Now and Next: Quick Checklists for Readying Consumer Spaces

The shutdown in response to COVID-19 was abrupt, and, in many cases, employees in consumer spaces shut off the lights and equipment, did a quick clean-up, and left. This means that consumer spaces, from restaurants to cafeterias to common areas to clubs, are currently sitting stale, quiet, and empty, awaiting news on a return to life.

After long closures, they’ll be reopening in time for what’s usually peak season for all spaces (with the exception of education). But to expect the kinds of capacities and revenues that they typically have would be unreasonable, so being ready to go and recouping as many losses as possible is the name of the game.

And the re-starting will come at varying speeds, in fits and starts. Businesses will need to prepare immediately to welcome people, albeit at completely different capacities than normal. Regardless of when solid predictions for a reopening timeline arrive, now is the time for operators to take action—with predictions and expectations constantly shifting, it’s time to concentrate on what’s in front of us rather than the what-if. Consumers are still concerned, and it’s important to speak to the majority, who fall in the middle of the fear spectrum: not the extreme, and not the blasé.

No matter what type of space is being reopened, there are some common-sense steps to be taken for all consumer-based spaces. Then, depending on your own unique set of circumstances, there are also specialty actions to consider and put into place.

Immediate Action Steps:

  • Clean and sanitize. De-clutter and ramp up cleaning and maintenance procedures to make a extremely visible difference for guests upon their return—perception is reality.
  • Disinfect everything, retraining staff on any new disinfectants.  And stock up on hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies with powerful disinfect and bleach.
  • Go touchless anywhere possible, add in automatic fixtures, foot pedals for opening, etc.
  • Add wipes, sanitizers and tissues everywhere along with baskets for tossing, since easy access to these things gives a visual cue that guests are in a safe place. Many local distilleries have gotten into the hand-sanitizer business, too—look for resources in your area; it’s a great way to support local businesses.
  • Remove any cloth in restrooms; the focus is going to be on sanitary over aesthetics right now.
  • Remove unnecessary décor.
  • Assess and remove or cover porous materials. Reseal tables or consider disposable butcher-paper covers.
  • Create branded signage to show commitment to distancing and sanitizing guidelines—this not only shows that you’ve put thought and care into communicating a message, but gives a visual safety clue.
  • Write your company’s employee guidelines for how to operate, how to clean, protocol for meetings.  It will be required whether you’re a restaurant or office, so do it now and ensure it’s thorough.

For Restaurants/Food and Beverage:

  • Full-service restaurants, move to a reservations-only model to eliminate unpredictability and gathering crowds.
  • Fast-casual restaurants, strengthen your call-ahead program and encourage guests to use it to try to manage crowds at peak times.
  • Remove tabletop items—guests will want clean items set specifically for them. In fast casual, move to pre-wrapped utensil sets.
  • Shift to antimicrobial/easily cleaned menus, digital menus, recyclable paper menus, or chalkboards, either fixed or moveable by employees.
  • Clean up that energetic, abundant bar: Take off the herbs and pretty décor, and make sure sanitation is visible.
  • Space seats. This will be required regardless, so plan to do it well.
  • Put two-top tables against the bar in smaller peninsula style to help distance and discourage lingering at the bar.
  • Create a lean, effective operations strategy to increase profit margins. Think small and best for labor and menu.
  • Have uniform-appropriate masks ready for all staff. This can be an area to be creative and on-brand, and to consider supporting a local company like BA Craftmade.
  • Instill an iPad or similar payment system to minimize contact points. Even better, use web-based pay-online technology.
  • Ramp up any outdoor seating options to make them as welcoming and comfortable as possible (people will be more at ease outside, so offer them the opportunity). And initially, it might be the only thing allowed, so be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Develop a strong takeout and delivery plan (this is going to be the norm for a while, so come in with a strong gameplan to maximize potential).
  • If possible, retrofit a take-out window into a door or exterior wall.

