Foodservice in ‘New Normal’ Times

By Meline Beach

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the C&G industry like all others. Many locations have had to close for a period of time, some stayed open, but all have to adjust and modify their practices now that we’re in the midst of reopening our economy across Canada.

Convenience & Carwash Canada spoke with various owners and operators to learn of their experiences and share their practices on how they’ve changed their foodservice programs in response to this pandemic. We covered areas related to food offerings, seating, personal protection and customer service to assist others on how to apply the right changes at a local level in order to maintain compliance and achieve foodservice success.

 

No more self-serve – more takeout and delivery

“Lunches are not like they used to be,” says Lynne Beaudry, restaurant manager of the Pointe Au Baril Shell Station. The popular c-store gas station along the Trans Canada Highway has stayed open during this pandemic as thankful highway travellers appreciated a place to stop for a break between Barrie and Sudbury, Ontario. “We were fortunate to stay open and serve food on a takeout basis.”

C-store hot tables and mini-buffet items openly accessible to customers have ceased. Any items that used to sit on countertops on plates or in glass domes are now individually wrapped and offered behind the counter.

“We have removed our tongs so people are not touching everything,” says Beaudry. “Where cookies, breads and pizza used to sit on a tray and be available for self-serve is now behind the counter and served by a staff member.”

The same goes for Leslieville Pumps. “We closed our after-hours hot table to avoid any risk of cross-contamination,” says Judson Flom, co-owner and operator of the downtown Toronto gas station, c-store and restaurant. “While walk-in traffic decreased dramatically, we tapped into Uber Eats, which continues to serve us well during this pandemic. The well-known app promotes our takeout menu straight to people’s smartphones.”

Another option for fuel and foodservice, as takeout, drive-thru and grab-and-go, during this pandemic has been ONroute’s 23 locations across Ontario.

“We were, and remain, prepared and ready to temporarily close any plaza if it were to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 either through a customer or staff member,” says Melanie Teed-Murch, CEO of ONroute Service Centres. “With a dedicated task-force, we’ve been nimble in addressing regional measures and local bylaws.”

 

Frequent cleaning, sanitization and personal protection

From masks and plexi-glass shields to enhanced cleaning and sanitization schedules, c-stores are implementing a number of changes to protect the health and safety of staff and customers.

“We immediately enhanced our cleaning and sanitization measures, including increasing the frequency of our disinfection routines to every 15 minutes,” says Teed-Murch. “We also installed plexi-glass shields at our point-of-sale systems, as well as temporarily moved to cashless transactions in an effort to reduce any chance of cross-contamination.”

As an added safety measure, ONroute also supplies their staff proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including nitrile gloves for employees who serve customers. Regular temperature checks and screening questions are now the new norm before every shift to ensure ONroute employees are well enough to work. With a large number of staff working in their plazas, ONroute is able to divide employees by task – separating those who handle transactions from those who handle food and beverage. Any employees who work across those areas of responsibility are required to change gloves between tasks.

Both Flom and Beaudry also commented on their increased frequency in cleaning routines – cleaning everything from gas pumps and buttons, squeegee handles, picnic tables, cooler doors, bathrooms and other commonly touched areas. As indoor dining is now allowed, sanitization of tables and chairs are also required.

“We’re always wiping down and sanitizing surfaces,” says Beaudry. “We were always proud of our store’s cleanliness and are extra careful nowadays.”

Changes in layout, signage and inventory

While limited indoor seating is now permitted, many c-stores have either removed or spaced out their tables and chairs to accommodate safe physical distancing. Other safety measures include the removal of any shared items, like condiment stations, coffee stations and open buffet areas. Individual condiment packets, including salt and pepper, are easier to manage from a health and safety perspective.

Signs and floor decals serve as reminders and help indicate appropriate safe distancing in lines and direct traffic flow. Instructions on proper handwashing practices posted in washrooms also inform and educate customers on proper safety measures.

“We also closed every other sink in washrooms and removed cream/sugar stations,” says Teed-Murch. “In addition, we continue to ensure there’s always a staff member at the entrance of our plazas to monitor for both face coverings/masks and how many customers enter/exit the plaza.”

Inventory of supplies and foodservice ingredients have also greatly fluctuated. While the pandemic has created challenges in some instances, it has also created opportunity.

Open 24 hours a day, Leslieville Pumps has experienced an increase in sales of milk, eggs and bread. As grocery stores face low inventory and long line ups, many customers are purchasing groceries from local c-stores.

Beaudry has had to be resourceful in ordering supplies and modifying her menu from time to time due to limited availability of ingredients. Between flour, yeast, butter and deli meats, many manufacturers and distribution channels have struggled to keep up with demand.

“If I’m short of ingredients for a particular menu item one week, I’ll change it up and wait for the order to come in,” says Beaudry, who’s had to exercise a high degree of flexibility since the pandemic.

 

Enhanced customer service

These new normal conditions have heightened feelings of frustration and anxiety among many customers.

In an effort to better manage these situations, ONroute employees have undergone extensive training on proper handwashing protocols, how to implement and handle mandatory face coverings and various customer service situations that can result in some tense interactions. The company, which has decided to keep its indoor dining areas closed in order to more efficiently service customers, reopened outdoor dining areas when phase two came into effect. ONroute has implemented contact tracing procedures for customers who choose to eat outside as per government protocol. They also leverage their website and social media channels as a means of communicating any changes in policies and protocol with customers.

Beaudry, who has managed the restaurant at the Shell station for over 21 years has noticed a change in people’s demeanour since Covid-19. “Unfortunately, there isn’t the usual chatter there once was and fewer people are smiling, socializing or even making eye contact.”

While we are facing this pandemic together, the experience is individually unique on jobs, relationships, social interactions and lives.

“This reality demands extra respect and kindness towards each other,” says Teed-Murch. “We are accountable for creating safe and clean places for customers and employees where they should be treated with understanding, patience, respect and kindness, especially during this difficult time.”

Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca