Recently, the Food and Society at the Aspen Institute published a free Safety First handbook to support restaurants across the country by providing guidance for the safe (re)opening of their indoor dining operations. Safety First has already been distributed to over a half million restaurant workers and operators across the country. The handbook features several one-page summaries and infographics that distill the most essential information for restaurants to display.

  • The Diner Code of Conduct lays out the expectations of guests while dining inside to maintain a safe indoor dining environment.

  • Our Covid Pledge outlines the expectations of restaurant operators and workers to create a safe indoor dining environment.

  • The Ventilation Guidelines gives restaurants practical, affordable, and accessible guidance on ventilation systems and best practices.

 

Chef Russell Jackson of Reverence in NYC, one of the handbook's collaborators, shares some additional insights and recommendations for restaurant operators based on his own experience.

 

What are the most effective way(s) that you can make diners aware of your restaurant's code of conduct?

Restaurants can best help by training their staff on the simple standards established in the Diners Code of Conduct, posting the “Restaurant Pledge” and “Diners Code of Conduct” and emailing this information to guests. At Reverence, it is in our reservations system so customers must agree to it to reserve seats. We also have it on our website and on the front door of the restaurant.

 

There are many critical details that go into ensuring the safety of your workers and guests. How do you approach training your team and make sure these processes stay in place?

We all have ways of communicating with our staff. We’ve recommended regular training to make these new standards part of each restaurants normal process -- by incorporating them into employee handbooks, wine training, weekly roundups and daily line-ups. On my team, we've designated a “Covid Officer” to place links and documents in our Slack channel and to make updates in our staff handbook. If you're thinking of adding a "Covid Officer" on your team, we recommend a non-management volunteer to empower the process and team. The great aspect about the "Restaurant Pledge" is that it's all built around simple, easy-to-do, consistent practices, so it shouldn't feel out of the norm of what most are already doing. All in, we want operators and their staff to feel and be safe thoughout their work day.

 

Proper ventilation seems to be at the core of restaurant safety protocols. With restaurants getting back on their feet, what cost effective measure should they focus on when it comes to ventilation?

This is an enormous issue and resulted in months of conversation and discussion. Fortunately board members like Doug Mass and Sam Dooley were instrumental in helping to craft the specifics of how restaurants and hospitality operations can create solutions for welcoming guests and keeping staff safe. As the board member speaking on behalf of small restaurants, I wanted to make sure that we were also advising on simple cost effective solutions for existing spaces that haven’t had to take these kinds of issues into consideration or have limited resources to create solutions.

Yes, you can have an HVAC engineer come in and do your calculations for meeting the new standards, and I’d advise that if you're in the process of retrofitting or building a new operation. For pre-existing spaces, cost effective and quality sources are available. At Reverence we have worked with our HVAC company to tune our ventilation systems to work at their best, installed MERV13 filters on our outer intake housing and added some UVC units. Best of all, I helped align PhoneSoap, the company that created the AirSoap system, to work with the hospitality industry for access to units. Currently, we have six in operation in our small space, close to our air intake and close to where clients will sit.

Within the handbook there are links to calculators, as well as a great list of resources for cleaning, preparing and creating effective cost effective ventilation for restaurant operations. Our greatest advice, regardless of budget, is create air flow -- open the doors, windows and run your fans on high during and after services -- anything helps (even though Sam will punch me for saying that…).

 

It goes without saying that safety measures are crucial for the future of indoor dining. As a result, this level of responsibility might feel overwhelming, do you have any advice for operators as they take on the challenge of opening indoors?

Honestly with all of this, I like to say, it comes down to practical common and logical sense. Do what's best for your safety -- for your staff and for your customers. Covid doesn’t care about your politics, beliefs or religion. It only wants to continue to infect and spread. Together we can reopen safely and rebuild our industry in a better way. Together.

 

About Chef Russell Jackson

As a culinary innovator within the category of “Underground Restaurants” and a noted African-American chef in California cuisine, Owner/Chef Russell Jackson is the Owner and Chef of Harlem’s fine dining restaurant, Reverence. Following graduation from the California Culinary Academy, Russell opened his first restaurant in LA, Russell's, and went on to work as a private chef for countless A-list celebrities. In 1999, Jackson moved to San Francisco to head James Beard nominated Black Cat restaurant. During the next years, Jackson would achieve notoriety and amass a cult following through his seminal restaurant creation, SubCulture Dining, a radical underground supper-club. SubCulture Dining, known by devotees as SCD, broke culinary boundaries and earned Jackson his reputation as the Dissident Chef. Emerging from the underground scene, Jackson would go on to open SF sparkler, Lafitte on Pier 5. Throughout his career, Jackson has appeared on TV shows including SF Chefs, Iron Chef America battling Chef Jose Garces, and again in the Food Network Kitchens, competing for the coveted title of Food Network Star, and starring in Off the Menu, the first original Award Winning Digital for NBC/Universal on BravoTV. In 2014, Jackson moved to New York City, and in the summer of 2019, opened the doors to his most personal project, and his first NYC restaurant, Reverence. Set in the historical Harlem neighborhood, the intimate spot serves a five-course tasting menu inspired by Jackson’s West Coast roots. Jackson continues to shoot for multiple Network projects and serves on the Board of Directors at WHEDco.org, Aspen Institute's Food and Society- Safety First Board of Directors, Leadership Member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Board Member for One Fair Wage.