For Private Clubs:

  • Make the place sparkle (especially in clubs steeped in history, having things feel shiny and clean will be especially important).
  • Embrace the advantage of outdoor space by utilizing any and all potential areas.
  • In addition to offering carryout and delivery of menu items from club restaurants, create meal kits and take-and-bake options. This is an especially great chance for club chefs to shine, creating family recipes, videos to cook along, and other special programs.
  • Position yourself as a trusted spot where members can feel as safe as at home. You’re already a place where members know they can go and be in a limited pool of potential people, so take advantage of that.
  • In locker rooms and group areas, force distancing with floor guides. Distance any crowded fitness equipment, and adjust times to accommodate return to fitness events — including reservation systems for equipment and spaces.

For Hotels and Clubs With F&B, Conference, and Event Spaces

  • Create an event strategy to maximize outdoor spaces and still allow for small, private gatherings. Weatherproof and provide effective, temporary covers for outdoor event spaces to make them as multi-seasonal as possible and create flexible layouts.
  • Banish buffets and self-serve stations for now in lieu of full service, ordering ahead, and a wider variety of grab-and-go options in comfortably distanced spaces.
  • Reconsider private dining spaces as spots for individual families or to further space main-dining tables.
  • Space seating in all public areas (lobbies, third workspaces, and any other gathering areas) with flexible furniture plans that can be shifted as needed. Put additional furniture into storage for later usage.
  • In any fixed-seating or communal-table setting, use fixed power ports and décor to force distance, and or decorative mobile sliding dividers to force separation.
  • Create new event and conference plans with reduced capacities and spaced seating in mind.
  • Eliminate any continental and buffet breakfasts in favor of call-ahead, order-ahead pickup or room service. Hotel guests are a captive audience, and this is a switch that can be made easily.
  • Ensure that guest rooms have a place to eat comfortably, providing additional trays and portable solutions.
  • Mobilize your electronic check-in and check-out service to minimize interaction. Any shielding options for the front desk should be branded and creative.
  • For hotel rooms, publish cleaning and sanitation standards online so guests can understand and prepare accordingly.

For Campuses With F&B and Gathering Spaces

  • There will never be too many hand-sanitizing stations. Put them everywhere.
  • Add staff at any stations that are currently self-serve, even drink machines. Plan to staff all food lines, even if this means limiting choices.
  • Strengthen or create a call-ahead ordering program to take food on the go.
  • Prepare employees to disinfect visually and frequently.
  • Strengthen selection of pre-packaged to-go items.
  • Create a no-touch system for picking up pre-ordered items—consider dedicated cubbies.
  • Ensure that any natural gathering spaces have plenty of room for traffic flow. Consider graphics and markers to signal distancing and one-way paths.
  • Space dining and food-court tables. A fixed table layout will ensure distancing.
  • Continuous-service spots should set shut-down time periods to clean thoroughly.
  • Note any new restrictions on capacities and have a plan in place to enforce them.

For Offices

  • Move your employees. This not only ensures distancing, but means everyone will have to de-clutter and disinfect their spaces.
  • Improve your lighting, making sure every corner of your space is well-lit and ready for both employees and webcams.
  • Upgrade your tech and WiFi. Virtual meetings are now a part of life for everyone, and they need to be able to be taken easily and from anywhere.
  • If needed for traffic flow, add icons and graphics that indicate one-way paths and distancing spots in common areas. Force travel paths with minor interaction.
  • Remove extra chairs from conference rooms to limit meeting attendees.
  • Instill a meeting policy, with the following distance considerations: No meetings for a period of time, scheduled systems that ensure a maximum number of people for any given room, no simultaneous meetings.
  • Deep-clean conference rooms between use.
  • Encourage mask-wearing (it may become mandatory) when employees go out to a meeting and in the to-and-from, and require disinfecting upon return.
  • Have forehead thermometers available for employees to self-check at any point.
  • Require masks in the office, at least for any to-and-from common areas.
  • Keep sanitizer and disinfectant in every corner and at every desk in the office.

Appendix

Businesses will be forever changed by the Coronavirus pandemic, with lasting visual, operational, and functional effects. Here are just a few resources to get you started on making the changes we’ve discussed above:

  • This piece looks at different types of mobile and touchless payments, letting businesses learn about and find the right one for them.
  • MenuMasters has a lineup of easy-to-clean and antimicrobial menus.
  • UV light scanners in spaces when they’re unoccupied have been suggested as a potential solution to kill germs. The Illuminating Engineering Society has some background on fact vs fiction when it comes to these devices.