Bringing Staff and Customers Back Safely

School Nutrition Education Program

Bringing Staff and Customers Back Safely

USDA Professional Standards Code 2620/3410/3420/4120/4130/4140

Bart Christian – He is a nationally recognized speaker and the school nutrition industry.
Josh Seguin – Director of People at True Food Kitchen.

Tell us about what it is like working in that type of high-pressure environment and very competitive markets? Tell us little about that.

I think the way to describe it is certainly high pressure for sure. I think that in those environments, you’re really only as good as your last review. I was fortunate to work alongside. In my opinion, one of the most talented chefs in the world, John George, when I worked for the Mercer Kitchen, we were right across the street from the corporate office. Everyday George would come in for breakfast and we’d have an opportunity.

We’ll have some one-on-one time and certainly speak. It’s just that environment, it’s certainly very competitive, especially in an environment like New York. I think it’s one of the reasons why I think I was able to certainly grow my career very quickly. I’m in Arizona, which is a much different environment I would say, but part of my heart is definitely still New York, for sure.

What type of things are you guys doing at True Foods to kind of be prepared for re-openings as we look forward to that in the next couple of weeks?

It’s a great question. I think really what’s just as important to think through is kind of how we got to what we’re doing right now. When we first started going through a lot, the Covid kind of phasing , we made the decision as a brand to shut down the restaurants and this was March 18th. I remember for the rest of my life, for sure, and it was certainly not an easy decision to make, but one that we felt was necessary because we really wanted to make the right decision. I think there’s a lot of gray in what we’re doing.

As an industry, I think we’re trying to do the best we can with the information that we have, but one thing that was really to us was that we wanted to take a step back and say, “All right, let’s close our restaurants for the moment, but know that we’re gonna look at our service model. We’re going to look at what we can do to protect our guests and our team members when they report back to work.

What are some things that we need to do to adjust? It really took us a good two weeks to think through our service model and think through some of the things that we’re doing right now and that continues to evolve as well.

● I think that you have to be comfortable in this environment with adjusting and constantly
● You know what you’re doing to make sure that you’re staying current and doing everything you
can to protect anyone that walks in your building.
● One thing that we thought through initially was kind of recreating our service model. So still wanting to make sure that we are focused on hospitality and providing great food for our guests but also kind of focused on the social distancing aspect of what CDC and local health
recommendations were.
● There were health department regulations and one thing that we looked at was how can we
create that social distance within a restaurant and the obvious piece being, you can create six feet of distance between your tables to start.
● But even taking a step further, we wanted to make sure that we were limiting the interaction
between our servers and our guests as well. We created a process where we were able to have
guests write down their orders on the menus, have our servers come collect the orders, make
sure they’re reviewing any requests or allergy accommodations and really minimizing that initial context.
● We’re prior, our servers would spend the first three minutes going through a menu, explaining who we are, and we’ve kind of taken a step away from that for a little bit just to make sure that we’re really protecting our guests and our team members, but also making sure that people feel comfortable in our environments as well.

What are you doing in that area to make sure that your employees maintain a safe distance from each other and practice social distancing?

I think, when you look at the front of house in a restaurant and you look at even the prep spaces, we’re fairly fortunate to have pretty large areas in those departments, but where I think we have the biggest challenges is certainly what you consider to be the wine.

● From grill to sauté, to walk to even out pantry cooks, it’s certainly difficult to create that six feet of distance. We’ve done everything we can to create as much space as possible, but what’s important to us too is we want to focus on some of the other things that we can control and some of the other things that we can do to even take it a step further.
● All of our team members are required to wear masks when they report to work, and they come
to our restaurants.
● Our backhouse, everyone’s wearing gloves, really what the CDC is saying right now. Close contact would be anyone that spends more than 15 minutes within six feet of distance.
● We really try to limit those instances as much as we possibly can in every instance and I think really what we’re able to do right now is since we’re operating on a smaller team, even our line positions, we’re able to maintain that distance and maintain at least distance as much as possible.

