Tips for restaurant owners and F&B businesses in Saudi Arabia facing up to coronavirus social distancing:

  • Delivery safety – contactless, curbside and no face-to-face delivery
  • Food safety – packaging and promotion
  • Staff safety – protocols and morale
 

Introduction

What does social distancing mean for your F&B business? 

Has your F&B business switched over to delivery as the main way of reaching customers? 

Maybe your restaurant has always offered a delivery service; maybe it is your main business. However you are currently reaching customers – well done, and keep going! 

In the meantime, social distancing is what you as a KSA restauranteur need to get clear about fast.

Practically, social distancing means reducing or eliminating face-to-face contact wherever you can across areas of your operation, including behind-the-scenes – as well as safely managing all human contact with surfaces that can carry COVID-19.

The need for social distancing is behind the boom in F&B delivery. And F&B outlets are developing variations on contactless delivery to make it safe and profitable during the coronavirus outbreak.

Below we review how you can make the best of social distancing for your restaurant business. 

Make social distancing work for your staff, your venue and to the booming area of contact-free deliveries.

THE RISE OF FOOD DELIVERY

From mid-march, global giants in the F&B trade (like Starbucks) began to close down venues and move to pick-up/delivery only.

In the GCC, Talabat brought in F&B contactless delivery in mid-March. Uber Eats and Zomato also took the initiative last month with cash-free payment and other coronavirus provisions. 

Meanwhile, the fortunes of some big delivery specialists globally have been threatened by some big F&B providers, like Macdonalds, closing restaurants altogether.

In Europe, Reuters observes that, ‘in France, Spain and the United Kingdom, Just Eat and Uber Eats saw drops in average daily users ranging from 2% to as much as 23% in March, compared with the averages for January and February.’

As restauranteurs, we must always remember that competition is never far away. If customer can’t get what they want from us, they can simply make themselves a meal. 

But, in the meantime, it looks like online delivery, contactless delivery and no-touch menus are the way forward.

SOCIAL DISTANCING AND YOUR BUSINESS PRIORITIES

The sudden surge in F&B delivery is great news for our industry. We adapt to crisis, as we have always done, and reap the rewards of new ways of doing business with our customers.

F&B delivery is a form of social distancing in itself, since it avoids the prolonged contact that eating out at a restaurant involves. 

But whether you are taking advantage of the delivery trend or not, social distancing needs to be the mantra for all your operational processes.

And, as a restauranteur, you need to use your marketing channels as well as your staff to:

  1. Show your customers how seriously your business is taking social distancing and other coronavirus measures. Be sure to make your presentation relaxed and friendly; we do not want to scare our customers but reassure them.
  2. Remind customers that coronavirus does not spread through food or drink itself. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that, ‘there is currently no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.’

Get professional about crisis management and develop your own Restaurant Continuity Checklist. 

You can use your Restaurant Continuity Checklist to organise your F&B business out of trouble. Follow the example of many larger businesses use in-depth business continuity plans at times of crisis.

SOCIAL DISTANCING AND YOUR F&B STAFF

It is important that you and your staff are on the same page when it comes to social distancing. Make sure your people know what social distancing is, and why it is important to do it.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing means avoiding all possible contact with other people. A good way to achieve this is to factor into your normal workload the need to keep your distance. 

You are going to have to look at every job with new eyes. The rule of thumb for the coronavirus outbreak is to stay 2 metres away from other people (which is just over 6.5 feet).

Why is social distancing important?

The ‘COVID-19 virus is transmitted during close contact through respiratory droplets (such as coughing)’ says the World Health Organisation.

Coronavirus spreads from close contact, but cannot spread by air when people stay apart.

Generally, governments are promoting social distancing in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus so that hospitals can keep up with the flow of new victims.

Keep morale up

As well as being strict about the rules, it is important to keep up staff morale. This is particularly the case for delivery staff who face, every working day, the psychological pressure of the risk of infection. Here’s two easy ways to support your delivery people:

Keep your business clean and honour staff sickness.

