With the reopening of the hospitality sector on the horizon, caterers will be thinking about the procedures and operational changes required to enable the safety of returning staff and customers.
Hayden Hibbert, director of client relations at food procurement specialist Allmanhall, says it’s the ideal time to revisit and refresh operational practices and embrace innovation.
1. Review staff working practices
One of the most critical planning considerations is staff numbers and their ability to cope with a change in procedures.
The pandemic forced a number of establishments to trial new operation methods, such as takeaway, click-and-collect, drive-through and delivery services. Decisions need to be made as to whether these will continue, or if pre-lockdown services will be resumed, which can impact on staff numbers.
With many permanent closures, there may be an opportunity by way of a pool of talented resource available. As more of your team are brought back into the workplace, it is important that staff have the appropriate training and advice on new working procedures that ensure everyone is aware of Covid-19 compliant practices.
If staff are absent due to sickness, it is important to have contingency plans in place to deal with the shortfall. It would be good to undergo a cost analysis of buying in some prepared meals versus cooking in house and looking at batch cooking to ease pressures. Menus could be simplified, with simpler dishes that require reduced labour.
2. Social distancing
With the distancing rules still in place, it is necessary to review the flow in a kitchen. Ease the pressure and help with safety by staggering the time of staff arrival and departure and create shift working and a flexible rota system. If limited space, introduce one-way travel, and – of course – make sure there is adequate PPE.
Similar distancing rules will apply when it comes to your customers, with arrangements such as clearly marked one-way systems around a restaurant and so forth.
Kitchens will already be designed with good hygiene in mind. Now is an opportunity to update cleaning schedules, such as introducing more regular cleaning, concentrating on key touch points. It could be a good idea to look at deep cleaning the whole kitchen area prior to re-opening.
Remove unnecessary furnishings and other items from eating and cooking areas which can harbour germs and ensure any staff uniforms are cleaned more frequently. Some equipment may need maintenance after a period of inaction, and others, such as fridges and display counters, a thorough clean prior to restocking.
4. Food safety and supply chain considerations
With restaurants closed for long periods of time, it is important to check that existing stock has not passed the use-by and best before dates. Reordering and restocking will be required, and it will be wise to place orders in advance with as much notice and flexibility as possible, as elements of the supply chain have been under extreme pressure during the pandemic and may still be adjusting.
Many foodservice suppliers, still recovering from the initial lockdown, are now carrying out impact assessments, appraising their resource requirements and will need to control costs and optimise distribution. With the possibility of a disruption in supplies of some products, it is important to communicate with suppliers regularly. Give them early indications of volume changes as menus change.
Continue to support and extend empathy to suppliers during this challenging trading time, understanding that some flexibility around delivery days and product availability may be required.
5. Opportunity to trial new ideas
With many businesses having to reinvent themselves, now is a good time for trialling new ideas and introducing labour saving technology in the kitchen.
Consider using a procurement provider who can help implement a software support platform which can lead to significant cost savings. An independent benchmark of the current pricing from existing suppliers, compared like for like with others by an independent procurement supplier can result in savings with very little effort, and is a good exercise in due diligence.
Create more seasonal menus, with weekly or even daily menu planning, taking advantage of lower prices for foods in season. Catering-controls platforms will help cost menus and eliminate waste, as well as bringing other technological benefits.
Seek advice. There is plenty of information covering all aspects of reopening available from the government website HERE.
With an expected surge in restaurant and pub bookings in April, by a public keen to start enjoying themselves again, some upfront planning, a willingness to and continued spirit of embracing new ideas, together with some good communication, should help to make this a happy time for all.