ALL SYSTEMS GO: GETTING A HANDLE ON NEW HYGIENE MEASURES
From enhanced cleaning schedules to social distancing, heightened safety and hygiene have become the new norm. Take inspiration from three bars in Ireland, Australia, and Taiwan as they respond to new standards and ways of working.
Depending on your location, your strategy for reopening, and the regulations you face in doing so, may look very different from other venues. With perspectives from three bar operators, each in different countries, there is a real opportunity to learn from their approach and adapt it within your own.
LINDA O’FLYNN, IRELAND
The situation in Ireland continues to evolve and as it stands pubs and bars which were due to reopen on 20th July will remain closed until early August. Meanwhile, venues like Cask, based in Cork, where Linda is Bar Manager were allowed to reopen on 29th June on the basis that they sell food and are compliant with public health guidance.
PASAN WIJESENA, AUSTRALIA
Pasan Wijesena’s bars Earl’s Juke Joint and Jacoby’s Tiki bar, based in Sydney, Australia have recently reopened and like many, have made substantial changes to the venue layout and ways of working in order to offer safe and considered environments for guests to relax and socialize. With tightening restrictions in some areas of Australia, they are cautious of complacency and are taking hygiene and safety very seriously.
NICK WU, TAIWAN
Nick Wu’s bar Mood, based in Taipei, Taiwan, was able to stay open throughout this ongoing situation whilst practicing safe physical distancing and implementing all the necessary hygiene and safety protocols to keep everyone safe.
In this article, these three bar operators share how they are responding to the new standards in their respective countries.
CONFIDENCE COMES FROM PREPARATION
Before reopening, we took the time to understand and carefully implement the necessary changes to meet the latest hygiene and safety standards. Staff training played an important role in ensuring that every member of our team was up to speed on the new measures from hand hygiene to cleaning procedures and chemical safety. We also took the decision to ensure that during each shift, one person is solely responsible for cleaning all high touchpoints across the hotel, bar, and restaurant. This not only upholds the required standards but allows the rest of the team to focus on the day-to-day procedures.
As soon as the health regulations were announced, I purchased all the required sanitation equipment and sourced all the relevant signage to make sure my venue met all of the compliance requirements. We wanted to welcome our loyal guests back and their safety and that of my teams were paramount - something I would not compromise on and so we were very thorough in our approach. Taking time to prepare for reopening as a team really boosted our confidence. We tried to be as proactive as possible by drafting a safety plan for our venue. This details everything from the safety of customers and staff, physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning protocols, record keeping, and more. This is our bible and everyone in our team is aware of its contents and their role in making it all happen.
One of the requirements from the government was to set up a contact tracing system so that if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to contact trace you could do so easily and with accuracy. This is something we happily embraced and made sure to clearly communicate its purpose to both our team and guests. If this system is available in your local area, I would highly recommend you set one up for your venue.
In Taiwan, many people still carry memories of the last pandemic in 2003, so awareness was high among the population here from an early stage. Our experience from the previous outbreak enabled our government to respond rapidly and contain the spread without the need for a total lockdown. Our situation is relatively contained as a result. We were very fortunate in that our venues could remain open through it all but like many others, we too have had to adapt our approach to hygiene and safety, purely as a precaution.
MEASURES IN PRACTICE
We were naturally anxious about how this new normal would work in practice - our biggest concern, after health and safety, was how we could maintain the essence of what we do while hidden behind Perspex and masks. A few weeks on, I’m pleased to say this hasn’t been affected too much and we are finding balance in meeting restrictions while staying true to our values, we’re even finding some opportunity along the way! At Cask we very much live off our land through foraging or crafting menus based on seasonality and now more than ever it’s important to champion and celebrate all things homegrown. About half of our serves are now batched and bottled to reduce the touchpoints before the drink reaches the table. While this means more work in terms of prep, it’s worth the extra time for speed and safety. All of our bartenders are used to working to a high standard at high volume, but the new hygiene standards mean we get to retrain and become more polished, conscious bartenders which is a real bonus.
Our end of shift cleaning has never been so extensive, I’m sure all venues would agree! Once full cleaning procedures are carried out each night, we then use the Steri-7 Biomister, a high powered fogging machine which expels a fine anti-septic mist which eventually settles on all surfaces, particularly useful in disinfecting surfaces not reached by conventional cleaning methods. This extra measure gives us confidence that we are taking all the necessary precautions.
Our bar has always been a hygiene driven environment - we wash our hands countless times a night, constantly wipe down surfaces, carry out toilet checks, daily cleaning, weekly deep cleans, the list goes on! The current situation has just added another level to an already safe environment if you ask me. That said, we have developed a cleaning schedule that we firmly adhere to in order to ensure the safety of our teams and our guests alike.
