Can Food Businesses Operate While Practicing Social Distancing?

There are options that can be implemented to follow distancing recommendations while remaining profitable.
March 23, 2020

Viruses are opportunists; they spread easily when they are given the chance to move from one host to another through close or direct contact. In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, governments and health agencies around the world are recommending different actions that can be taken in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. In Canada and other parts of the world, the practice of physical or social distancing is being strongly encouraged or mandated among the public.

What is physical or social distancing?

Physical distancing (commonly known as social distancing) involves members of a population refraining from interacting in large groups and in public spaces. This also means that one-on-one interactions between individuals should be conducted from a distance of at least 1 metre between individuals and groups of people.

What does this mean for the food industry?

Recommendations and guidelines provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada are essential for reducing the spread of COVID-19, but there are far-reaching effects to the food industry. Food businesses have seen dramatic decreases in customers since the seriousness of COVID-19 has been realized and physical distancing recommended. In many provinces, the practice of social distancing has mandated that food businesses must shut their doors completely, while the few that are still open are finding it difficult to draw in the public to eat in their premises out of fear. The good news is there are options that you can implement to follow distancing recommendations while still earning revenue.

5 ways to implement physical/social distancing in your food business

1. Rearrange your dining area

Efficient physical distancing is achieved with a distance of at least 1 metre between individuals. This can be challenging in a restaurant or bar setting, however, spacing out tables is the only way you can ensure that physical distancing is being achieved. By spacing out your tables (and removing some if necessary), you are not only following physical distancing rules, but you are also reducing capacity which is also a requirement in some regions. Be sure to check with your local health authorities to determine what applies to your business as the regulations and requirements are constantly changing.

2. Use your outdoor space

As the weather is warming up, if you are fortunate enough to have an outdoor seating area at your establishment, use it to spread out your customer seating. Placing some customers in your outdoor seating area not only helps with social distancing, the fresh air and the open environment helps customers to feel more at ease.

3. Increase take-out options and home deliveries

As many provinces and municipalities are declaring states of emergency, this is effectively restricting restaurants and bars from being open to the public. Whether this applies to your current situation, or if you are still able to have dine-in customers, you should strongly consider providing take-out options and home deliveries. By increasing your take-out and home delivery options — and perfecting the service — you can ensure that your business can make a profit even if it needs to close its doors temporarily.

This can be fairly simple to set up by partnering with a mobile food delivery partner like Uber Eats or Skip The Dishes. Or, you can provide your own delivery service by transitioning existing staff with vehicles to this temporary new role.

4. Get technical

If you have the finances and means to do so, consider installing a tablet system for customers to place orders on. This decreases the occurrences of physical touch between customers and food workers. However, it is absolutely vital that tablets or other technology are cleaned and sanitized in between every order.

5. Restrict your staff interactions

Most food businesses have daily staff meetings; these should be discontinued and instead replaced with video calls, phone calls or online group chats. If some staff cannot attend the meetings, an email should be sent out with a summary of what was discussed so that everyone is informed.

During operating hours, many staff work in tight conditions — especially in the kitchen. Consider ways that staff can continue to perform their duties while respecting social distancing. Consider reinforcing the idea of distancing by marking areas on the floor so employees will remember the amount of space that is required.

At the end of shifts, some staff may be used to gathering in the back of the house to chat about the day or other non-work topics. Collecting in this manner must be discouraged in order to implement social distancing.

An important point to remember

With the drastic changes that are being implemented throughout the food industry, many food business owners, managers and staff are feeling panicked, and rightly so. It can be very concerning to watch the number of customers decline and the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise. The important thing to remember is that physical or social distancing is one thing that you can control. Take the steps to implement physical or social distancing within your food business and help stop the spread of COVID-19.