Pandemic drives food-safety innovation at local restaurants (includes interactive graphics)

Throughout the pandemic, restaurants have tried to come up with unique ways to prepare and deliver food that are safe. They must minimize the risk of contamination and comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rules. This presents a unique challenge as they attempt to manage the cost of these extra steps without sacrificing safety or cleanliness.

The CDC recommends that restaurants follow the model with the lowest risk for spreading the coronavirus. This involves providing only takeout, delivery and/or drive-through services.

“Our sales have dropped 90% from one day to the next and we went from 38 employees to 12,” said Michelle Sanchez, the executive chef of Latin House Grill in Miami.

“An average week for us is anywhere between $40,000 and $50,000 in sales and on a holiday week around $60,000 but we haven’t broken $10,000 in four months,” said Sanchez.

However, this hasn’t stopped the restaurant from coming up with innovative delivery systems that are both safe and as convenient as possible. 

“We have been focusing on a contactless experience for customers,” said Sanchez. “We have an employee preparing and boxing the food, and, for there to be zero contact with the client, we leave the bags on hooks on our revolving door. So inside we put it on the hook and then we revolve it to the outside and as it rotates they can grab the bag and leave. The person that prepares the food will also tie the bag and then put a piece of tape on it to show that it has been sealed.”

The struggle to find the balance between safety for customers and doing good business has been difficult to achieve, according to restaurant staff across Miami.

“Our number of working employees has reduced significantly, we only have one server outside, the hostess sitting in front, and myself as the manager,” said Gina Ameneiro, a manager at Moon Thai and Japanese restaurant. “We have been adapting to running the business from outside so it’s not like before, but we are adapting to doing to-go and carry-out orders.”

In addition, the CDC and the state of Florida have put forth sanitation and cleanliness guidelines. These suggest restaurants and bars do things such as frequently cleaning surfaces and wearing masks or face shields. Latin House Grill has taken it a step further.

“We take everyone’s temperature as they walk in and if they are over 99.6 degrees, then they are not allowed to come into work and they would have to go and get tested and are to not report back to work until they have their test results,” Sanchez said. “As a restaurant, we’ve always had a very high level of cleanliness and hygiene that we follow to make sure that our customers are safe.” 

How restaurants tackle these issues is only half the battle, however. Customers also bear the responsibility to help keep themselves and the people around them as safe as possible.

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The CDC recommends looking into delivery and pick-up options even if restaurants are open for in-house dining. The centers also recommend wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands frequently. 

Alejandro Moralez, a customer of Latin House Grill, agreed that patrons should try to be safe and order delivery instead of going to restaurants in person.

“I have been doing pick-up and delivery for like two months now, and people may be getting tired of it but it’s something that we just have to do until this is all over,” said Moralez.

Francisco Diaz is a journalism major at Florida International University. He aspires to become a technical writer and a gaming journalist.

Katherine Flinn, a journalism major, is especially passionate about incorporating design and digital media into her work. As a journalist, she intends to focus on issues such as conservation and politics.