When I asked some people what could make them feel safe as diners, most didn’t hesitate to answer that nothing can give them reassurance right now. We’re already 73 days into quarantine and we’re still dealing with uncertainty and apprehension. It seems that the longer we stay in quarantine, the harder it is to assure diners that it’s safe to eat outside again. 

With the economy declining (Philippine gross domestic product contracted for the first time since the Asian financial crisis in 1997 by 0.2 percent), and the restaurant industry struggling more by the day, urging them to rethink their business models and create crisis-adaptive strategies, what will make customers feel safe once dine-in services are allowed to reopen?

VACCINE

First and foremost, a vaccine will take away a good part of worry when we go outside. Although there is still no vaccine available, the world is highly depending on it as it can dictate how global economies will recover. Similarly, mass testing is just as important to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases and must be enacted right away (just as it should have been done when the pandemic was only starting).

“[Feeling safe], that’s tough because that assurance of safety—and I mean just enjoying the experience without having to worry about touching your face—ultimately will not come from restaurateurs but from scientists and doctors. I can’t afford to get sick because I have people who depend on me for various reasons. So right now, without an actual cure or vaccine, I cannot sit in a restaurant and feel safe and enjoy,” says freelance writer and editor Jaclyn Clemente-Koppe.

QUEUING SYSTEM

The future of dining seems to be one hinged on reservations, time slots and line-free restaurants. Post-pandemic dining is shaping to become a planned event, perhaps even eliminating impulse eating outside. It’s hard to maintain social distancing when lines are long, especially in fast food chains. Diners can opt to order their meal two hours, or even a day, before their schedule. Queuing systems will help minimize people-to-people contact and provide equal opportunities for consumers to stay within restaurant premises for limited times.

NEW RESTAURANT SETUP

Long-term sustainable solutions are the hope of industry operations once the pandemic subsides. Tammy David, senior content strategist at integrated marketing and communications firm Evident suggests the installation of more sinks, wash stations and utensil sterilizers in restaurants. “Siguro pag naka-face shield mga staff, lalo na ‘yung server, I would feel safe. Imagine these people interacting with the demanding customers who are probably high risk,” says David.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, as recommended by the World Health Organization, must be placed at the entrance and exits of establishments. Alternate seating arrangements that maintain physical distance will avoid overcrowding. Outdoor seating will also be a viable option as this poses less risk of contracting the virus and can avoid diners being congested in one area of the restaurant.

TRANSPARENT OPERATION

“You need to be timely, truthful and transparent. This is not a time for flourish. People are not looking for perfection, they are looking for solutions right now,” says Cathy Feliciano-Chon of CatchOn Communications. 

At a time of uncertainty, unpreparedness almost paralyzed the whole industry. Joey Suarez of Eat Public Relations stresses the importance of transparency during the pandemic. Being open to the current state of things is integral to arriving at transformative actions.

Alain Borgers of PH Resorts Group and Restaurant Metronome says that restaurants must have a detailed sanitation and hygiene protocol for customers, employees and suppliers alike. Once dine-in services resume, it won’t be a surprise if a lot of people flock to restaurants to get the sense of normalcy social distancing and quarantine protocols have robbed us of. A restaurant that is transparent with operations will put customers at ease. Diners are concerned more than ever with who handles their food. 

“At the end of the day, we would rather be socially responsible than be greedy for a short term and have it not really amount to anything. If people want to open and feel safe, then you have to be firm with your policies. There can’t be any gray areas for anyone—back-of-house, front-of-house, delivery driver, customer,” says Lindsay Jang of Yardbird.

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