Safety first: Implementing effective social distancing measures with lightweight, portable equipment

Large businesses in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) and fast-food sectors are slowly beginning to reopen delivery and drive-through services to the public following the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19. Burger King, for example, has committed to reopening 20 branches per week across the UK until its 500 restaurants are back up and running. McDonald’s, on the other hand, has taken a more cautious approach and opened an initial 15 sites in the South East with a view to reopening more drive-throughs across the UK in the coming weeks. Elsewhere in Europe, the French government has enabled restaurants and cafés in regions with limited infections to reopen in June, while Germany has kept restaurants and hotels closed to limit the risk of people travelling across the country.

The challenges, however, remain for QSRs. Between difficulties in sourcing supply from a variety of distributors to moving their services online, smaller independent outlets are perhaps taking a much harder hit to their finances than the larger chains. Yet the biggest challenge for QSR businesses, large and small, is how they can implement safe social distancing measures in kitchens that have historically operated tight-knit production lines to ensure a quick and convenient customer service.

Putting safety first

QSR employers are required to put in place stringent health and safety measures that adhere to government guidelines to protect employees and prevent the spread of the virus. Adequate access to PPE equipment, such as gloves and face masks, can protect the employee in the workplace to a certain degree. However, to operate efficiently and reduce waiting times for consumers, employees are often in close proximity when preparing food and drinks. To combat this, QSRs may have to change the layout of their kitchens, introducing one-way systems for staff, creating hand sanitiser stations between workstations and implementing new lightweight and portable kitchen equipment to enable mobile food and beverage production lines.

To get business back up and running, while ensuring the safety of staff, fast-food outlets should opt for frustration-free automatic label dispensers. Great for improving assembly workflows in the kitchen, a lightweight electric label dispenser that automatically peels and dispenses a new label, once the previous one has been removed, are quick and easy to use. Since they require minimal touch for dispensing, small and portable label dispensers are the go-to for any kitchen that needs to save on space, time and adhere to social distancing measures.

Of course, when speed is of the essence, how can staff maintain social distancing when consumer demand is high? Solutions that can accurately track staff in real-time become crucial to the QSR environment. Employers should opt for flexible RFID enabled and barcode products that can easily print tamper-proof ID badges for employees. Not only does this mean restaurant managers can easily see where the hotspots are in a kitchen to help refine productivity, they can also ensure employees are safely keeping their distance from each other.

Pre-plan to reduce costs

For smaller family-owned restaurants who rely on busy gatherings and word of mouth to survive, the challenge to swiftly move to a takeaway service is much more difficult. Now, many smaller businesses are opting for mobile catering units to continue providing restaurant-quality food to locals. Others, are reducing their menu ranges, decreasing kitchen staff and using social media or delivery apps to enable consumers to pre-order their meals in advance. With unpredictable consumer ordering the main reason for the £16.7m rise in food waste during lockdown, according to a survey of 341 UK restaurants by Just Eat and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, it is vital the QSR industry takes action to prevent further waste .

Cloud-connected technology and solutions that excel in automated inventory management and efficient labelling processes are key for businesses that want to reduce food waste. Lightweight and portable label printers that are optimised for use in the QSR industry often feature anti-bacterial casings that are easy to clean and wipe down when in a busy kitchen environment. In addition, printers that can be fully operated with disposable gloves are highly effective for on-demand food labelling. This means staff can change the date and time the food was prepared, detail nutritional information, list ingredients and allergen advice in real-time to minimise time spent on administration, drive down business costs and reduce food waste into the bargain.

There are many other lightweight, mobile solutions available to help the QSR industry get back on its feet. At SATO, we have a range of products that can help, including the PW2NX and FX3-LX range, which offer many of the above features. But first, we recommend creating an action plan, utilising what you already have at your disposal and taking it one step at a time. After all, safety comes first!

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‘Takeaways wasting 33% more food during lockdown’, Footprint, May 2020

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