What type of things are you all planning on doing as far as temperature checks? Is there anything as far as guests are concerned or maybe employee’s safety? What’s True Foods’ response to some of the new things that are being talked about in?

That’s a great question too. And I think really what we want to focus on, um, as a brand is making sure that we can always say that we’re following CDC and local. Department regulations as well or recommendations. Every decision we make is focused on that piece.

● What we wanted to do in the essence of keeping our team and our guests safe is we’re really
instituting a zero-tolerance policy for any team member, reporting to work second. We’ve
encouraged all of our team members, even if they have a simple cold, if they have a sore throat, a cough, anything that they should not report to work.
● I think, where we may have been a little bit more stringent with our attendance policies. We
definitely laxed a little bit to make sure that our teams feel comfortable to take that time that they need to focus on themselves and certainly focus on their health. That being kind of our first step.
● We’ve actually instituted a wellness check. Before our team members report to work, they’re
asked to complete a wellness check, which just basically asks three questions. The first question being have our team members come in contact with anyone that’s COVID positive, are they experiencing any COVID related symptoms, and have they been tested positive for COVID? If the answer is no to all of those questions, they’re able to report to work.
● We’re also asking them to take their temperatures before they report to work as well, just as an over precaution. Although the CDC and health department have said in many cases that not all people that are COVID positive experience fever, but again, it’s just one more precaution that we can put in place.
● When they come to clock in for their shift, the answer is a simple question that’s on our RPOs that just says, ‘have you completed your wellness check today?’. I think that our team’s constantly talking through that and just asking themselves those questions. I think it limits a lot of the potential for people to come to work sick.

How is the wellness check being performed? Is that a written documentation, a text message, something that’s on your website?

We didn’t want to create the necessary documentation. What we ended up doing is we actually:

● Ask our team members to create, or to this process before they come into work and then when
they come into work, they actually answer our question on the POS that says that I’ve completed my wellness check today. We want to make sure that people are following through, and then there’s always that constant reminder.
● I think when it comes to looking at different HIPAA violations or laws, there’s a lot of regulations around protecting information if you choose to document it.
● We want to make sure that we’re sending that constant reminder to our team, but we also want
to make sure that we’re not creating unnecessary documentation either.
● One thing is that we are recommending our teams take temperature checks as well when our
employees come into the restaurant. What we do in that case if 99% of the time and really actually a hundred percent of the time so far, we’ve had team members coming to work and they’ve tested it, or their temperature has been under 100.4 degrees, which is what CDC saying constitutes a fever, anything above a hundred 100.4.
● What we want to do, if anyone tests above that, is certainly make sure that we’re protecting their confidentiality. We’re not having team members line up at the beginning of shift to take their temperature just more as people come in.
● It’s recommended it’s not something that we’re strictly enforcing or making it mandatory but for many of our team members, it’s almost been kind of this comfort that we’re taking this extra step to make sure that we’re keeping safe. We certainly haven’t had any pushback in terms of us taking temperatures either at this point.

Do you see people demonstrating symptoms after they’ve already passed the wellness check?
For sure, and I think that’s an excellent point. What I think through in that instance, you have team members that have, in some cases been out of work for a couple of months now. It’s hard to tell someone that they have to stay at home if they’re experiencing any symptoms, but we know that.

● It’s necessary to make sure that we’re keeping our team safe and certainly to take every
precaution to keep everyone safe. I imagine that as we go through the next few months that we’re going to have team members that are really trying to push through and thinking that they just have maybe a common cold or a sore throat or something that is seemingly not a big deal.
● We certainly know that it is given that that could be one of the first signs of Covid in some cases.

I do think that our teams will continue to probably monitor each other. We hope that our team
members and even our guests too, will certainly know that it’s the responsibility in this case to make sure that we’re doing our best to keep everyone safe. We hope that they’ll continue to solve problems.

Does it concern you seeing your team come back to work, especially those that have been out for the past couple of weeks, months, and the enhanced unemployment benefit? Is that something that you’ve seen that is going to affect maybe reopening certain areas? What’s your experience with that so far?

