We’re all feverishly consuming information to get a sense of what things will look like “post COVID-19.” And let’s be honest, it’s also because we’re all anxious to get back to work and do our part to get our economy back on track … based on a completely new way of thinking about things we used to take for granted.
Business travel has a massive impact on the U.S. economy, coming in at 3% of the GDP according to the Global Business Travel Association. Of that total, business dining is a whopping 18% of overall T & E spend. Meanwhile, the restaurant industry, which represents an additional 4% of the GDP, has been hit hard by the pandemic as well.
While you might not be used to thinking about restaurants in the span of your Duty of Care initiatives as you get your travel program back online, restaurants’ safety practices are going to be an absolutely critical part of containing the spread of COVID-19. In the face of allowing business travelers back out onto the road to stimulate healthy economic activity, we can’t help but wonder whether the plans companies are making for traveler safety extend to restaurant dining as well.
We’ve been studying the various health and safety angles for weeks now, and we’d like to get the business travel side of our network thinking about a big part of a business trip – i.e., eating – and the concerns around public dining. There are no official national safety standards for restaurants to follow right now, as the responsibility has been transferred down to the state and local levels. To provide guidance to the industry, the National Restaurant Association recently stepped up and released a “reopening guide” for restaurants that covers many important areas of safety requirements.
Below are a few areas of consideration that are either mentioned in the reopening guide or that we believe are relevant to the Duty of Care umbrella that falls under travel manager responsibilities.
Employee Health & Tracking
Knowing you are likely now going to be responsible for tracking even more data about your travelers, how will you handle these areas?
- Travel Location Info: What data are you monitoring to determine whether or not it’s safe to send an employee to a particular destination?
- Employee Data & Tracking: With asymptomatic contagions at play, some risk assessment will inevitably occur after your travelers have already returned home. You likely will know what flight they were on, and the hotel in which they stayed – but how will you know about the rideshare they took and the restaurants they dined in, in the event they did come in contact with someone who was positive with COVID-19?
- Notifications: What level of information are you responsible for monitoring, and what triggers a notification to employees (e.g., an outbreak in a destination/ neighborhood/ building your employee visited)?
*Did you know?: Some restaurants are requiring patrons to sign Health Declaration forms before they can dine? Some are also requiring temperature checks and contact info to be able to reach diners if any one associated with the restaurant becomes ill.
Restaurants & Social Distancing
In some cases, restaurants are being given a formula for managing capacity (e.g., 10 patrons for every 500 square feet), but beyond that, it’s largely up to the restaurant to determine how they should distance diners. With that in mind, should you offer guidelines that address particular risk factors?
- Service Levels & Seating: With “contactless delivery” becoming a commonplace offering, many restaurants may continue to only offer to-go and delivery while others may require call-ahead seating or reservations. Are you likely to recommend that your travelers order food to go and take it back to their hotel rooms? Is the notion of them being in an uncontrolled environment a higher risk factor?
- Common Spaces: Restaurant operators are being advised to shut down self-serve areas (e.g., drink stations and buffets) and monitor waiting areas, bathrooms, and entrances and exits, but with reduced staff, these challenges may be too big to manage appropriately.
- Physical Barriers: Some restaurants are going the extra mile and creating actual barriers between patrons (i.e., plexiglass partitions between booths and common tables).
*Food for thought: With so much left to individual restaurants to manage, are you comfortable providing your employees with a set of best practices for social distancing and safety that are specific to dining? Would you know what to tell them or are you looking for guidelines?
Lack of national standards and specificity leave a lot to individual restaurant operators’ discretion, however the restaurant industry’s adoption of safety practices during the COVID-19 outbreak has been swift and extensive. Here are a few considerations beyond the obvious sanitization and food-handling areas:
- Masks & Hand Sanitizer: Considering the fuzziness around the use and effectiveness of masks, is your organization taking an official stance for travelers? If you require masks for travelers, are you providing them? Restaurants are being advised to offer touchless sanitizer stations, but will you go the extra mile and provide this to your travelers?
- Menus: The current recommendation is to use paper menus for easy disposal; the alternative: advising restaurants to sanitize menus between every use. Are you more likely to recommend your employees do pre-meal research or use their mobile devices to view menus in order to avoid unnecessary contact?
- Payment: The lack of standards around payments opens a big area of risk for travelers. Restaurants are advised to disinfect check presenters, but not necessarily each credit card they come into contact with. Do you think this will be a factor in driving more adoption for virtual wallet solutions? Is this something you’d recommend for your travelers?
*Food for thought: Are you more likely to make recommendations about specific brands that you determine to be more transparent and stringent with their safety standards? How will you come to those conclusions? Do you feel that your travelers will have different comfort levels with dining at larger national chains versus local independent restaurants? Why or why not?
Obviously there’s a lot to consider, and we are only just getting started. Understanding what you are facing and the new areas of responsibility for Duty of Care will help us develop tools to enable travelers to be empowered, make informed choices, and feel safe and confident in their dining experiences on the road. If you have a suggestion or topic you feel we should be following, please reach out and share at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!