As coronavirus-related dining restrictions continue to be lifted and reduced for restaurants around the country, hotels are often faced with an extra layer of social distancing to address, since many of their restaurants and bars are located in or near high-traffic lobby areas, where guests can cross paths with diners, bar patrons and F&B staff.
At the Harpeth Hotel in Franklin, Tenn., the 1799 Kitchen & Cocktails venue is adjacent to the lobby check-in and lounge area, so diners need to pass through there to arrive at the bar and restaurant. The hotel has since reconfigured that path to provisions to give customers peace of mind for a safe passage.
“We spaced out our lobby and lounge seating, and added signage regarding social distancing,” said Justin Foster, the Harpeth’s GM. “We require face coverings, we’re limiting elevators to four people at once and our lobby entrance has separate in and out doors. Our team members help police the compliance.”
At Central Station Hotel in Memphis—the city’s main train station for decades which converted into a hotel last year—the expansive former lower concourse of the railroad depot is now the property’s bustling Eight & Sand bar and lounge. Nearby is a wide flight of stairs leading to the lobby entrance, where outside guests would need to pass through to get to the bar.
“We adjusted our floor plan in Eight & Sand to accommodate physical distancing for all seated guests, and we added signage asking guests to remain seated during their experience as much as possible to help ensure distancing requirements,” said Jeremy Sadler, GM at Central Station. “We also retooled our service to be more like a restaurant versus an open bar, meaning we try to assist guests with finding a seat that’s comfortable for their group size and eliminate crowding in one area. In addition, we removed all seats at the bar and trained our service staff to be more proactive in greeting guests as soon as they approach the space. Finally, we opened up patio seating and adjusted our lobby upstairs with appropriate precautions to accommodate additional seats and serve as overflow due to restricted seating in the bar itself.”
PPE and pandemic procedures
The Harpeth’s 1799 and Central Station’s Bishop restaurant—which is not connected to Eight & Sand—have implemented coronavirus dining restrictions like many other restaurants around the country. Both hotels require masks and gloves for staff at all times, and log daily employee temperatures for reference.
“Our custom masks feature the Harpeth logo and are fairly breathable and comfortable,” noted Foster. “We have constant reminders in our pre-shift meetings of why we wear PPE and are practicing our current SOPs. Our team understands the overall goal is to create a safe environment for staff and guests, because building customer confidence results in a busier restaurant.”
Photo: “Our custom masks feature the Harpeth logo and are fairly breathable and comfortable,” says Justin Foster, GM at the Harpeth Hotel in Franklin, Tennessee. “We have constant reminders in our pre-shift meetings of why we wear PPE and are practicing our current SOPs.”
Sadler added that “gloves are changed every 30 minutes at a minimum and/or anytime something is touched outside a team member’s personal control or production, like customer credit cards. We also went through a couple versions of masks until we found one that was comfortable enough to wear throughout a shift.”
Table service at 1799 has changed as well since reopening in April. “We used to fully set our tables with glassware, salt and pepper, wine glasses, water glasses and water vases. Now it is just a simple rollup of silverware and everything else is brought to the table as needed,” Foster said. “We also added hand sanitizer stations for guests and team members.”
At Bishop, pandemic procedures begin at the restaurant’s entrance, where guest temperatures are checked upon arrival, then customers sign a log that tracks table assignment, dining time, registered temperature and contact information. “We save that information in our reservation system to assist with contact tracing if needed,” explained Sadler. “Guests are required to wear masks any time they aren’t seated at their table, and our menus are provided via QR code or single-use upon request. Our training focus has been on server body language and tone as we recognize the necessary, yet inconvenient steps required to enjoy a dining experience. We coach our team to be patient as new procedures occasionally require more menu translation because it’s not a traditional welcome process.”
Photo: At Bishop restaurant inside Central Station Hotel, guest temperatures are checked before entering, then customers sign a log that tracks table assignment, dining time, registered temperature and contact information, if needed for future contact tracing.
Sadler adds that basic staff training for pandemic precautions usually takes a week and is ongoing as Memphis updates its coronavirus protocols. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Bishop, 1799 and many other restaurants amid the pandemic isn’t just the additional PPE and procedures, but how to turn a profit afterward.
“Our staffing needs have increased due to required procedures, while our capacity for patrons has decreased due to occupancy measures,” concluded Sadler, “thus making it more challenging to post a profit since it restricts our revenues.”