Let’s assume, for a moment, that we actually are all in this together. Let’s put on our restaurant hat and take responsibility for doing what is right for both the health and wellbeing of our families, staff, and customers, and help in bring our communities out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression. Both of these issues are significantly important and even though we should all agree that health and safety is foremost – if we manage to beat the virus into submission and destroy the economy in the process then we are left with a problem that can be devastating for decades to follow. OK – so that doesn’t help much unless we have a plan, a plan that everyone buys into, and a plan that shows hope on both fronts.
So the question is – where is the leadership in building such a plan? The CDC has provided recommendations for re-opening businesses (restaurants), and some states have qualified these recommendations by instituting phases for opening once certain statistical criteria is met, but much of what happens within those phases is up to individual restaurants to interpret and devise methods of delivery. Where is the real leadership from professional organizations and from the communities where those restaurants reside? Where is the collaboration among community restaurants to portray a consistent message and a self-assessment process?
Think about the following:
 RESTAURANTS CAN REOPEN WITH 25% CAPACITY: Great – we all know that it is impossible for any restaurant to survive with 25% capacity. Where are the organization experts with thoughts on how this parameter might be approached?
 RESTAURANTS THAT OPEN MUST PRACTICE PHYSICAL DISTANCING: Sounds reasonable – how can that truly be accomplished with the ebb and flow of customers, servers approaching tables, taking orders and delivering food?
 THE VIRUS CAN LIVE ON SURFACES FOR A PERIOD OF TIME SO ENHANCED SANITATION MUST BE PRACTICED: OK, we get it – what does that mean and how does it apply to plates, glassware, flatware, tablecloths, salt and pepper shakers, chairs, booths, walls, table tops, etc.? How can we really stay on top of this challenge? Who will provide consistent guidance in this regard?
 THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE VIRUS CAN BE TRANSMITTED THROUGH FOOD: Well, that seems reassuring, but tell me how is it that the virus can live on non-food surfaces for many hours, but will avoid clinging to that salad, glass of beer, or tonight’s special?
 ALL STAFF AND CUSTOMERS SHOULD WEAR MASKS: Totally agree, and we can certainly require our staff to do so, but with the wild west attitude among a few customers that this is an infringement on their rights as American’s – what is our legal support to demand this and what is the best way to manage unreasonable guests?
 WE ARE ENCOURAGED TO SANITIZE OUR PERSONAL GROCERIES FROM THE STORE BEFORE THEY ARE BROUGHT INTO HOMES: Fine, if you are like me – it takes an hour to shop every two weeks and two hours to sanitize everything before I move items to storage in the house. Shouldn’t we be doing the same in restaurant kitchens? If so, what it the plan for vendors and restaurants to work together in this regard?
 AT A CERTAIN POINT (before there is a vaccine) CUSTOMERS WILL BE ALLOWED TO RETURN TO RESTAURANT DINING ROOMS: Terrific! When that occurs we will be able to go back to business as usual – right? Oh, but what if customers don’t want to return to dining rooms? What if they (rightfully so) are still nervous about being in public groups while the virus is still flourishing? How do we rebuild trust – not just in returning to our restaurant, but even more importantly – to restaurants as a whole? Where is the leadership coaching on that?
 WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Yep – I have heard that many times before – so why does it feel like we are on our own? Why are there mixed messages from state to state and community to community? Why are we given guidelines yet no one seems intent are really enforcing them? Why is each restaurant struggling with how to manage the need for safety vs. the need to generate revenue? Why is there no universal strategy that helps restaurants collectively walk through the process of re-opening with confidence and uniformity? If we are all in this together, why are we so far apart?
Re-opening restaurants when there is no resolution to this invisible threat is risky business. It scares restaurant owners to death – as it should. The last thing in the world that anyone wants is to create a pool of infection that threatens the very customers who have helped a restaurant through tough times before. The answer cannot be: “Every man for himself”. The answer must be collective agreement on the best way to move forward for the safety of all involved and the financial health of the business. We know that the only tools that we have right now are physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands and surfaces extremely well – but is that enough to build trust in a return to business?
We should applaud the states that have exacting criteria for reopening businesses in phases and methods in place to assure that the criteria is met, but it is not enough – at least not for restaurants. We (the restaurant industry) need local governments to bring restaurant owners together to build a model that everyone buys into, a model that is reasonable, safe, and verifiable. We need industry organizations like the National Restaurant Association and American Culinary Federation to go beyond printing a list of recommendations and rather become actively involved in communities by walking them through the process of collaboration, ideation, and implementation. Most importantly, we need community restaurant owners, operators, and chefs to come together to build active lines of communication, serious platforms for implementation assistance, and an active commitment to doing the right thing – every restaurant, every chef, every day. If we are in this together than we need to build a strategy for that to be realized.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
We SHOULD be in this together – the only way to address the challenges
Harvest America Ventures, LLC