Giving contact details at the door will be part of the new normal of eating out, whether at the local Udipi or a fine dining establishment.
As restaurants, bars and cafes across Maharashtra reopen after a six-month hiatus, the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government has mandated the maintenance of a daily log of all guests for a period of 30 days to enable contact tracing.
Maharashtra, the worst affected state by the pandemic, has allowed the restaurants, cafes, canteens, dining halls and bars to reopen from October 5 onwards with 50 per cent occupancy. On Saturday, the state’s tourism department issued detailed operational guidelines (SOPs) for these outlets to resume activity. The SOPs have formulated protocols to “make the traceability of the visitors easier.”
Issued by Principal Secretary (Tourism) Valsa Nair Singh, the SOPs instruct all establishments to “maintain a daily log of individual guests or of at least one customer from each group with contact information including customer names, phone/email, time and date of visit” that has to be retained for a month. Obtaining a consent from guests for sharing of their health information with authorities for future contact tracing related measures has been mandated as well. Wherever possible, outlets have also been asked to maintain a CCTV record of the Covid-19 protocol.
While acknowledging that “incidental contact” was inevitable in an indoor dining space, the state government has directed that service staff of the eateries and bars to limit contact with customers to less than 15 minutes, while also ordering discontinuation of “all product sampling and demonstration stations except for single potions offered in response to a consumer’s request from a service counter.” A minimum 6 ft distance has to be maintained between a customer and an attendant.
Serving of alcohol at service tables and bar tables has been permitted with social distancing but the government has prohibited “live entertainment, vending and other gaming areas and card rooms.” In other words, orchestra bars and gaming zones in clubs and resorts are disallowed for now.
Entertaining a specific request from Udipis and small eateries, the government has done away with its insistence of using only disposable or contactless menus and bottled water listed in draft SOPs circulated previously. It has now allowed permitted reusable menus on the condition that they will be disinfected after every use. Based on customer’s preference, it has also permitting serving of drinking water from the water filter in the final SOPs.
It has however shot down the demand from a section of restaurateurs for relaxation to the condition of maintaining a minimum 1 m distance between eating tables, making it clear that this will have to be followed scrupulously by everyone. It has also barred self-service buffets and salad bars for now to limit contact. No crockeries, table items or condiments can rest on an eating table prior to the seating of the customer. Further all establishments have been asked to conduct regular Covid-19 testing of all staff and ensuring use of N95 or equivalent masks, while relaxing the draft SOPs condition that the serving staff must mandatorily wear protective gears. Masks will be compulsory for customers and staff except at the time of eating.
It has also dropped the insistence of division of the restaurant kitchen into three zones while retaining the condition of staggering working hours for staff and ensuring that work station for the kitchen staff do not face each other. All indoor dining premises will be disinfected twice a day. While the state had earlier also recommended disinfection of cars of visitors in fine dining places, this has been dropped.
Wherever possible, eateries and bars have been asked to use technology for pre-reservations and pick up facilities for regulating the waiting period for avoiding queuing up outside such facilities.
Once a customer reaches the restaurant, they will be screened for temperature and symptoms. Employees are also to be screened daily. General crockery is expected to be washed with food grade disinfectants, whereas bar counter crockery is to be washed with hot water and lemon too. Good quality disposable napkins are to be provided instead of cloth napkins. Natural ventilation is to be preferred over air conditioning. “The guidelines have been prepared to ensure the health and safety of patrons and staff and reassure the public towards hospitality services in Maharashtra,” said Valsa Nair Singh.
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