How do you predict initial demand?
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How many students will actually show up on college campuses or in school buildings in the early stages of a reopening? How many employees will be at reopened businesses in the first days? Dining operations have to forecast demand in order to be cost-effective—especially now, given the dire fiscal outlook of many department balance sheets—but how accurate will those predictions be, and what will those who do show up want to eat? You’ll have to have enough variety to meet various demand expectation, which almost certainly means some overproduction because first impressions are critical in regaining customer confidence. But how much of that can you afford to do?
How do you reconfigure your servery to fit the new rules?
Quest Food Management
With self-service totally or mostly eliminated, those self-service stations will either have to be converted to staff service or shut down. Meanwhile, a likely increase in grab and go means more display case space will be needed. Another issue: How do you reconfigure your servery layout to adjust for more social distancing around the stations?
What if someone gets sick?
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An employee calls in sick with flu-like symptoms or fails a temperature check upon reporting for work—but they worked the day before! What do you do—shut down and sanitize everywhere that person was the day before? Quarantine everyone he/she interacted with the previous day? Short of testing everyone every day when they report for work, there will be gray areas where there will need to be clear protocols on how to handle such situations.
How far does the elimination of self-serve go?
OK, the salad bar is out along with the build-your-own taco bar and the top-your-own-potato bar. But what about vending machines? They are technically also self-serve units that get touched frequently. So are beverage coolers with doors. Do you have a staffer standing by to wipe things down after every customer makes their choice?
Do you still take cash?
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Cash is a nasty germ transmitter because it goes through so many hands. To a lesser extent, so are traditional credit cards that are handled by sales associates, unlike the ones with chips that customers insert into readers themselves. Do you go totally cashless as a matter of safety and if so, what impact will this have on business in environments where cash transactions are still fairly routine?
How do you stay sustainable in a disposables world?
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Don’t look now but those landfill-glutting disposables are back in a big way, as they are seen as much safer than reusables that can transmit germs. Yes, there are compostable varieties of disposables, but at least in the short run, dining operations will probably have to take whatever they can get given that just about every reopening commercial food establishment will also be scouring the supply channel for them.
How do you handle the mealtime rush?
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Assuming you’re lucky enough to have a sufficient number of customers to have a mealtime rush, social distancing policies will almost certainly limit the number who can come in at one time. But the traditional onsite eatery does the bulk of its business in the lunchtime window, and to a lesser extent in the morning. Will you now have to take reservations? In many environments, customers can’t simply wait outside until they’re allowed in because they have limited lunch hours or classes to get to.
Are you the social distancing cops?
You’ve put up barriers, spaced out tables and seats and turned the floor into a checkerboard of arrows, red circles and blue X’s, but some customers simply don’t get the message and sit together, cluster or simply mingle. How heavy handed are you prepared to be to enforce the social distancing rules?
How do you still give value?
As onsite foodservice has developed from its roots as a basic amenity into a premium offering, its pricing model has changed to reflect the expansion of food quality, menu variety and customer service. But the coronavirus-induced restrictions—and costs—that will likely be imposed threaten to undo some of that. How will customers react if that sparkling food hall with all its made-to-order authentic ethnic dishes they were used to browsing through is now a glorified takeout joint with more limited options? Will they still be willing to pay the same prices?
How can you build community in a social distancing world?
Pacific Retirement Services
One of the major rationales for maintaining an onsite dining operation is that it not only feeds the body but sharing meals also nourishes socialization, interaction, community, collaboration and team spirit. With many—probably most—customers grabbing takeout or, at best, sitting six feet apart, how is that mission still viable and what can you do to help compensate?