Safe Serve: Rethinking, Restructuring, and Readapting Food and Beverage Functions

By Rob Schaefer

COVID-19 has changed our world and immediately reconfigured the structure of the hospitality industry.  With every food service provider, restaurant, and catering company in the state clamoring to cook, serve, and sell, how are we going to accomplish this with minimum risk?  I believe the key principles for success are to accept, to assign, and to assist.

Accept

Social Distance.  We will be living with social distancing for some time, and reduced capacities and guest counts will have to be accepted and enforced.  Gone are the days when an extra 20 or 50 people would not be a problem.  COVID-19 has shown us that we can get by with less and with less people.

Technology is not a substitute for physical interaction and celebration.  However, providing an option to virtually attend the event will encourage greater physical distance that will keep us safer and healthier.

  • Can we make being a virtual guest part of our weddings and fundraisers to reduce numbers? I think we can.
  • Can some couples attend a fundraiser in their living room and shop at the online auction? Yes, they can.
  • Can we live stream our functions to reduce travel and cost for some guests? Yes, we can.
  • Can we do these things giving support to the causes dear to us? Yes, we can.

And for those individuals at a higher risk for illness and complications, this may be an appreciated option.  Tighter guest lists with firmer RSVPs will control numbers and seating.

Cocktail functions were intended for guests to mingle, but unfortunately, they do not.  Do we need CELEBRATION CHAPERONES to remind our guests to safe distance and prevent blocking our entrances, bars or hors d’oeuvre presentations?

Until this crisis is over, I think we might.  And events will need to evaluate whether children are permitted, and what will be the expectations from the parents if they bring their children.  The venue, restaurant, or building is not a playground for children to do what they want, touch what they want, or interact with whomever they want.

I once worked with someone who, upon getting the call that her children were sick at daycare, would bring them to the office until her husband could come get them.  We all appreciated the strep, colds, and stomach bugs left as parting gifts.  There are strict protocols in schools and daycare centers to prevent illness and most parents demand that.  Why should our businesses and guests be treated any less?  Demand it.

Significant changes will be made to how we seat our guests at events.  Tables of twelve will become ten, ten become eight, and eight become six.  We will see a resurgence of tables of two, four, and six for family members attending as a group.  It is possible that we will see larger, empty spaces around tables.

Servers will have zones with specific individuals refilling water and beverages, others transporting food, and others clearing only.  You may not have the option to stop anyone in the restaurant or at an event because you want more bread.  You may be encouraged not to place your purse on the table, bring in bags or purchases, or throw your cell phone all over the table surface.  You may not get the floor plan you want, and you may not get to sit where you want.  However, you will become a better person that is taking beneficial, preventative measures.

Outdoor seating options become especially important during our summer months.

  • Can we adapt and use nature as an event space?
  • Can we make some of our events casual and summer appropriate and accept a little sweat and insects?
  • Can tents and community green spaces play a part of the new event normal?
  • Can we have mandatory wash/sanitizing stations, such as those before boarding a ship?
  • Can we alter our event times during this crisis and make them shorter, but better, later when it is cooler, later allowing guests to go home, change, and feed children and pets?
  • Can we start our events earlier, allowing guests to come straight from work and avoid rush hour or crowded streets?

Assign
To avoid cross-contamination and keep physical contact with your meal at a minimum, servers and event staff need firm assignments which must be respected by guests.  We need to show a greater level of patience never demonstrated before.  This means allowing servers who are assigned to serve food stick to serving food, and servers assigned to clear dirty dishes and glassware only clear dirty items.

Can we also pay a bit more to staff events appropriately and provide protective gloves and materials needed to keep the event staff safe?  I think we can.

Individually plated hors d’oeuvres or items plated for you by the hors d’oeuvre attendant should be considered with larger groups.  Paper boats, wax paper sleeves, and paper cones can make unique serving vessels that are simply disposed of by the guest avoiding cross-contamination.  There is no shame providing modern and visible black or gray trash cans at an event during this pandemic or asking guests to use them for their safety.

Assist

When you offer a buffet to guests, everyone in the room will touch every single serving spoon and tong on that buffet.  No one wipes them off before the next person.  If a guest has a cold and touches the salad tongs, everyone is probably going to touch those tongs and have the chance of contracting a cold.  Now is a time to think old school.

Remember the cafeterias of the seventies and eighties?  Innovative stations with proportioned items on creative disposables that guests throw away when done, attendants to serve you the buffet options cafeteria-style, or plated meals served directly to you are some great options to consider.  Honestly, self-serving is not an option I would consider right now.  If you go that route during this time, the addition of staff to serve the item to the guest on the buffet plate is sensible and smart.

During this time, we can be innovative with our bars and offer unique passed drinks and pre-poured wines as options avoiding a rush at the bar.  Rope stanchions can be used to create designated lines, and tape can be applied to the floor for line spacing.  Maybe now is not the time for unlimited options at the bar or cocktails requiring muddling or complicated preparations for large groups.  Batch cocktails, designated stations for dirty glasses, and trash cans for used napkins should be embraced and not frowned upon.

Cash bars need a designated cashier with gloves to handle cash transactions.  Another option is using drink tickets purchased by guests or the event host, adjacent to the bar, to avoid the bartender touching money.  Would the modern doorman not only open the door, but disinfect the door handles?  And perhaps washroom attendants need to be part of our immediate future, which constantly clean the stall door handles, the faucets, tank handles, and sink surfaces?  I think they might.

New Adaptations

Increasing the level of security, safety, and cleanliness in our workplaces, our personal lives, and our celebrations can only help us reassure our clients and decrease their reluctance about meeting face-to-face.  In addition, the new practices we teach staff, guests, and children on sanitation and manners will last much longer than COVID-19, and it will promote greater health in our industry.

MM&E

If your company is interested in Rob Schaefer speaking to your group on safe event and guest practices, please contact Missouri Meetings and Events.

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.