Tips for Reopening: Organizing Staff

Learn how to properly organize your employees in order to maintain safe operations during the coronavirus pandemic.
June 2, 2020

Some Canadian provinces and territories are permitting food service businesses to reopen to the public. Currently, these provinces and territories include Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon. However, there are strict requirements for reopening that must be followed and these vary for each province, territory and municipality. Before reopening, food business owners need to be aware of what is required and ensure that those requirements are upheld. Some of the restrictions directly affect how staff operate within the premises and how they will need to be managed once the business reopens. The following are efficient ways that food businesses can organize staff for safe operations while maintaining physical distancing and a safe work environment:

Separate staff

Staff that work in different areas of the business, such as front-of-house and back-of-house staff, should be separated as much as possible. This is because different staff members are exposed to different risk levels when it comes to COVID-19. Front-of-house staff are exposed to dine-in customers whereas the back-of-house staff are exposed to items brought onto the premises, such as delivery packages. By keeping these staff members separate from each other, there is a reduced risk of spreading COVID-19 from one group to another.

Apply the split-team model

In the split-team model, staff who work within the same areas of the business are split into two, three or more separate teams. Each team always works together on the same shift and members of the team do not interact with or spend time working with members of other teams. This model reduces the amount of staff members that could fall ill with COVID-19 if one staff member becomes infected. Remember: if an employee contracts COVID-19, then anyone that they’ve been in contact with will need to go into quarantine for 14 days. This can cause issues if a person has worked with multiple coworkers over multiple shifts at the business. By using the split-team method, if one team is impacted by a team member contracting the virus, the remaining teams are not affected.

Change your set up

Modifications must be made to how work is conducted in the back-of-house spaces. For many food businesses, back-of-house areas like the kitchen are tight spaces that make it difficult for staff members to avoid close interactions. In order to reduce close interactions and achieve physical distancing, assign workers to specific workstations so that they do not move around the space unnecessarily. If possible, workstations can be spaced out more in order to allow for better physical distancing. Front-of-house staff can also be instructed not to go into food preparation areas and follow a new process for picking up prepared food from the kitchen.

Appoint staff for deliveries

Receiving deliveries is one area of a food business that can be difficult to reduce risks. It requires interaction with delivery personnel and visitors, as well as bringing items into the business that could be contaminated. To reduce risks, appoint specific staff members who are responsible for receiving deliveries for the food business. These staff members need to be trained on the protocol for accepting deliveries which includes: how to properly accept packages, where to place packages, and how to conduct a zero-contact delivery. It is important to also train these designated workers on cleaning and sanitizing protocols before and after deliveries, as well as how to properly use and dispose of any personal protective equipment (PPE) that is used during the accepting of deliveries.

Keep records

Some provinces or territories are requiring that reopened food businesses keep records of patrons who have dined at the establishment. For example, in Prince Edward Island, according to their guidelines for reopening, “Food premises must record at minimum, the name and phone number of one person per table and the total number of patrons in the dining party. These records should be kept on-site for at least one month for contact tracing purposes.” Designate which staff members will be responsible for collecting and storing the information, and train them on how to do so.

Another record that food businesses can consider implementing is a sign in/sign out sheet for staff to sign at the beginning and end of their shifts. Additional screening requirements, such as temperature checks, answering questions or checking for symptoms, can also be considered. It is important to understand that some of these screening techniques may not be permitted in certain provinces and municipalities, so it is essential to make sure they are legally permitted before conducting them.

Provide PPE

Depending on the province or territory, some governments are requiring that staff use personal protective equipment (PPE) if physical distancing rules cannot be maintained. For example, in Alberta, the guidelines for restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars states that “Wait staff and servers who cannot be protected by 2 metres of distance or a physical barrier must wear a cloth or surgical mask.” If this is applicable to your food business, ensure that you have adequate supply of PPE for all of your front-of-house staff. Acquiring these types of PPE may take a while due to backlogs, so it is crucial to order PPE as soon as possible. Staff also must be trained on how to use the PPE they will be required to wear, as well as how to properly dispose of them.

Stagger shift times and break times

Depending on the province/territory and municipality, some governments are advocating for the staggering of staff start times and break times. For example, in Saskatchewan, food businesses must follow guidelines for employees, which includes “Altering shift and break times to minimize the number of staff working in close quarters.” By doing so, staff will be less likely to congregate in areas throughout the business and the risks of spreading COVID-19 will be reduced.

Host digital meetings

Team meetings are an important part of running a food business, and even more so after reopening. Consider how team meetings have been conducted in the past, and how they need to be adjusted moving forward. Restrict physical team meetings to those that are only absolutely necessary. Otherwise, team meetings can be conducted online via video conference, emails or other digital applications. Staff should also be restricted from congregating after shifts within or outside the premises in order to maintain limited interactions.

Keep communicating

Communication with staff is more important than ever. As food businesses begin to reopen, there are significant changes being made to the way the business operates and what is required of staff members. Staff need to be instructed on what is expected of them, and they must be informed of all changes being made to the business operations. Maintaining frequent and open communication arms staff members with the knowledge needed to work safely and keep the food business operating properly within the regulations. Open communication also creates an environment where staff feel comfortable discussing questions or concerns with management. This is especially important during this time since staff need to communicate any illness with management right way, in order to keep other staff members, customers and the food business as a whole safe from COVID-19.

Ensure staff are trained

All staff must be trained on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if they, a staff member or a customer is displaying symptoms. It is also essential to train staff on the updated cleaning and sanitizing schedule that is being implemented in the food business. Hygiene protocols such as how and when to wash hands must also be addressed. Management must ensure that all returning staff have completed mandatory Food Handler training and have valid Food Handler certification. If any Food Handler certificates are expired, staff must complete a nationally recognized Food Handler course, such as the CIFS Food Handler Certification Course.