We have also taken steps to limit contact as much as possible, using menu boards on the wall to reduce touchpoint interaction. We also stopped serving communal snacks and eliminated self-serve items for the same reason.
While we aren’t a cashless venue like some are, we do encourage contactless payment where possible. What we are finding is that we are not as busy, but spend per head is increasing, tips are also growing even without the use of cash. A likely outcome of consumers wanting to support local bars through this time and treat themselves after a few months of living in lockdown.
During this period of time, no matter where you go in Taiwan - whether to the store, a restaurant, or even a movie theatre, you will need to have your temperature taken and hands sanitized before going in—the same is done in Bar Mood and MU. It’s so commonplace that it would actually look strange if we weren’t implementing these measures. Apart from that, we also have every guest fill out a form with their full name, contact information, health condition, and complete recent travel history. We also make a note of where everyone is seated, so we can track down anybody if necessary. And we are not alone here—about 80% of all cocktail bars and bistros in Taiwan do the same.
In Taiwan, we managed to respond quickly and effectively in this situation. Regardless of this, we remain vigilant and practice good hygiene across all touchpoints. For example, we sanitize our door handles every hour, our restrooms every two hours. Sanitation of other bar areas is carried out on a schedule, as well as employee handwashing.
As per restrictions here in Ireland, guests can have a table for up to 1 hour 45 minutes, and in order to manage this, we launched an online booking system. Each customer who books a slot is emailed clear information on the steps we are taking as a venue to ensure their safety and what we expect from them too, this means it’s all a little less daunting on arrival. For each time slot booked, we have built-in an extra 15 minutes purely for turning tables so we can thoroughly clean and sanitize the areas before seating the next group.
We have tried to be as front footed as we can throughout all of this, meeting the requirements - and then some. One example of this is the use of face coverings. While it’s not yet mandatory to wear face coverings in public here it will be soon so we took the decision to promote the use from the get-go – it’s important to us that our staff and customers feel like we’re taking every step to ensure their safety. What you will find is there are a lot of options, take time to choose what works for your venue. At Cask we opted for patterned fabric masks, which made the item look less clinical and allowed us to inject some brand personality. Feedback so far has been positive, and we actually find that once we run through our new set-up with guests, they feel safe with us and enjoy being out again. So don’t be afraid to go the extra mile, as the saying goes, you can never be too safe!
Under current New South Wales coronavirus restrictions, we can welcome an unlimited number of people in our venue, as long as they remain seated and maintain a distance of four-square meters from each other. This meant we had to rethink our layout, particularly table positions to ensure we could maintain this distance throughout the bar. In order to keep guests seated and limit mingling we now offer table service only. At Earl’s, we can legally welcome groups of up to 20 people, but we took the decision to limit group sizes to 10 people maximum.
We find that smaller groups are easier to separate and help maximize the room space given capacity restrictions. So far guests have been appreciative of these efforts to promote safety and we have had no complaints yet!
We continue to practice physical distancing in our venues purely as a precaution and have made necessary seating adjustments to facilitate this. When making changes like this it’s important for us to let our guests know what we are doing and why so that we have their cooperation next time visit. We find it most effective to update our customers through social media posts, this also means that ahead of visiting they can simply visit our social channels to get familiar with our latest set-up.
All of our staff members wear masks on the job and we actually provide custom-made mask-holders for our employees and guests as souvenirs that offer a safe, clean place to keep their masks long after they leave our venue.
WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Adapting to this new way of being is never going to be an easy feat for bars across the world. To continue working as before is impossible but what is possible and important Is meeting the new norm measures with fluidity and care. Be sensible, be safe, and be kind!
My parting advice is to keep on top of the regulations in your area, particularly as they evolve, to ensure you are compliant across the board. It’s also really valuable to help the flow of information by talking to each other. Get into group chats with other owners and share information. Now is not a time for competition, it is a time to come together and support one another through the challenges we face. Lastly, talk to your guests, don’t be afraid to update them on your new approaches, it helps with understanding.
One thing is for sure, communication is just as important as the measures that are in place – what good are they if no one knows they are there or why? Communicating through social media is the best way to provide your community with live updates as they happen. I think how we reacted to the whole pandemic and what we have achieved is truly something to be proud of. I don’t think this came from the effort of myself and my staff only. It is the combined result of everyone’s awareness and cooperation. This is my advice to you - now is the time to work together as a team, look for better, safer ways to do things, and respond as quickly as you can to protect your team and guests.
*Please consult WHO, as well as country-specific legislation and guidelines when considering next steps for your bar.
- Preparation pays off, make a safety plan for your venue, and share it with the team.
- Fogging machines with anti-septic mist help disinfect all areas, even those hard to reach.
- Implement clear cleaning schedules and assign specific roles during shifts to maintain standards.
- Get creative with PPE and safety signage to fit with your brand personality while meeting the regulations
- Take steps to gather guest contact information should you need to contact trace at a later date.