Food Business Safety as COVID-19 Restrictions Ease
We're in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; already one of the most destructive periods in the history of the world. Hundreds of thousands of people dead, over 5.49 million infected, and the probability of a couple of million people in Australia and New Zealand being unemployed before this Christmas.
And no one really knows how long this is going to last.
The good news, and we must focus on whatever good news there is to be had at a time like this, is that some of the social restrictions are being eased.
And in particular, those social restrictions that prevented us from enjoying a meal in a pub, a cafe, or a restaurant.
And while it's possibly not time to celebrate just yet, with the unknown being customer demand drivers to go out to dine again, many of us are confident it will happen.
Some people even believe the demand will be so great that controlling the numbers of people coming into their businesses will be the new issue to deal with.
So, what will the upcoming easing of restrictions look like?
And how does a food service business best equip themselves to balance customer demand with COVID-19 Safe practices?
The below table outlines the current and future easing of restrictions in food businesses, state by state.
Current restrictions to restaurants, cafes and food businesses
- Capacity must not exceed 50 customers or one customer per 4 square metres (excluding staff) per existing separate seated food or drink area, whichever is the lesser. Venues may have multiple existing seated areas.
- Maximum of 20 people per individual group
- Customers consuming food or drink on the premises must provide their name and contact details, including a telephone number or email address
- Operators must have a COVID-19 Safety Plan and keep a record of all people entering the premises.
- From noon on Friday 19 June 2020, cafes, restaurants and licensed venues can now open with a maximum of 100 patrons per indoor or outdoor space or one person per 4 square metres, whichever is lesser.
- Staff will be excluded from both the patron limit and the 4 square metre rule.
- Alcohol can be served without a meal, but patrons must be seated and in groups of no more than 10 people.
- Groups dining in from Friday 19 June 2020 can be a maximum of 20 people.
- Patrons will be able to order at the bar or counter but must be seated to consume their drinks or meals.
- Tables must be spaced in a way that ensures that patrons at different table remain 1.5 metres apart. This could mean that tables are more than 1.5 metres apart.
From 11:59pm on Sunday 21st June 2020:
- Increased number of patrons in restaurants, cafes and pubs to open to up to 50 seated patrons per space.
- Maximum group size of 20 applies.
- Seated service of alcohol without food.
- Food and drinks (including alcoholic drinks) can be consumed by patrons while seated at tables that are physically separate from each other. This could be in a restaurant, café, pub or cellar door
- The total number of people at a place must not exceed 1 person per 4 square metres.
- food businesses and licensed premises may operate but only with seated service
- alcohol may be served without a meal at licensed premises (patrons must be seated)
- food courts can reopen, but patrons must be seated when eating.
- The 4 square metre rule has been revised to 2 square metres per person for all WA venues.
- non-work indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people per single undivided space, and up to 300 people in total per venue over multiple spaces (100/300 rule)
- Can serve food and/or drinks to up to 40 seated patrons.
- A density of seated patrons greater than 1 per 4 square metres.
- Restaurants may continue to offer delivery and takeaway services. For restaurants and cafes doing seated meals and takeaway, the takeaway customers can be in addition to the 40 seated customers (depending on size).
- Contact details for the person who made the booking or at least one diner from a walk-in group should be recorded for future contact tracing if needed.
- Restaurants and bars can reopen
- with a two-hour limit, with
- entertainment venues to come.
- Food businesses must prepare and comply with a COVID SAFE checklist if providing seated dining
- takeaway and home delivery allowed
- seated dining for up to 20 customers at a time with no more than one customer per 4 square metres
- no buffet style self-service
- alcohol may be provided in accordance with seated dining - no bar service
- Foodcourts: takeaway food only, cutlery and utensils provided must be single use
Before the easing of COVID-19 restrictions - and driven in many cases by necessity - many food businesses were forced to either shut down (temporarily or permanently) or pivot to new ways of doing business such as takeaways and deliveries.
Now that the restrictions have begun to ease, some of those businesses will need to work out a new way of operating, not knowing of course how long it may take for all restrictions to be lifted.
Some states have listed that one person per every four square meters must be observed for diners within a hospitality business, while others, such as Northern Territory insist upon a two hour maximum activity time with distance to the next person required to be 1.5 metres.
There is a lot of information out there, and some of it is inaccurate - probably best not to source your 'facts' from Facebook - so our recommendations for any food businesses currently operating or looking at reopening as the restrictions ease, would be as follows:
- Get staff to complete a daily COVID-19 self-declaration form
- Place a Contact Tracing Register (your industry association should have a template) and hand sanitiser and a sign you can't miss at the entrance
- Continually source up to date information from the Federal Government Department of Health about the restrictions
- Check industry agency information for tips on how to keep the workplace safe with respect to COVID-19 - like the NSW Food Authority
Once a robust set of processes for reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace is implemented, staff must be empowered to enforce the rules with customers.
I entered a takeaway food business yesterday. This business had a large sign out front explaining a few of their COVID-19 processes, with instructions IN LARGE LETTERS to use the hand sanitiser attached to the sign before entering. Upon entering the store, stickers on the floor indicated both the direction of travel around the store and where customers needed to stand to be served.
The three people who entered the store after me all ignored the sign, did not use the hand sanitiser, and none followed the instructions on floor stickers. I raised the issue with the person behind the counter that he may wish to explain his stores' processes to customers entering the store. He shrugged and told me it wasn't his place to do so.
The point here is that if you own or run a food business, it's your responsibility to implement robust COVID-19 infection reduction processes. Even more so, it's vital that you sit down with staff regularly to take their feedback on how the processes are working. And issue those staff with the delegated authority to enforce your procedures to customers, even when it may be potentially embarrassing to do so.
Chris Beasley is Managing Director of Safety Navigator, a cloud-based WHS system with over 10,000 Australian and New Zealand business customers, many of whom are Franchise Organisations.