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Questions for operations and workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic

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Questions regarding Phase II: Workplace Safety 

Make sure you’ve seen the CDC guidance for businesses and employers here.

Should I conduct a hazard assessment of my business prior to reopening?

Yes, you should.  Review your Accident Prevention Program manual and ensure all areas in your business meet compliance requirements. Create a cleaning schedule and train employees to follow all guidelines.  Consider high touch areas to include restroom handles, cashier areas/counters, all available seating and all other areas guests may gather.  Frequently clean all areas. Any condiments typically left on the table (ketchup, soy sauce, etc.) must be single-use or sanitized after each use.

If I introduce a new cleaner to my business because of coronavirus, what are the requirements?

Make sure that you have Safety Data Sheets (example) added to your chemical notebook and that all staff has been trained on proper usage and disposal.  Proper usage includes using only the recommended amount of cleaner – more is not better! 

What can I do to keep my workplace safe and L&I compliant? Restaurants, taverns, breweries, wineries and distilleries must ensure strict adherence to all measures established by the Governor’s guidance, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) Coronavirus (COVID19) Prevention: General Requirements and Prevention Ideas for Workplaces, and the Washington State Department of Health Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations (DOH).

Employers must specifically ensure operations follow the main L&I COVID-19 requirements to protect workers. You can find more information on these requirements in our reopening guide.

How do I maintain social distancing requirements when training my staff?

Either stagger training sessions or do remotely via web meeting platform.  You can gather a larger group of staff outdoors or in a large open space. Any new training materials should be made available electronically or printed for each employee.

Do I need to change the access to my business?

If possible, create a separate entrance and exit for your guests to encourage better flow and meet social distancing requirements. Also, setting up outdoor waiting areas is encouraged.

What can I do if I receive notice that a coronavirus-related complaint has been filed against my business?

Please consider the following article on how to handle coronavirus-related complaints, which emphasizes communicating vital information and strategies to your employees as well as setting up habits and routines to help mitigate common sources of complaints. Click here.

How can I de-escalate a conflict between a staff member and a customer who is complaining about restrictions? 

Ensure all staff has been trained for this kind of situation and remove the customer from public view if possible.  Request manager assistance and empathize with the customer while enforcing the necessary restrictions to keep all others safe.  Customers must wear a cloth face covering anytime they are not seated (while being seated or leaving, or while going to the restroom) and while they are talking at tables and not eating

Should I call the police if a customer causes a disturbance related to a perceived lack of safety/coronavirus prevention? 

If you believe your safety is at risk or that of any team member, then you should call law enforcement.

Is my buffet-style establishment permitted to open during Phase 2 or Phase 3?

From the Washington State Health Department’s official guidance, Phase 2 and Phase 3 will allow for customer self-service at salad bars, buffets and other communal food sources and drink stations – but only if increased safety is provided through the following:

  • Physical social distancing of customers in line
  • All sneeze guards, utensils and other customer-service equipment are properly in place and used.
  • Any food that has been touched or otherwise contaminated by customers or employees is discarded.
  • Staff monitor the areas to maintain proper customer usage and food temperature
  • Serving utensil touchpoints are sanitized or replaced with clean utensils at least every hour in Phase 2 and every two hours in Phase 3.
  • Hand gel, with 60% alcohol, is available for customer use.
  • Provide wrapped self-service condiments and disposable service ware, such as single service packets or carry-out utensils.
  • It is recommended that you discontinue product sampling and demonstration stations, except for single portions offered in response to a consumer’s request from the service counter.

What can I do about overcrowding? 

Some things to think about are ways you can reduce the opportunity for high traffic areas. Consider the layout of your restaurant and create ample space for guests to socially distance. Designate some tables as off-limits. Remember that mingling is not allowed – you may want to consider designating an employee as a “safety ambassador” to help with crowd control and gently maintaining adherence. We have created these helpful flyers that can help you inform guests of the current rules for indoor dining. You can find them and more elsewhere in our reopening guide.

How do I enforce social distance requirements? 

Create social distance by moving tables and creating space that does not encourage unrelated groups to gather.  Doing this early will limit confusion for guests and staff. Outdoor seating is encouraged if possible. Maintain minimum six-foot separation between all employees in all interactions at all times. When strict physical distancing is not feasible for a specific task, other prevention measures are required, such as use of barriers, minimize staff or customers in narrow or enclosed areas, stagger breaks, and work shift starts Hang signage of the requirement – you can find flyers and other useful signs to print out and post by

How do wait staff serve tables while maintaining social distancing?

Minimize the number of staff serving any given table. It is strongly recommended that one staff person take a table’s order, bring all of their beverages/food/utensils, take their payment, etc.

Question about operations

What kind of sanitizer to I get and where do I get it? 

