The New Normal for Restaurants: COVID’s Impact on The Way We Eat
Like almost every other public service sector, the restaurant business has been greatly affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. During the initial stages of the Pandemic, in March and April, countless restaurants faced closure in compliance with state and local health mandates, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Governor Abbot’s plan for the phased reopening of the Texas economy included the implementation of strict regulations and practices for restaurants throughout Texas, including Dallas, Austin, Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, and San Marcos.
According to Melissa Steward, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, restaurant owners have found themselves torn between feedback from their employees, patrons, state and local health officials, all while trying to stay financially afloat. She says, “Restauranting is never easy, this is an exponential degree of that”.
In Governor Abbot’s initial plan for the reopening of the suffering Texas economy, he mandated that places of public gathering, such as restaurants, should not exceed a maximum occupancy of 25% at any time. Governor Abbot has recently announced that all Texas counties, with at least 20 or more confirmed cases, are required to wear masks in public. This applies to restaurant employees and customers, in as far as they must wear masks at all times, except when actually eating.
As Coronavirus is believed to be primarily spread through water droplets and possibly surfaces, limiting the extent of person-to-person contact is the best way to decrease the speed by which the virus is spread. Consequently, the CDC advises restaurants that food services limited to drive-though, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pickup, present the least amount of risk. On-site dining poses a higher level of risk, due the increased amount of person-to person contact, as well as surface contact between people.
Restaurants are required to post advisory signs which detail the necessary safety measures, regarding when to stay at home, proper hand-washing, sanitizing surfaces, wearing masks, and the importance of covering sneezes. Furthermore, restaurants must implement regular sanitizing schedule for regularly touched surface and ensure the premises is equipped with the EPA’s criteria for proper sanitizing and disinfectant products against SARS-CoV-2.
In addition to the current COVID-19 related guidelines, restaurants should continue to practice the four steps to food safety– clean, separate, cook, and chill- in order to ensure that the normal standards of food safety continue, even during this unique time.