Hospitality is undoubtedly one of the toughest industries. The work is high-pressure and profit margins can be wafer-thin. But when everything goes to plan, good hospitality is like nothing else.

Despite being one of the hardest hit sectors by the economic stress wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry has proven over and over that it’s agile. And while recalibrating entire business models, rewriting menus, and transforming dining spaces has taken enormous tolls, there’s also an opportunity to be found in offering stellar safety.

Safety Starts With Leadership

The success of any safety strategy hangs on people understanding and following the rules. People are the unpredictable factor that can derail a system. Creating a culture of safety starts with management, and it’s up to leaders to encourage people to speak out when they feel unsafe or when protocols aren’t met. However, a recent SafetyCulture and YouGov survey showed that this mentality is increasingly rare among American workers.

Nearly a quarter of all survey respondents said they’re unlikely to speak up if a workspace is deemed overcapacity, but women are more likely than men to stand their ground against subpar safety standards. One in four male respondents reported that they’re unlikely to ask a colleague or boss to put on a mask, wash their hands or socially distance, but among women, it’s only one in five.* 

On the panel at SafetyCulture’s 2020 Summit, consumer advocate Erin Brockovich said that a leader’s primary role is to uplift the voices of teammates. “People are looking for permission to act. What they really need is support.” Brockovich spoke to how each person’s insight has an outcome for the greater good — there’s power in people speaking up. Empower your staff to act on their insights, give them the tools to speak up, and supplement it with ongoing training.

Don’t Fight the Current

As the pandemic advances and information changes, so do people’s confidence and comfort levels. What may have seemed unnecessary six months ago could be critical to success now. 

We saw a clear shift in inspection behaviors within the American hospitality industry in 2020. Safety inspections skyrocketed. The industry recognizes that safety is paramount for customers and employees, and that it offers an edge as they get back to business. 

Building your safety strategy requires a combination of short- and long-term initiatives. Upon reopening to the public, Snooze Eatery created the role of the “Safety Dancer,” safety marshalls in charge of cleaning, sanitizing and managing capacity limits in the restaurant. These interim measures help keep operations running smoothly while informing your long-term approach. Ongoing, your safety strategy should be specific to business needs, but might include cleanliness procedures, building out health and safety teams, and developing hazard reduction plans based on feedback from staff.  

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

Strong systems and positive experiences that put your guests at ease are essential because poor COVID-19 practices could mean more than a bad rap. Seeing a chef cough into their hand mid-service is off-putting on a good day, but mid-pandemic it’s enough to lose customers forever. This shouldn’t be regarded as a threat to your business; it’s an opportunity. 

Safety measures enhance the dining experience. Think creatively — perhaps it’s a COVID-safe welcome pack for each guest, or digital menus to heighten accessibility. With appropriate training, mandatory sign-ins for each customer can be a way for staff to address their patrons by name, something once reserved for high-end establishments. 

Show Off Your Hard Work

It’s not enough to simply have good procedures in place; your diners need to know about them. The pandemic has shown visual communication to be a powerful tool for encouraging safe behaviors and lifting consumer confidence. More than half of Americans (53 percent) agree that a publicly displayed list of daily safety procedures, with completion status publicly shown, would increase trust and confidence in a business.** 

Don’t forget that information shared needs to be accurate as well as engaging. We’ve worked in partnership with Canva to develop free professionally designed safe environment templates to help businesses communicate effectively. 

Safety is now a value proposition, so shine a spotlight on your efforts with front-of-house posters, add a COVID-19 safety page to your website, and convert checklists into shareable files. Remember, helping your customer feel happy and content is what great hospitality is all about, and safety is now the biggest factor in creating a relaxed environment.

* Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,578 adults, 802 of which were employed adults who are or will be returning to their place of work. Fieldwork was undertaken between Oct. 23, 2020–Oct. 27, 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18-plus).

** Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,198 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between June 24, 2020-June 25, 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18-plus).