Successfully reopening hospitality businesses relies on robust hygiene and safety processes that will continue to evolve in line with Government guidance for many months, if not years, to come. Here, Tracy Wain explores the considerations

In the UK, after months of forced closures and uncertainty, venues were given the green light to reopen from 4 July and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced a series of support measures including a temporary reduction in VAT and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.

However, figures from before the coronavirus reopening showed that just 59 per cent of hospitality businesses were planning to reopen premises when permitted on 4 July1. The statistics highlight the complex task many business owners face as they manage the reality of creating a safe environment in what remains a challenging market.

And, while customers are returning, 8buoyed by the confidence of strict hygiene measures, social distancing and ‘track and trace’ systems, there is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will leave a lasting impact on the hospitality industry. Even with the support measures offered to business owners, half of all UK hospitality sites fear closure and further down the supply chain, one in five suppliers to the hospitality industry say they could be forced to close without Government support2.

Following the guidelines
One thing is for sure, if any restaurant, hotel, bar or other hospitality venue is to successfully navigate the ‘new normal’, they must understand the health, safety and hygiene requirements placed upon them. And whilst the guidelines are clearly set out on various official websites, the sheer volume of information means it is not always an easy task to apply them.

From one-way systems and contactless payments, to track and trace data collection and food-to-go considerations, there is a wealth of decisions to make not only to ensure compliance, but to add value and deliver best practice.

Addressing the challenges
There are of course a number of challenges for hospitality venues. Aside from stringent hygiene and cleaning measures, restaurants, pubs and hotels in England must operate the ‘one meter plus’ rule as a minimum, providing it has been fully risk assessed and it is accompanied by other controls to reduce the risk of transmission, such as table service where possible and minimal staff. Many are operating at drastically reduced capacity, with limits on the number of people allowed inside at one time.

One of the most significant measures is that venues must take details of all customers when entering the premises, so that they can be traced and contacted in the event of an outbreak. It was widely reported that three pubs in HygieneEngland closed just days after opening on 4th July, highlighting the risk that remains from potentially infected customers.

The way in which food is served has also had to change. Some restaurants have introduced sealed cutlery bags, with an increase in packaged food-to-go selections where possible in pubs, cafes and other venues. Restricted menus are commonplace to reduce queues and make it easier for kitchen staff, whilst restaurants have a decision to make on whether front of house staff wear facemasks and/or gloves.

The key thing is matching the required guidelines to the style of the business. There is no point writing a risk assessment that meets Government guidelines if the business does not have the means or resources to follow it. Speak to your health and safety partners – and please do not write it in because you feel it’s something that has to be in there.

Highlighting opportunities
All of this has a financial impact too. Fewer covers and reduced menus all impact the bottom line, even before you factor in the investment of signage, PPE, data collection apps and additional measures such as temperature scanners. Depending on the type of business, some will need more staff to enable a smooth service under the new requirements, which adds additional pressure and cost too.

But where there are challenges, there are opportunities.

Whilst some businesses will need additional staff to implement the new measures, others may be able to reduce overheads by offering a more streamlined service. The pandemic has also encouraged many in the hospitality business to diversify and try new approaches, including restaurants offering home delivery packs, new takeaway and delivery services, even alternative menus which are more suited to current guidelines and operational restrictions.

There is also the added confidence afforded by additional cleaning measures and greater hygiene standards, particularly with independent assurance from a partner like Bureau Veritas. Consumer confidence levels in food establishments are rising as time passes since the first openings on 4th July, and there is every expectation that they will continue to rise if venues continue to prove their safety and hygiene credentials.

Tracy Wain is food safety technical manager for Bureau Veritas, a global leader in Testing, Inspection and Certification (TIC), delivering high-quality services to help clients meet the growing challenges of quality, safety, environmental protection, and social responsibility. As a trusted partner, Bureau Veritas offers innovative solutions that go beyond simple compliance with regulations and standards, reducing risk, improving performance and promoting sustainable development. Bureau Veritas is recognised and accredited by major national and international organizations and works across a wide range of industries worldwide.
www.bureauveritas.co.uk

As part of its commitment to helping the food industry navigate the coronavirus pandemic, Bureau Veritas has created a free webinar on food safety, hygiene and effectively managing the spread of the virus. To view Bureau Veritas’ Food Safety, Hygiene and Risk Management in the ‘New Normal’ webinar visit: https://www.bureauveritas.co.uk/webinarsafforded

1. https://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Article/2020/07/03/Hospitality-industry-takes-cautious-approach-to-reopening-Coronavirus-July-4
2. https://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Article/2020/07/02/One-in-five-restaurant-hospitality-suppliers-could-close-without-Government-support-Coronavirus