Stay six feet apart. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t share food. Don’t hug. Don’t touch.
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic forced us unwillingly apart and impacted almost every aspect of our daily lives. In the food services industry, there has been a marked shift away from the personal touches and warm service we’ve come to enjoy, whether it’s a serve-yourself salad bar or a create-your-own pizza station.
At Fresh Ideas, it has long been our priority to deliver a “hospitality-first” service, no matter what disruptions come our way. Indeed, since the outbreak of the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to ensure that the very necessary reduction in human contact has not come at the expense of our customers’ happiness.
The importance of stringent health and safety measures
Throughout the past 18 months, different cities and regions have endured varying degrees of COVID-19 restrictions and regulations. It quickly became clear that we would need to work with each of our clients on a case-by-case basis to guarantee the safety of both our customers and team members.
Our Distance Dining Program, for example, is a mindful innovative approach to connect our guests and team safely without compromising a quality and creative fresh food experience. The program comprises a range of measures that can be implemented depending on the COVID-19 threat level in any given area. For example, take-out options can be provided so guests can eat outside the dining hall, we offer curbside pickup and delivery services, and all of our team members have completed COVID-19 safety training.
We have installed visible sanitation stations in every location and, with the knowledge that most of our customers feel safer this way, required that our front-of-house team members wear masks at all times. High touchpoints are regularly sanitized and we’ve altered our serving methods to reduce contact throughout our dining venues.
Clearly communicating and rigorously upholding these health and safety standards is of the utmost importance, providing reassurance to our customers that they are being well taken care of and building trust in a time when many feel uneasy. Our VP of Safety and Compliance has visited all locations to ensure that new regulations are being carefully followed by all team members.
The role of technology
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, we made some significant changes to the way we serve our food. For example, we switched out our self-service salad bars and deli counter in exchange for a variety of pre-packaged products.
Technology and mobile ordering played a huge role in helping us continue to provide personalized food options while minimizing human contact.
While we still have our made-to-order omelet and pizza stations, for example, customers now order via their phones – receiving a text message when their food is ready to collect from the station or from one of our newly installed pick-up pods.
Adding a personal touch
In hospitality, providing an enjoyable experience for the customer is key, and first impressions really matter.
While we are leveraging additional technologies and enforcing new rules to keep everyone safe, we’ve found several ways to retain the warmth and humanity that best characterizes Fresh Ideas’ customer service.
This includes everything from making sure that customers are greeted on their first day of school to catering to different dietary requirements. If someone needs assistance or guidance on how to navigate our dining venues, there will always be someone on hand to help.
When it comes to making people feel valued and well looked after, little things can make a huge difference.
We have awarded prizes to the 100th person that comes into our dining hall on any given day, handed out warm cookies, provided food samples, hosted themed nights, and offered popsicles on the hottest days.
We also developed engaging button name tags for our team members to wear – “My name is David and my favorite food is pizza.” Our baristas might also wear a button featuring a coffee cup while our range of safety buttons say things like “safety star” or “safety is my no.1 one priority.”
What does the future hold for the hospitality industry?
There’s no question that some of the changes brought about by the pandemic are here to stay, particularly when it comes to stricter sanitation standards. COVID-19 also catalyzed the adoption of technology in the hospitality industry, and consumers have evidently enjoyed the convenience and efficiencies these solutions bring.
Nonetheless, we’ve learned that people long for human connection, meaningful interactions, and personalized service, and it’s important that we continue to provide this wherever possible.
Ultimately, it’s about creating a good balance between leveraging the conveniences of technology, safety, and being attentive to, and engaged with, our customers at all times.