● For sure. First and foremost, I am really happy that I think our government has been able to
provide this extended benefit to many of our team members who, again, have maybe missed a
month to two months of work at this point. I feel like that benefit, if you use the right way it’s a good benefit.
● I’m certain that in some cases people have different risk tolerance levels. Being just a married guy, no kids, just the dog at home, and families on the east coast, I think that my risk level might be a little bit more tolerant than others.
● We have individuals who have elderly parents where they have children or maybe health
conditions that they’re on, that they have to monitor for. My theory is that, without those benefits that they would be forced to come back to work sooner than they’re ready or comfortable to be able or comfortably able to come back to work, I definitely want our team members to feel comfortable when they’re ready to come back. I do imagine that those benefits will probably delay some people from wanting to come back right away. That being said, in some cases being forced to look at external hires as well and kind of work through that process.
● Our restaurants are actually a little bit busier than we anticipated. And in thinking through, some of our markets thought that they might open up at 25%, some of them have gone to 50% right off the bat. Kind of working through some of the staffing challenges. It’s part of our new normal to some extent. I think that will subside,
● I think, especially towards the end of this month. I feel like even in June we’ve seen a lot of our team members start to come back a little bit more willingly and I think it’s partly because we put these safety practices in place that they feel comfortable to come back to. I think as we move into July and August, I think people are going to be eager to come back to work. I agree that the benefits are a great thing. I agree that there are it has saved our lives in so many ways, but I’ve heard from a few of my friends in the food service business that have said that they’re actually these employees that they’re having a little trouble bringing back that they’re being forced to replace it, because there are people that want to work now and want to come back to work and their fear is that they’ve got some people that were really valuable team members that are going to maybe drag their feet a little bit in coming back that may find themselves not having the job at the place they were before.

Do you see this kind of reward that your former employees come back willingly?

● For sure and that’s really important to think through. If we look at operations right now, most of our restaurants are operating between 25 and 50%. In my opinion, we may, by the end of this year, get back to 60, maybe 80% but I think we’re going to be operating at a limited capacity for some time now. We look at some of the teams I think have struggled to bring people back and we’ve given our team members almost an option of when they’d like to return.
● It’s, ‘Hey, I’d like to return immediately.’ ‘Hey, I’d like to return sometime in June.’ ‘Hey, I’d like to return back sometime after June.’ We’ve actually sent out a survey to our team members to gauge when people were comfortable with coming back and many of our team members had responded saying that they were looking to come back sometime after June.
● In my heart, I want to make sure that we’re keeping a space for all of our team members that
were with us. As we continue to hire and bring those people and maybe even hire externally, I
know that we’re not going to have enough space in some cases if we’re forced to hire externally.
● We’re certainly encouraging your team members to come back if they can. We’re just hoping that as we kind of work through the next day, it will continue to get busier and we’ll be able to bring more people back, which would include our team members that are currently not at work right now. I hope that helps answer your question a little bit.

What have you found to be successful? How do you communicate with this very large number of
employees you have?

For sure. You know, it’s funny. If you asked me that question probably a month ago, I probably would have said that we did a great job communicating and making sure we get to everyone. In hindsight, I think that there were probably some opportunities in the way that we communicated, especially to the hour level.

● A lot of our communications went directly to our managers which then were passed on to our
hourly team members. I feel like at the very beginning of our shutdown in March, our
communications were spot on. I think as we’ve worked through, I think the last few months, I
think that we were certainly distracted with reopening and getting our teams back to work.
● I think that some of the people are still out of work and have been out for some time. I think that we could have done a better job communicating with those individuals and providing them at least with information as to what we were doing to reopen how we were planning on keeping them in our guests safe.
● I think that we knew those conversations were happening when people came back to our
restaurants, but they weren’t necessarily happening with the people that were out of the
restaurants. In hindsight, that’s something that we probably could have changed and done a little bit better.
● I definitely have that piece, I think with our brand right now, and it’s funny that you mentioned that we’re a large organization and we’re kind of in this awkward teenage phase of being a large company and being a small group with 33 restaurants open right now or 34, actually with our Las Vegas location.
● I think that we have a lot of resources, but we don’t have quite the number of resources that a restaurant group like Jordan would have. I think that we find ourselves sometimes challenged with having enough bodies to get things done, but we do have good resources and one of those resources being used is an LMS called Wisetail. That’s typically our platform communicating with our hourly team members. Then we use Hot Schedules as well. Between those two platforms, email communication, we’ve tried to really get as much communication out to our management team members to our hourly team members as possible.
● Now we’re kind of at the stage where we’re almost to a point where we’re getting ready to bring as many team members back as possible. It’s working through surveys to see who’s comfortable coming back at this point. You’re working through other communications with our managers to make sure that they know what the protocols are for you and when it comes to safety protocols or response protocols to Covid. All those pieces are all important right now for us, for sure.

