Tips for Reopening: Communication is Key to Success

Learn how to communicate clearly with staff and customers before and after reopening a food business.
June 10, 2020

As some provinces begin permitting food businesses to reopen, clear and open communication with staff, customers and suppliers is essential. Communication is extremely important during this time as there is a lot of new information that needs to be understood and applied in a food business. There is also a lot of misinformation circulating which can cause confusion among those working in the food industry. The following are important areas of communication that must be considered as a food business reopens:

Before opening

Staff communications

As your food business prepares to reopen, contact all staff and inform them about the reopening. Determine how many of your staff will be returning to the business, and whether or not you will need to hire additional staff.

Inform staff of all the regulations, rules and restrictions that the food business must adhere to in order to reopen in your province or territory. It is essential to communicate to your staff what they will be required to do upon returning to work. This allows any staff members who feel unsafe or uncomfortable with the rules to address these concerns with management and decide whether they would like to return to work.

Now is the time to communicate with your team and ensure that they have the knowledge and skills needed to do their job safely and properly. Ensure employees receive COVID-19 specific training before re-entering the workplace. This training informs your staff on the symptoms of COVID-19; instructions for calling in sick; what to do if someone is displaying COVID-19 symptoms on the premises; proper hygiene techniques; using personal protective equipment (PPE); and workwear rules.

This is also the time to ensure that all of your staff have completed food safety training. If any Food Handler certifications are expired, enrol those staff members in a nationally recognized food safety training course like the CIFS Food Handler Certification Course.

Supplier communications

Communicate with your suppliers and inform them of your reopening. Now is the time to confirm that they are still operating as some suppliers are still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, some suppliers are dealing with shortages due to the pandemic, so they may not be able to meet your required quota or certain food items and ingredients may not be available. If this is the case, contact new suppliers and determine if they can meet your required quota and provide the types of items needed. Be sure to verify that new suppliers meet food safety requirements and criteria.

If you use a new supplier, you must determine if food items contain unexpected ingredients or allergens. If they do, this must be communicated with all staff (both front-of-house and back-of-house) and customers. All documentation such as labels and menus must be updated with this new information.

Customer communications

Communicate with your customers about your food business reopening. Explain when you are expected to reopen and what your business is being required to do in order to reopen. Informing customers of the steps you are required to take for reopening will help make customers feel comfortable about returning for meal. You can use your website to let customers know about the reopening and the changes that have been made to the business. Social media is also another efficient way to communicate with your customers before reopening. Use your business social media accounts to share important information along with photos of menu items to remind your customers of your delicious food selections. If you have a customer database, use it to reach out to your customers. Send personalized emails informing customers of the reopening and inviting them to return.

After opening

Connect with staff

After reopening, open communication with your staff must not fall out of practice. Frequently communicating with your staff is the best way to ensure you have confident, knowledgeable staff working in the premises. Now that the food business is open, team meetings must be held regularly. This should be done virtually, either through video conferences or other digital platforms. Team meetings are a great way to connect with your staff and learn how they are feeling. You can also learn what is working and what is not working in the establishment. Listen to the feedback from your staff and inform them on what you will do to address their suggestions and concerns. Your food business is a team effort, and encouraging open communication among all staff members is essential to creating a positive business culture.

Communicate with your customers

It is expected that many customers will be nervous about eating out in a restaurant for a while. Open communication is key to reassuring your customers and keep them coming back. The following are a few ways that you can easily and clearly communicate with your customers:

Use signage. Display signage that states you are taking COVID-19 seriously and lists the rules you are required to follow based on your province or territory. In some provinces, such as British Columbia, food businesses are required to display their COVID-19 Safety Plans in a visible place in the establishment.

You can also display signage at the entrance to your establishment which lists the requirements for entrance. Signs can also inform customers of physical distancing rules, capacity/group limits and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. Physical distancing signage such as floor markers can also help to communicate what is required of customers and reassure them that you are taking the rules seriously.

Address concerns. It is important to remember that customers will be nervous about dining at a food business. This means that customers will be more likely to be stressed and frustrated while dining out at this time. Be sure to listen to all customer concerns and communicate what you will do in order to address any problems they identify. Listening to your customers and taking steps to address concerns is essential to the success of your business. The CIFS Guide to Handling Customer Complaints is a helpful resource for navigating customer interactions.

If someone falls ill with COVID-19

It is important to have a plan in place for what to do if a staff member falls ill with COVID-19. First, stop serving customers immediately and contact the local health authorities. You will be instructed on the next steps to take based on your province or territory and the COVID-19 case numbers in your municipality.

Inform all staff that have been in direct contact with the staff member and instruct them to isolate for 14 days. Communicate with all other staff members who were not in direct contact and inform them of the situation. Instruct these staff members to watch out for COVID-19 symptoms and to report to management if they develop any of the symptoms while at work. These staff members must not show up for work if they develop symptoms at home; they must follow the procedure for calling in sick.

It is imperative that you communicate with your customers should a staff member fall ill with COVID-19. If you have been keeping a customer log since reopening, use that log in order to contact all customers that may have come into contact with the staff member. Customers must be made aware of the potential exposure so that they can take the appropriate actions. Understandably, these customers will be upset and concerned, so be sure to be compassionate and empathetic when communicating and listening to your customers. While it is not an easy situation to deal with, clear and open communication is necessary to navigating and overcoming these types of situations.