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Ready to open your doors to diners? Make a plan first.

Alisha Cieslak

May 6, 2020

Written By

Chief Legal & Risk Officer, Gordon Food Service


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The Coronavirus Pandemic has now reached all corners of the world, but no place has been more significantly impacted than the United States. Our major metropolitan areas see the most density of COVID-19 cases, leading State Governors and local municipalities to do their best to determine what measures should be taken to keep their residents safe. These often come in the form of Executive Orders or local ordinances promoting social distancing and enhanced sanitation measures.

Restaurants have been disproportionately impacted by these Executive Orders, as most have been forced to close or provide services through delivery or takeout only. In city centers, where delivery services are more commonplace, this conversion, while difficult, may have been faster to implement. For restaurants in those more rural areas, delivery services, including the technology and infrastructure to implement, fall on the operator.

What can I do to minimize the risks of reopening?

As states gradually begin to reopen, the speed at which restaurants can return to full capacity is unknown. Further, there is a lot of speculation about how quickly diners will return to their old favorites. Fears of safety and cleanliness will be heightened more than ever before. As a result, our customers will need to think differently about how they can differentiate themselves to attract these limited numbers of diners. Going too fast may send the wrong message to diners, that the operator isn’t taking these issues seriously. Opening too slow may put further strain on the operator from a cash flow perspective.

Trust20 was born out of an idea that, in the absence of local, state or federal guidelines, diners will want reassurance that a restaurant is taking extraordinary care to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

While there is no failsafe in preventing COVID-19, these 20 steps encompass all currently available guidance from the Center for Disease Control as well as best practices in sanitation as provided by leading chemical manufacturers.

What if an employee or customer tests positive for Covid-19?

Restaurant operators will need to closely consider liability issues if they choose to reopen and not implement enhanced sanitation practices. There is a lot of discussion about liability for employers and business owners on Capitol Hill, with legislation at the federal level being tied to state legislation around liability limitations for businesses as they reopen. Liability can extend to restaurant owners in their capacity as both an employer, for claims by employees; and as a business hosting members of the public. This is a complex area that you should continue to monitor for developments. While it’s difficult to isolate when or how exactly a person contracts COVID-19, similar to other health claims (i.e. food poisoning), worker’s compensation and plaintiff’s attorneys will be exploring this area with vigor.

Protecting restaurant employees and diners should be prioritized and all reasonable, available measures should be taken to mitigate potential liability as well as social and other media backlash.

Furthermore, just as important as minimizing the risk of virus transmission is how an operator responds to a confirmed case. It will be important to have a plan in place for what to do in the event of a confirmed employee or diner case-- in the first few hours, days, and weeks thereafter. We will be working on developing more resources to post to Trust20 in this regard.

Gordon Food Service is proud to offer Trust20 as a way for you to welcome diners back into your restaurant. Together, we will provide restaurant operators with the very best information available to position them for future success.

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