The long awaited news that restaurants would be reopening for indoor dining has finally come from City and State government officials. With that New York City’s restaurants and foodservice operators are focused on preparing for reopening. At the top of their agendas are making certain that they are ready to meet new protocols both in their dining areas and kitchens. The priority for operators is safety.
Total Food Service sought out one of the City’s leading experts in restaurant safety strategy: Joe Heaney of Lotus Safety Solutions to get his input on best practices as restaurants prepare to welcome dining patrons.
We have restaurants that are struggling to survive in NYC. You have an extensive portfolio of options. How about sharing a plan of attack that is fiscally sane and can work?
First off, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. We completely understand that these are unprecedented times for everyone, and especially restaurants, as many have suffered greatly throughout pandemic while having to be among the first to shut down and the last to reopen. Lotus was created to help these struggling businesses. As you mentioned our portfolio of products and services is extensive, and that is by design, as we have put together a full health and safety task force consisting of medical doctors, scientists, engineers, epidemiologists, and contractors to provide a fully comprehensive safety solution for our clients.
While extensive, our approach is designed to determine the specific needs for each client so we can design a plan that’s right for them. When we propose any service, we break out each line by line on our proposal, detailing the price and the scientific or regulatory background of each for justification.
We believe that this allows the restaurant owner to make the most educated, fiscally responsible decision possible. We have an in-depth knowledge of the New York State regulations as they stand today, and can consult our clients on the basics in order to be compliant, all the way up through the more comprehensive solutions that can help to differentiate them from other restaurants. We believe that this differentiation will be key moving forward, as restaurant goers are increasingly preferring establishments where they feel safe.
You told me you saw an opportunity to create this business with the advent of COVID? Can you share your background with our readers?
Gladly, I graduated from Johns Hopkins with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and began my career with Trane, one of the largest HVAC manufacturers in the world. While at Trane, I worked on a wide variety of projects designing and implementing HVAC systems ranging from healthcare to hospitality and commercial office space and more. As a result, I developed a deep understanding of indoor air quality solutions. When the shutdown happened in March, I saw the opportunity to not only pursue my passion of running a business, but also to help the businesses and people of the city and its surrounding areas where I was born.
At the top of your list is HVAC filtration upgrades. Is this bio-polarization?
Filters of HVAC systems are given a MERV rating, which indicates its efficacy of catching particles (bacteria, viruses, mold, spores, dust, etc) of a certain size on a single pass through the filter. The science presented by the CDC and trade organizations such as ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) recommend a minimum of MERV 13 which has some exceptions depending on the system. We are seeing the state regulations that have been detailed for malls and fitness centers thus far follow these recommendations and believe that logically the regulations for restaurants will also follow suit. Additionally, Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) and Bipolar Ionization would fall into the HVAC Technology Upgrades category of our services. The state regulations have adopted and make mention of UVGI over some of the newer technologies as it has been tried, tested, and proven in hospital applications over the past multiple decades.
What advice do you have for hands-free technology? Certainly restrooms… where else?
Yes, certainly restaurants would be first and foremost, but in addition to those, during each site assessment we look to seek out other high contact areas throughout the restaurant and propose hands-free technologies. Some of the low hanging fruit that is typical of every restaurant would be menus, where we often either recommend having customers utilize their smart phones and reading the menus posted as a QR code on the table, or by utilizing paper menus that are disposed after each table is cleared. During the assessment, we make sure to talk with the restaurant owner and ask the key questions to ensure that we are providing the solution that best fits with their preferences and brand experience.
How has COVID-19 changed how we look at the use of anti-Microbial surfaces?
I think historically anti-microbial surfaces have been looked at as a “nice to have” where now they are becoming the norm. In my opinion, these wraps and coatings are an easy way for a restaurant owner to SHOW their patrons that they are taking steps to ensure their safety. We make sure to work with our clients to not only propose and implement our safety solutions, but also work with them on best practice to communicate and advertise the work they have done. We believe that the optics of our solutions are a crucial part of our service offering as well.
What suggestion do you have for preparing for social distancing both in the dining room and kitchens?
We certainly recommend following the CDC’s social distancing guidelines of a minimum 6’ separation between tables, and further recommend this spacing between patrons from one table to another over the separation being just simply between tables. During our assessment, we will also identify airflow direction of the HVAC systems throughout the space and make further recommendations on table placement. The kitchens are of course a bit more difficult to maintain this 6’ separation, so in addition to recommending daily wellness checks and temperature screenings, we have partnered with the team at Back To Work Experts, who are doctors that assist managers in developing detailed staffing plans and workflows to decrease the chance of transmission amongst staff.
What are your thoughts on ventilation? What are most restaurant currently using? How does that need to change?
The ventilation systems in NYC restaurants are about as diverse as they come. They range from being a part of a larger buildings system, having a stand-alone system, or having no system at all. We are well equipped and lean on our deep industry experience to provide recommendations to each unique system on how to instill best practices to mitigate transmission.
The recent push in the industry has been around energy efficiency, and thus minimizing outside air and equipment usage to conserve power. From a health perspective, the opposite needs to be emphasized, as more outside air should be introduced to the space which will dilute any particles that may be suspended in the air. Moving forward, there will certainly need to be an effective balance between the two concerns, and we are well positioned to assist in finding this balance point.
What is thermal temperature monitoring?
Thermal temperature monitoring is the practice of taking the temperature of all staff and patrons of the restaurant. This can be achieved in many ways, either with handheld touchless thermometers, temperature sensing kiosks, or larger cameras hooked up to a closed-circuit system. Taking a patron’s temperature is included in the governor’s requirements for reopening. Many of our clients take our recommendation for kiosks, as they are highly accurate without requiring a host or hostess to get up close and personal with every patron. Again though, during our assessment we will ask the right questions to ensure that we are providing the best possible solution for each client.
After you help get restaurants prepped to re-open, what can you do with cleaning and testing to ensure the ability to provide a consistently healthy environment?
We have tight relationships with medical facilities and cleaning crews who can provide these services to ensure our clients are able to maintain a healthy environment so they can remain open for business. We also provide a certification system for our clients that is tiered between silver, gold, and platinum. The advertisement of which contributes to the pro-staff and pro-customer optics that we previously discussed and will further help to differentiate our clients from other restaurants.
Furthermore, we view our relationships with our clients to be on-going and comprehensive. Right now, the regulations allow for 25% occupancy with restrictions. We believe that as time passes, and we hopefully move to 50, 75 and even 100% capacity, these restrictions will become more stringent. We are trusted advisors to our clients, helping them to be proactive to anticipate these increases in restrictions so that they can both be prepared and eliminate delays in expanding capacity. More importantly, our expertise and proactivity allows our clients to shift their focus back onto the most important thing – their business.
Learn more about Lotus Safety Solutions at their website.