Restaurants are struggling to reopen to full capacity this year, and they’re rushing to address one key obstacle that many customers are concerned with: cleanliness. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many people more conscious about having sanitary conditions in public places, and restaurants are considering the best ways to keep their establishments clean and convey the message of safety and health to their patrons.
Expectations are extremely high for restaurants going forward. 95% of consumers said that they want to see more sanitation and cleaning practices in restaurants after widespread vaccination, according to Ecolab. Beyond being worried about coronavirus, they are more aware of the potential for microbes to spread in public dining areas. Restaurants have invested in various new technologies as well as stepping up tried-and-true methods of cleaning surfaces and keeping food safe from contamination. These include:
- Wiping tables and other surfaces before seating each new party
- Being more cautious with reusable items used by customers such as napkin holders and condiment bottles
- Reconsidering usage of buffets and other self-service
- Implementing plexiglas barriers between customers and staff such as at counters
- Mandating PPE for employees including facemasks and gloves
- Testing employees with temperature scanners and other means
Restaurants have recognized that in order to assure customers that they are taking all possible precautions, cleaning efforts need to be made visible to visitors, and can’t take place only behind closed doors. Some new changes such as wearing facemasks are easily visible, but others aren’t. To fix this, present clear visual clues such as signage describing all new procedures and timetables of when employees do periodic cleaning tasks.
In addition, restaurants are investing in new technologies, such as antimicrobial hard-treated surfaces that inhibit the growth of bacteria and prevent damage from repeated cleanings. Contactless order and payment systems or those that can be cleaned easily are another worthwhile change.
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Lifting the Burden on Restaurants and Employees
These challenges cause some difficulty for restaurants, but they offer many benefits. Cleanliness will be a major factor in whether customers are willing to spend money at restaurants in the future, making these activities pay for themselves. Simon-Kucher & Partners’ research found that customers projected that they would spend 2.1 times as much money on restaurants that met their standards for cleanliness, and even price is less of a consideration than cleanliness and safety.
Restaurants are also facing a labor shortage as workers are unwilling to return or have found other employment opportunities. Getting new employees engaged in cleanliness procedures can be challenging, but it may also be a way to reassure them as well as customers. Employees may feel more comfortable and enthusiastic about working in a location that keeps their safety in mind.
New approaches may also reduce the labor required for workers. For instance, touchless devices such as ordering kiosks and point-of-sale systems where customers enter their own information reduce the amount of work and level of interaction for employees.
Mobile apps for ordering and delivery also play a role in the cleaner restaurant atmosphere. Restaurants can still reach the 40% of customers who say they are uncomfortable eating indoors by doing business through off-premises sales. With curbside pickup, they can keep customers from waiting for their orders indoors, and contactless delivery can be offered to do business without direct interaction with delivery drivers. With online payment methods, there is zero contact between customers and the restaurant through the sale.
Mobile apps and restaurant websites can also play an important role in the visual cues of cleanliness by notifying customers of new policies through email messaging, push notifications, or direct chat. Customers that can view up-to-date health policies and announcements will feel more comfortable about visiting.
Industry experts and major companies foresee a major swing toward cleanliness in order to bring back customers and drive loyalty. In order for financial success in the near future, restaurants need to look at what tools are available to make their indoor and off-premises sales as health-conscious as possible to appeal to customers who want to spend money on the safety and most visually welcoming restaurants, bars, and other establishments.