How to reopen a cafe safely during the coronavirus crisis

How to reopen a cafe safely during the coronavirus crisis

Posted: Fri 29th May 2020

Cafes are already allowed to offer takeaway services. Many cafe owners are considering their options to start reopening as the situation improves.

The government's given employers a practical framework for minimising risk - here's the guidance on Working safely during COVID-19 in restaurants offering takeaway or delivery.

We spoke to cafe owners about how they're interpreting the government guidelines and the steps they're taking to stay safe.

Completing a risk assessment

Employers have a legal obligation to protect their workers and you need to think about how you're going to minimise risk.

Effective Human Resource Management managing director Emma del Torto said they're advising everyone to do a risk assessment and share it with employees and customers.

"Health and safety and wellbeing needs to be front and centre of the plan to return to work and the communication and implementation of the return to work," she said.

Bentley's Coffee Shop opened to offer take away earlier in the week. Owner Emily Bentley said she had held back because Middlesbrough had a high R number, meaning the virus was spreading at a higher rate. She said the government's resources were really helpful in planning the reopening.

"It doesn't tell you how to do things because it can't. You have to engage your own judgement. I think people are over thinking things. If you don't feel safe opening, don't. If you think you can mitigate the risks and also trade in a way that's different but safe you can try it," said Emily.

Bringing cafe workers back from furlough

Many cafe owners have placed workers on furlough. It's important to consider individual circumstances, such as any health concerns.

You can watch a 30-minute Lunch and Learn with HR expert Jill Bottomley that answers business owners' questions about bringing staff back to work in more depth.

Reduced hours and trade can make it difficult for cafe owners to bring people back and HR experts like Jill are campaigning for flexible furlough options.

Staff working environments

The government guidance includes a number of points to consider when thinking about the way staff work on location.

  1. Review layouts and processes to allow staff to work further apart from each other.

  2. Have people working side-by-side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face.

  3. Use screens to separate people when it's not possible to move workstations further apart.

  4. Using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep to a 2 m distance.

  5. Reduce kitchen access to the minimum number of people and reduce contact between kitchen staff and front of house.

Bentley's Coffee Shop has allocated staff work stations to avoid crowding and make sure team members aren't jumping from job to job to help out.

"They are positioned back to back. There's a central island, like a butchers block, so there's a barrier between them," Emily added.

The guidance recommends keeping staff that work shifts in groups to minimise the number of people they interact with.

Use simple and clear messaging to explain guidelines when communicating with staff. Signage can provide helpful reminders.

Should staff be wearing face masks?

The government guidance says there are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure:

"A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn't possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers."

Reducing risks from customer interaction

This section looks at the steps cafe owners need to take to reduce risk from customers.

Reducing risk from customers touching things

Offering hand stanitiser to customers reduces risk and helps put their mind at ease. Consider adding dispensers at entry and exit points.

Encourage customers to use contactless and ensure the payment point is a sufficient distance from team members.

"We're asking people to pay with contactless wherever possible. We have a sim card machine that can be moved away from the counter," Emily said. "We have two hand sanitizer dispensers for customers and hand sanitizer on the counter for the staff."

Bentley's Coffee Shop is using disposable takeaway products too. Getting hold of environmentally-friendly options has been a "nightmare", which frustrates Emily, but it is a necessary precaution.

Entry and exit points

Reducing congestion is an important part of ensuring social distancing.

Think about developing a one-way flow route for customers. Cafes offering take away can use different doors for entry and exit.

Emily's worked with the shopping centre Bentley's is based in to help manage the queues with neighbouring shops. There's only one door, so they are only letting one customer enter or exit at any time. Boxes on the floor and signage help customers understand where to stand when inside the cafe.

Fylkir of Copenhagen plans to start offering takeaway this weekend. They had a trial before the lockdown started when founder Caroline Carlsen set up a table to block the cafe door and serve customers on.

"We'll have a table by the door to keep people from coming in. We know that's been a problem for other people. Especially when you have a small shop," she said.

Thinking about the products you offer

Emily's updated Bentley's menu to allow the team to prepare food faster and therefore reduce the amount of time customers have to spend in the cafe.

Managing customer demand

Maintaining social distancing relies upon managing the number of people you're serving and marketing has a role to play.

Gym business Trained by BV has been offering take away coffee for the last two days. Owner Ben Vaughan said they aren't doing a massive amount of promotion because they want to do something for the local community and test the demand.

Fylkir is planning to open a few days a week and takes pre-orders. Their pre-lockdown takeaway offering allowed them to sell out of their remaining stock.

"We didn't give slots, but we arranged it so that if we knew a lot of people were ordering for 1 pm, we'd tell other people to come at different times and spread it out. People are open to that," Caroline said.

Make sure you communicate how the pre-order process works and tell customers what to expect when they arrive.

The long-term view for cafes

Reducing the amount of products you offer, not being able to have customers sit inside and limiting customer flow means coping with lower levels of trade. Cafe owners aren't expecting the situation to go back to normal for some time, but see takeaway as an opportunity to start trading again.

"It'll need tweaking as we go and restrictions are lifted," Emily said. "Opening in a safe manner is the primary thing, not getting income in. We've got the help from the government and we're surviving because of their support. If there's a tipping point and it's not safe, then we'll shut."

This article aims to share business owners experiences and should not be relied upon to develop your strategy. Check the government guidance and consider talking to a healthy and safety professional.

The latest coronavirus support information

We are keeping you updated on the latest coronavirus guidance and support in Enterprise Nation's coronavirus business advice hub. Follow Enterprise Nation on Twitter too for updates.

Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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