How are you planning on addressing training with your staff? How do you handle getting this new information out to them and making sure that they’re completing it?

For sure, I think that we’re pretty fortunate to have a great group of team members. Both in our leadership team, our regional team, and then our in-house manager team, each of the restaurants as well.

● I think for us, and one thing that we really have to look at as a brand is how we train long-term now. Well, I’m hesitant to say, this is our new normal, I think it’s our new reality at this point.
● One thing that we had worked on pre-Co-Vid is we’re actually looking to create regional training stores so we really focus our training efforts. One store where we knew that we could send all of our management teams to train and get consistent training and that might not be possible at this point. It might not be possible for some time now.
● I think we’ve been really forced to think through a lot of our training efforts and how we can create a really strong training program. We can trust our team members to fall through within the store as well, and not just for our managers, but for hourly team members too.
● I think part of that is, I think structuring the way that you communicate with your teams we’re definitely a group that likes to send out a lot of communications. Sometimes if you send out too many communications, things get lost in the mix and so we’ve really tried to strategize how we introduce things.
● We’ve come up with a weekly communication that we send out to our teams. We call it true
nation news, and are we to get, or are they really to get the information that we want to get to the teams? So, they have a week to digest it, talk about it with their teams and kind of work through that process.
● I think for other training efforts too, I think that having daily conversations, especially around safety protocols is critically important. When it comes to maintaining safety protocols, having daily lineups with your team to talk through what our current protocol is and talking about what we’re reinforcing mass squaring, especially during times where maybe employees are taking breaks.
● That was kind of a weak point for us too, where it’s like, you can have the best safety protocols in the world, and then your team goes to sit down, they take their mask off, they have lunch, but they’re not practicing, social distancing. Thinking through those points and making sure that we’re having those points of conversations with our team members to make sure that we’re just creating that awareness and continuing to maintain that focus is important.
● I think for you to know other training, I think one thing that we’ve thought through is like an external hire, so you have someone that doesn’t understand our brand, that is coming in brand new. We almost need too. We’re reverting back to our training efforts that we had in place prior to Covid.
● We also have to make sure that we keep in mind that they don’t know any of our safety protocols too, and that stuff’s not in our former training. At least Covid related. Kind of working that back into the training too is important and just thinking through those things it’s definitely a lot of moving parts for sure. I think it’s something that we’re still kind of trying to figure out day by day.

How are you communicating that to customers when they walk in the door or when they come through the door that you all are doing these things?

Yeah, I do think that a lot of how we’re managing Covid right now is related to how you manage
perception. You can again have all the safety protocols in place, but if a guest walks in, in the first team or they don’t have a mask on, I think you lose all credibility. What we try to do from the moment our guests walk in is really set the stage and even more. I used to tell everyone that they’re on stage when they serve, or when our guests walk in the building and that’s even more true now.

● When our guests walk in, we’re looking at really, what does the guest see first? And they’re going to see, our tables are all spaced out six feet apart and between every table, there’s a sanitizing station. They’re going to see all of our team members wearing masks. We’re hoping that our guests see our team members on, we have this thing called the 30-minute drill.
● Every 30 minutes, our team members both front and back of house, go to wash their hands.