You should get alcohol-based (60%) sanitizer for employee and customer use. Place it in convenient and accessible locations, such as inside the front door and outside of restrooms. Contact your vendors or cleaning supply providers, restroom supply companies, broadline distributors, restaurant supply companies and even some of our local spirit manufacturers are making some.  

How do I close off the bar seating? 

Indoor bar service is not allowed for taverns, wineries, breweries and distilleries. You will need to remove chairs and stools so customers cannot sit at the bar. Customers may continue to sit in the bar or lounge area, so long as the seating complies with the rest of the requirement in the Phase your county is in.  

Do I need to implement a reservations system? 

No, but you may want to consider if that’s the best way to control customer flow in and out of your establishment. You will need to ensure you achieve social distancing in any waiting or lobby area.  

If I don’t offer table service, how do I implement social distancing at food and drink pick-up locations? 

Show what six feet looks like by measuring and mark six feet of space on the floor with brightly colored tape at the counter where customers pick up food, and at drink stations. Use signage as markers to demonstrate where you would like customers to wait, and what you would like them to do. Have two extra feet of space between the next six feet measurement to account for the customer at the counter. Again, place signs in the area that clearly explain this new procedure.  

Do I need Plexiglas barriers at the counter? 

No. You do need to keep guests and employees six feet apart or use barriers.   

Should I assign a team member to direct customers to their place? Should I put up signage? How do I enforce this? 

Using a team member to help explain new rules and how you intend to keep guests and employees safe is a great idea, but not a requirement. Be polite—you need your customers. Gently explain that these measures are in place to ensure customer and employee safety. If you decide that you need a social distancing monitor, choose a staff member with an engaging personality and are pleasant. Train them in your procedures.  

If a large party comes in, do we have to limit the table to 5 or should we break the party up into separate tables? 

In the governor’s plan, food service establishments may only seat five people per table, and for indoor service they must be the same household. If a larger party arrives, break them up into separate tables, even if they are part of one family. 

How do I ensure that everyone in the same party is from the same household? 

You can ask the party or take a look at their IDs if you are unsure. 

Guest occupancy must be 50% of maximum building occupancy or lower. Should I rope off half of my dining area, or should I put half of the tables and chairs in storage to create more distance between them? 

You should not rope off your dining area. The intent of restricting capacity for businesses is to ensure that guests are spaced apart and distributed across the entire building to allow for adequate social distancing. If your tables and chairs are bolted to the floor, block off seating that is less than six feet apart or consider installing a barrier between tables and booths. If you can, rearrange the tables and to spread out space between the tables. Again, good signage can let your customers know where they can and cannot sit.  

Tables must be placed far enough apart when measured from occupied chair to occupied chair, to ensure dine-in guests seated at a table are a minimum of six feet away from guests at adjacent table. Should I create a seating chart of my dining room? 

Yes, this will help to train your employees and inform them of the social distancing required.   

Single-use menus, or menus you can sanitize between uses are required for in-person dining. Should I implement a chalkboard instead? Where can I get chalkboards? 

You can use a single menu or large sign or chalk board. This will help inform customers about menu choices if supply changes or if you need to make quick changes to the menu. You can also use menus that allow for sanitizing between uses. For supplies, check with your local art supply store, office supply store or with your distributor. Check out this list of sources and suppliers, available on our coronavirus resource guide.   

Any condiments typically left on the table (ketchup, soy sauce, etc.) must be single-use or sanitized after each use. What is the best practice for serving single-use condiments? 

Offer condiments on request. You can ask when you take the order, or when you serve the food.  

Restaurants must have implemented a plan to ensure proper physical distancing in lobby/waiting areas/payment counters. Should I ask guests to wait outside or in their cars until their table is ready? 

Have a plan in place and communicate it with your staff. You will need to train them on the new physical distancing procedures. If there is a line waiting outside, place tape on the ground in six-foot intervals or use signage instructing guests on what to do.  

Minimize the number of staff serving any given table. How do I utilize my team that has traditionally brought the food out to the tables? 

Using only one staff member per table will help customers feel safer dining out—one person takes the order, fills the water glasses, brings the food, beverages, utensils and the bill. The staff that traditionally brings the food, fills the water glasses, buses the table, can be used in other areas—social distancing monitors. Think about the strengths of these employees and where they could be used best. Could they be trained as servers? Behind the scenes in food prep?  

If you are a quick-service restaurant, the fewer contacts between customers and employees, the better. If you take the customer’s order at the counter and deliver the meal to their table, that should be fine, as long as the server is wearing the proper personal protection equipment and limits the number of visits to the table.  

Important to remember: 

For those licensees that are classified as “bars,” you must close your indoor bar service. Outdoor seating is allowed. 

Customers need to be seated at all times to prevent mingling. 

 All sales, service and consumption of alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits must end at 10 p.m. until Phase 4