Saudi Arabia has decreed free treatment for all residents (irrespective of iqama status). If staff declare the need to self-isolate, allow them to do so. Your staff rota may have a brand new hole punched in it – but that’s better than COVID-19 making a guest appearance amongst your entire workforce. 

Promote safe staff tipping.

COVID-19 poses a big problem to customers tipping staff. And that problem is that tipping often involves cash. It is safer to use contactless payment methods like contact-free credit/debit card swiping. Some mobile POS systems allow the customer to tip the staff member in front of them using their card. 

When your staff come into contact with any cash at all, it is important that they wash their hands for twenty seconds afterwards. Failing that, use disinfectant wipes or other sanitising agents.

Cash tipping may not be considered Best Practice during the coronavirus crisis, but it is also true that staff on the frontline of delivery services need all the support they can get, both in terms of morale and personal finances. So let’s not rule tipping out. Far from it.

Bear in mind too that it is not just staff who benefit from tipping; it helps customer morale too, by adding a personal touch to the sale. People like to be able to say thank you.

Consider launching a promotion or scheme which supports staff getting tipped. 

For example, if staff collect tips in a pot, add to it on behalf of the company. 

Or, if staff receive individual tips, announce that you will give every member of staff a small one-off bonus if one of them manages to reach a certain target of tips. (Always be as inclusive as you can when it comes to staff incentives.)

If you make a financial contribution from the company – a tip bonus – you will find that, in times of crisis, a little good will goes a long way.

SOCIAL DISTANCING AND YOUR F&B DELIVERIES

Providing products via delivery rather than onsite is a form of social distancing in itself. 

But when your delivery staff are out on the road, there are plenty of ways to show the world that your brand is committed to social distancing.

Doorstep delivery

The key thing to do, which restaurants have been doing since mid-March, is to make doorstep deposits wherever possible. 

Doorstep delivery avoids the need for human contact altogether. It means you as a business asking customers to pay online (or over the phone) and then leaving their F&B package in a pre-agreed place of safety outside of their property.

When taking the order beforehand online or over the phone, ensure that customers formally take responsibility for this place of deposit; you do not want your restaurant to be held responsible in the event of an opportunistic thief snatching the delivery package.

Advise nervous customers to wash this area down with disinfectant.

Include disinfectant wipes with your F&B delivery for customers to wash their hands.

If your staff need to speak to customers during the delivery process, advise customers to talk through a window if possible. Ensure under all circumstances that a gap of 2 metres is observed between customer and staff.

Offer a no-touch menu

One way of organising your no-touch menu is to include items which have not been handled by human hands since they came out of the oven. 

  • Draw up a list of no-touch procedures for each dish on your no-touch menu, and go through it with staff in the kitchen.
  • Choose items like pizzas, soups and grilled sandwiches which require no handling with fingers after cooking.
  • The basic rule of no-touch food preparation is to use sterilised utensils for all processes which would ordinarily use fingers.
  • Also be sure to allow the handles of utensils to touch food directly.
  • Use sealed containers for delivery.
  • Consider using tamper-proof packaging to show that your restaurant has observed full no-touch procedures.
  • Use big stickers declaring ‘no touch produce’ on top of packaging for clarity and promotional purposes; make the graphic design reassuring and friendly.
  • Advise your customers to take food out of its packaging prior to eating, as well as dispose of that packaging as soon as possible.

SOCIAL DISTANCING AND YOUR F&B VENUE

Get the coronavirus hygiene basics right

Social distancing is one way a restauranteur can do their best to keep their business afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak. But what customers are really going to love is you taking obvious steps to keep the place as clean as possible.

A top study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has proved that the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus can live on plastic, metal and glass surfaces for up to three days. 

GIve your staff rubber gloves and have them wash down all surfaces at your venue which humans touch. 

