Restaurants owners in British Columbia are taking the first steps towards getting back to normal this week after the provincial government allowed venues that serve food to reopen following COVID-19 shutdowns. Hospitality venues that do open are subject to strict guidelines set by WorkSafe BC.
Capacity restrictions and physical distancing
Similar to the guidelines set in other provinces that are reopening, hospitality venues must not exceed 50 percent of their licensed capacity. Owners and managers must also ensure physical distancing of 2 metres between customers, and party sizes are not allowed to exceed 6 people.
The venue should be rearranged to prevent congregation in waiting areas, and separate paths should be created for dine-in and take-out guests to keep customers apart. In-person meetings are to be avoided, and employees should not have any hand-to-hand contact with customers. Masks and plexiglass barriers should also be considered.
In a protocol we haven’t seen introduced in any other provinces that are reopening, hospitality venues in BC must retain contact details of at least one person in every party that dines at the establishment in order to facilitate better contact tracing should an outbreak occur.
COVID-19 Safety Plan
This is another protocol that is unique - so far - to British Columbia. Venues that reopen must have a COVID-19 Safety Plan that outlines the policies, guidelines and procedures they have put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. WorkSafe BC provides a template to assist businesses to create this. The completed plan must be posted at the premises and WorkSafe BC will ask employees about the contents of the plan during inspections.
Food businesses must remove all buffets and self-service facilities — they are not allowed under the new protocols. Table service is to be conducted based on specific requirements as provided by WorkSafe BC. All table service must be conducted in a way that eliminates contact between customers and staff. For example, servers are required to place the food at the front of the table, step away, and then have the customers pass the plates to the other patrons at the table. WorkSafe BC suggests removing one chair at each table which will allow for a designated space for the server to come to the table and not have to squeeze between customers.
Water jugs must be left on the table so that customers can pour their own water, or water must be poured beforehand at the bar. Items such as salt and pepper shakers and condiment containers must be removed from the table. These items can be provided if a customer requests them, but they must be removed and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after use. Single-use options should be strongly considered.
WorkSafe BC also instructs food businesses to use digital menu boards, chalk boards or online ordering instead of using traditional menus. If this is not an option, single-use menus should be provided.
Cleaning and hygiene
Cleaning and sanitizing protocols are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19. WorkSafe BC states that hand washing procedures need to be established and implemented for all front-of-house staff. Customers must be provided with hand sanitizer and dispensers should be installed as needed at the entrance, checkout and throughout the premises. All high-touch areas need to be cleaned and sanitized such as walls, tables, chairs, condiments, coat hooks, door handles, and railings. Bathrooms must be cleaned more frequently as well. Cleaning and sanitizing schedules need to be implemented and all staff need to be trained on the new schedule as well as hygiene practices.
Operating in the kitchen
Physical distancing must be maintained even in the kitchen of the food premises. Workstations should be separated by a non-porous physical barrier like plexiglass. The amount of staff in the kitchen should be limited; WorkSafe BC recommends using similar calculations for the maximum amount of customers to determine how many workers should be allowed in the kitchen at one time. Directional arrows should be placed on the ground in order to establish a flow of traffic in the kitchen and reduce interactions. It is also beneficial to put staff into groups that only work with each other in order to reduce the risk of all staff becoming infected with COVID-19 should a staff member fall ill. Delivery personnel and other visitors to the premises must not be allowed into the kitchen area. Above all, if physical distancing measures cannot be achieved, food businesses may consider the use of masks.
Cleaning and sanitizing, along with hygiene procedures, must also be maintained in the kitchen. High-touch areas such as freezer doors and other handles must be cleaned and sanitizing frequently. Sharing of appliances should be reduced, and kitchen cooks should be encouraged to use their own utensils such as knives.
Extra care must be taken when managing deliveries. One way to ensure safe deliveries is staggering delivery times so that groups of people are not crowding the receiving area of a food business. Also, food business can have delivery personnel drop off packages at the door and call when they have arrived. Food businesses can also consider ways that proof of delivery can be achieved without in-person signatures, such as online receipts and digital signatures.
While these strict guidelines may appear daunting, they are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19 as restaurants in BC begin to reopen their doors to the public.