They change your gloves out. We go to wipe down any high traffic areas. Like door handles,
workstation. So, all of those things, the guests are seeing those things every time they walk into our building. We’re hoping that’s how we communicate to the guests. What we’re doing is really just communicating through our actions.

● I think we have sent out some communications through our social sites and through our website and stuff too. But now for me, especially now, it’s so important that you set that stage for the guests when they walk in the restaurant.
What type of strategies are you planning on implementing from a personal standpoint or maybe from an organizational standpoint to really keep your employees engaged and connected with each other in this age of social distancing?

I think what we’re looking at when I think can be the biggest driver and engagement is communication and that’s definitely something we’ve learned over the last couple of months. Even if you think you have the best communication in the world, it can still improve. We really want to work through it, I think.

● How are our leadership team and what we call it true central: it’s our home office, communicates down with the field, and making sure that our team feels like they’re part of some of these decisions that they feel like their voice is being heard.
● If there’s any concern we’re working through those things. In every instance, in conversations like that with team members, I feel like right now they feel comfortable. They feel like we’re listening and we’re really putting their safety first. We hope that’s translating to our guests as well.
● I think that, for me, over the next few months, we really want to make sure that we’re focused on communication with our team and really creating great practices, great training. it’s streamlined, it’s efficient, it’s easily digestible. It’s something that we’re constantly talking about.
● It’s really easy to take your foot off the pedal and lose ground. I think that you just have to continue that conversation and keep pushing forward.
● The good news is that no one has the perfect answer right now. No one has a clear path forward.

All we can do right now is do the best we can with the information that we have. And again, it
goes back to making sure that we’re following and staying true. I think what guidance we’re being given from the professionals such as the CDC, local health departments, if we continue to follow those things, I think it gives us some sense of comfort that we’re doing everything we can to protect our team members and our guests, which is important to us for sure.

Do you see takeout or business picked-up as new? Is that going to be something that’s going to stick with us for a while? And how’s that going for you?

I think one thing that we’re really fortunate with, I think over the last couple of years we’ve actually been focusing our takeout. I think we’ve been able to build a really strong clientele when it comes to takeout and delivery service as well. I think we’re going to struggle if they don’t have them behind them because I think that more so than ever, our consumer is looking to support convenience, take-out, all of these
things that I think are really becoming important to our culture right now. My wife hates me for this, but I am not personally a big take-out fan myself. I feel like you go into a restaurant. The food is always better when you’re sitting down, when you have great service and you’re experiencing the environment. I think I might be probably one of the few that feel that way in, in some cases most people want.

● For a lot of cases, maybe this isn’t for every case, but a lot of people feel at some point that they want quick convenient service that’s consistent. I think one of the challenges that we’re really going to face this year and going into next year you’ve too is how do we build that consistency?

How do we give consistent service, consistent food quality whether it be take-out or in the
restaurant? I think that those who can figure that piece out. We’ll continue to strive, and take-out and we’ll continue to grow business. I think that the people that may be struggling there are going to have part-time jobs.

● Take-out will continue to grow. I think the quick service will continue to grow. I think the nature of our culture right now, people wanting that kind of fast, efficient service.
● I think that right now our guests are truly patient with us and have been. I think they have the same expectations, which is the challenge, but I think people intrinsically know what we’re kind of going through. I think that people have definitely been a little bit more patient with us and understanding, and our service right now is we’ve kind of worked through this new service model.

It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve definitely hit some bumps in the road and luckily.

● I think we have great team members that really focus on hospitality. I think that sometimes I can overcome some service challenges. If you look at a lot of the stuff that’s going on, it gets walking in and looking at your safety protocols or thinking about your service you really have one chance to get it right.
● I feel like right now, if it comes in and they don’t have that perfect experience, or you don’t feel comfortable in your environment because you’re not following certain safety protocols. They’re going to go onto the next place. We’re doing everything we can to protect the support of our guests.
● I think that it’s just so important to just really focus on that consistency, but also stay true to who you are. You don’t have to change your brand to be successful during this time. I think that you just have to adapt to and make some small changes. I think I can maybe help sustain this period of time until we get to what will be our normal moving forward.

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