Normal disinfectants based on chlorine, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol are believed by the experts to be effective against COVID-19. A list of 300+ coronavirus disinfectants has been prepared by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In line with scientific thinking around the world, UK government guidance says, ‘use disposable cloths or paper roll and disposable mop heads, to clean all hard surfaces, floors, chairs, door handles and sanitary fittings’. 

And ‘be sure to wipe down ‘all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as bathrooms, door handles, telephones, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells.’ 

Cut down on chances for COVID-19 to get into your venue

Whether you are dealing with customers onsite or not, you need to cut down on opportunities for the coronavirus to infect your venue and hang around. That means controlling all interactions with customers, and reducing the need to be face-to-face wherever possible.

  • Go to mobile ordering if you can. ‘Mobile ordering’ involves the customer making their F&B order on their mobile phone (either by voice or website interaction) before they arrive at your venue. This means that they spend as little time as possible at your venue; this works for the safety of both customers and staff.
  • Curbside service is a new idea for customers wanting take-outs at your venue. They can use mobile ordering to specify their order, which is then left in a safe, signposted area outside of the venue on the street.
  • In queuing areas, mark social distancing intervals of 2 metres on the floor using tape or chalk.
  • 2 metres in front of your fixed POS system, mark a line on the floor. Ask customers to stay behind it until they are ready to pay. To maintain social distancing, tell staff to step backwards as the customer comes forward to present payment.
  • Keep as much of your equipment as you can behind the counter.
  • Clear away all indoor tabling.
  • Do not let infections of any kind linger on your shared POS touchscreen(s). Ensure that sitting right next to it are plenty of disinfectant wipes. Make it part of staff routine to wipe down the touchscreen at regular intervals.
  • In the kitchen, discover new ways to reduce contact between your staff and the food they are preparing. Go for a full ‘no-touch’ menu that offers food free from human contact since it’s come out of the oven – and this is a great arrow to have in the bag for your marketing.
 

Reassure your F&B customers with positive ‘hygiene marketing’

  • Use big, simple signage at the entrance to your venue to inform customers on what emergency measures you are taking – and what steps customers are expected to take.
  • Keep your communications as simple as possible. Marketing research shows that customers can only remember one thing at a time (and that’s why marketing people talk about the Unique Selling/Single-minded Proposition, or USP).
  • Keep customers updated on your efforts to keep coronavirus at bay by using online channels like your website and social media.
  • On social media, use photographs of staff members getting stuck into vital cleaning tasks. Make a story of unglamorous cleaning tasks by carefully using humour where appropriate.
  • You might not think that a photograph of a junior member of staff wiping down the restrooms makes for good marketing – but the coronavirus has changed that. Hygiene sells.
  • Be assured that in relating your COVID-19 public safety compliance, you are doing customers a favour. Customers actually want to know which F&B outlets in the Kingdom are taking coronavirus seriously. So if you are being pro-active about the safety of your customers, publicise it. Share the reality of your crisis processes and make it easy for customers to say yes.
  • Keep smiling – to customers, and to your staff! Your staff must keep smiling too! Whether you are a fast food outlet or a five star restaurant, your F&B business is unofficially in the entertainment industry. During these fraught times, it is the job of your staff to relax customers and bring a smile to their faces (even if the reality behind the restaurant counter is far from glamorous) – so make it a priority, and reap the rewards of repeat custom.

Conclusion

We hope you have found this overview of social distancing and the F&B sector useful.

Hopefully, restaurants in KSA and beyond will not have to be experts in social distancing for too much longer.

But the coronavirus science coming from many countries is pointing to social distancing being around in some form for a while. When curfews relax, social distancing may stay in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

So it is just as well that the restaurant sector has learnt already how to accommodate social distancing – and, better still, use it to put delivery sales through the roof. 

We have shown that there are many ways of making delivery as contactless as possible to reassure customers and encourage repeat custom. So go ahead and see what works.