Buffets banned when restaurants resume dine-in service

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THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said restaurants resuming dine-in service may not offer buffets and must put up table partitions and mark floors to ensure proper social distancing.

In its guidelines for restaurant operators, the DTI said limited dine-in operations will only be allowed for areas that have shifted to a modified general community quarantine (GCQ). No areas have been declared to be under modified GCQ, the most liberal of the lockdown categories.

The guidelines, released Sunday, also prescribe a “no mask, no entry” policy for restaurants, as well as floor mats or disinfectant foot baths at the entrance, unless the restaurant is inside a mall that already provides these. The entrance must have rubbing alcohol and health checklists. A roving officer will ensure a distance of one meter between each person in line, and those with temperatures over 37.5 degrees celsius and other COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) symptoms should not be allowed to enter the premises.

Dining tables and chairs must be sanitized after each use and maintain a distance of at least one meter on each side. Face-to-face seating will only be allowed with dividers. Furniture with porous materials should be covered in plastic.

The DTI is asking the establishments to keep dining areas well-ventilated, provide accessible sanitation equipment, and contactless transactions. The DTI added that order and bar counters should be disinfected every half hour.

Buffets are a key restaurant strategy for minimizing food waste, because diners must eat what’s on offer and restaurants need not guess which items on the menu to keep in stock. Buffets are a big draw for hotels, and some restaurants base their entire business models on all-you-can-eat, betting on a higher average bill per customer while at the same time minimizing service and inventory costs.

Depending on the type of restaurant, orders may be placed at a counter which will provide for hand sanitation after payment. They may also be escorted to an assigned table where they will select from a menu already on the table. In the latter case, the server must sanitize his or her hands after placing an order or taking payment.

Kitchen workers must wear masks, sanitize equipment and wash hands regularly. Staff not involved in food preparation may not enter the kitchen.

The guidelines also ban self-service offerings and play areas, but require a designated take-away area for picking up orders, contactless drive-through counters, and separate hand washing sinks for customers. Restaurants must also provide small trays for accepting cash.

For delivery and pick-up service, DTI asked restaurants to assign drop off sites outside their buildings and to include vehicles and drivers in its hygiene protocols.

DTI is asking restaurants to await further announcements on when dine-in operations will be permitted. The guidelines supplement the DTI-Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19, released on April 30. — Jenina P. Ibañez