Last month California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the re-closure of all bars and indoor restaurants across the state. It is unclear when he’ll amend the mandate. With over 560,000 cases of COVID-19 within his borders, it probably won’t be anytime soon. And with all the uncertainty swirling around the ongoing pandemic, one thing, at least, is known for sure: whatever food and beverage scene is waiting for us after this is all over will look vastly different than the one we remember.
Jason Berkowitz is helping bars and restaurants proactively plan for that new normal. As founder and CEO of ARROW UP, he’s working with the Independent Hospitality Coalition and local municipalities to help businesses train their team, self certify that they’re following the recommended safety guidelines and establish a rating system similar to the health and safety letter grades you might remember in big cities. In this era, of course, there’s no room for anything less than an ‘A’.
“We should plan on seeing face coverings, plexiglass dividers, and floor markings to help protect the experience,” advises Berkowitz, who just inked a deal with the City of Santa Monica to establish safety-certified seals that compliant businesses will hang from their storefronts. “Depending on the style of business, there will be a ‘safety greeter’ at the front controlling the flow. Plan on the ‘I’m dropping in to quickly order and grab a coffee’ to take a bit longer, but worth it in the name of safety and supporting your local cafe. Also look out for contactless payments with a push to contactless menus.”
ARROW UP exists as a sort of one-stop shop for the industry, offering everything from anti-harassment training to assistance with OSHA compliance. And it’s all available online. One of the hallmarks of his training regimen is framing safety as a form of hospitality. This means a clearly stated prioritization of guidelines, including where sanitizer stations are setup, how these stations should look, how floor markings can maximize the intended affect of social distancing, and even role-specific uniforms for staff.
“All of this helps train and maintain best practices with their team,” he points out. “If you want consistency, you need to document expectations.”
At full-service establishments, menus and ordering capabilities will increasingly function through your smartphone. And he sees waiters less like servers and more like “captains” overseeing the entire experience. Al fresco dining will continue to grow, to which Southern California weather is perennially cooperative. “It’s kinda fun to sit outside and feel a bit more European,” Berkowitz observes.
Markedly less enjoyable, however, is the uneasy scenario that arises when a costumer refuses to follow safety guidelines. Successful restaurants are the ones equipped to calmly handle such situations—notably the patron who refuses to don a mask. “We teach the staff about how to best handle this guest and disarm what could become a tense moment,” Berkowitz explains. “We’re really leaning into empathy and understanding as a way of navigating these stressful times, together.”
By comparison, other elements of the new normal might seem trivial or obvious, but that only means they’re more likely to be overlooked. “Hygiene and cleanliness will be paramount,” echoes Cari Hah, a Los Angeles-based bartender. “The bars and restaurants that succeed are going to be the ones that take safety measures above and beyond just wiping down tables. And in many cases it will start behind the bar. For example, the old school soda gun is over. We’re going to see every kind of bar from the craftiest craft cocktail spot to the corner local switching to single-serve bottles from brands like Q for your G&T, Paloma, Mule. Soda guns are disgusting and, anecdotally, are a common source of health department violations.”