:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of more than 400 surface disinfectant products that meet the agency’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
CDC steps for how to clean and disinfect.
National Restaurant Association guidance
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.