To examine how restaurants have changed in a post-COVID world, we offer this snapshot of a day in the life at a ramen counter in an American metropolitan area.
Step 1: Mask On
This particular ramen counter is located in an upscale food court, of sorts, and nobody is allowed in the building without wearing a mask covering the nose and mouth. The policy applies to employees and customers alike. It can be difficult to wear a mask for anywhere from six to nine hours at a time, but these food service folks are going to do it.
Step 2: Clock In
There’s a tablet by the register, and one of its many uses is to serve as a place for employees to clock in and out. Once you’re clocked in, the first thing you do is wash your hands, dry them thoroughly, and put on a pair of disposable latex gloves. Unfortunately the chef ordered the kind with powder inside by mistake, so everybody leaves work with hands that look like they were rolled in chalk. Throughout the day, you’ll change your gloves frequently because you’re handling food.
Step 3: Extra Steps for Preparation
In the old days, there was a public water station for guests in the food court. Now, each restaurant in the building has its own method of supplying single-use disposable water cups for their customers. In fact, so much more is single-use and disposable these days. For one thing, 60 – 80 percent of the business is still take-out or delivery. We’re in the experimental stages of reopening for dine-in customers at a limited capacity, and that fact has not yet been publicized for this food court. Dine-in customers will arrive, but they will do so mostly through word-of-mouth.
To that end, the manager will not have to post anything on social media this morning and can focus more on other administrative tasks, which may involve corresponding with distributors and, in the case of a ramen shop with a recent employee dispute, legal transcription services. Traditionally the manager would be taking a photo of a food special to post on the internet.
Step 4: Don’t Forget to Sanitize… Everything!
That tablet that everyone clocked in on with their bare hands? Sanitize it. The other four tablets (one is for the register, and three are for delivery services: Uber Eats, DoorDash, and PostMates)? Sanitize them. The counters and every other surface? Sanitize them. Yes, they were sanitized at the end of the shift last night. They must be sanitized again this morning, and this is a process that will be repeated throughout service even though all employees are wearing gloves and no customer can get behind the counter.
Step 5: Open for Business
In the case of this food court, the management of the premise has staffed employees to provide a few unique services. These employees will greet customers outside who wish to come into the building to browse and order food. The limited post-COVID capacity of the building will be strictly managed. Tables and chairs will be sanitized after every customer, and each table holds a bottle of hand sanitizer with a pump handle.
The same employees who help monitor the flow of customers inside the building also ferry completed take-out and delivery orders to a station outside the building for pickup, so that no takeout customer or delivery driver will come into the building.
Speaking of take-out and delivery food, a new wrinkle has been added to the day for the ramen shop employees. In addition to helping customers who are ordering at the register–and since many guests are unfamiliar with traditional Japanese-style ramen, there are many questions to be answered–the phone is constantly ringing with to-go orders, and the tablets are beeping with new delivery orders. All of those must be rung in and prepared.
It’s too early to tell what the future holds for this ramen shop and for restaurants across America. But the employees at the shop are happy to be there. They are passionate about food, and they love working at such a well-respected restaurant.