Changes to the hospitality working environment

Changes to the hospitality working environment

This month more people have started returning to catering jobs as restaurants, pubs and hotels in England and Northern Ireland were allowed to reopen for sit-down customers. If you are one of the many thousands of people that work in the UK hospitality and catering industry, you may now be experiencing a rather different working environment.

The government has released guidelines for the catering and hospitality industry to help with risk assessments and putting various workplace health and safety measures in place. However, the changes you see in your own hospitality working environment may not be the same as in another catering establishment. The fact is, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and each restaurant, pub, hotel and café has had to follow the guidance and adapt it to suit their own business. 

What new workplace health and safety measures will be in place in restaurants and other catering businesses?

Following the COVID-19 lockdown, the key factor for the future of work in all workplaces is keeping staff and customers safe. The recommendation is that COVID-19 risk should be managed through social distancing, good hygiene and by creating fixed working groups.

Starting with the staff, everyone must wear clean clothes and aprons on a daily basis. Uniforms should be put on once you get to work and are only worn while on the premises. Staff will also have to undergo health screening with a temperature check before they start each shift. 

An important factor that the hospitality industry in particular has had to consider, is how to implement appropriate workplace health and safety measures without creating a clinical environment. Restaurants, pubs and hotels need to maintain friendly, welcoming surroundings while also reassuring customers that all possible hygiene precautions are being taken.

Changes to the kitchen working environment

  • More frequent and thorough cleaning
  • Smaller teams of kitchen staff
  • Working side by side, not face to face
  • Smaller menus
  • Possible use of face visors or masks

Chefs, Catering Assistants and Kitchen Porters will all see changes in their working environment and will have to adapt the way they work to accommodate social distancing and hygiene measures. If you have worked in catering jobs then you will already be familiar with good food hygiene practices, but in the wake of COVID-19 workplace health and safety has to be stepped up a notch. Cleaning regimes will be stricter, more thorough and more frequent. There may be specified times to wipe down and clean work stations and any shared equipment will need to be cleaned even more often.

In England and Northern Ireland, kitchen working environments need to support social distancing of at least 1 metre, plus other necessary precautions such as not working face to face and not sharing equipment. For many catering jobs this may mean smaller teams in the kitchen and in the majority of commercial kitchens, the location of work stations and the work flow will need to be adapted. Work stations should be kept apart with Chefs and Catering Assistants keeping to their individual stations. Catering staff may also be assigned to a specific team that always work the same shifts together.

At the time of writing, the social distancing rule for Wales and Scotland was still at 2 metres, but it is possible they may follow the same requirement of 1 metre plus when indoor eating establishments are allowed to open. 

As they reopen, a lot of restaurants will be offering smaller menus to make service more manageable for Front of House staff and causing less stress in the kitchen. Chefs can concentrate on fewer different dishes, meaning less crossover between stations. 

Many people have wondered about the use of PPE and face masks in their catering jobs. However, based on the most recent government guidance for the reopening of restaurants and bars, the use of PPE beyond what is usually worn for workplace health and safety is not considered necessary1

Anyone who wants to wear a face mask should be allowed to and some people may have to wear a face mask for travelling to work, so businesses need to have procedures in place to support this. Some restaurants, particularly where there are open kitchens, may require staff to wear clear face visors as these are considered more practical and safer for visibility and communication. 

Changes to the Front of House working environment

  • More frequent and thorough cleaning
  • Relocation of tables
  • New one way systems
  • Clear signage everywhere
  • Perspex screens at tills and counters and between tables
  • Contactless ordering or disposable menus
  • Encouraged use of contactless payment
  • Provision of hand sanitiser
  • More single use products
  • Collecting customer contact details for Test and Trace

As a Hostess, Waiter or Hotel Receptionist you are the face of the business and will take on the responsibility for making the customers feel welcome and safe in the new ‘normal’ for eating out. As with kitchen staff, you may be placed in a fixed work team so you only come into contact with the same group of colleagues each time at work.

In a Front of House position you will need to have a clear understanding of all the safety measures and precautions that your workplace has put in place, because it is now your job to convey this information to customers. Safety measures will only be effective if everyone adheres to them so it is important that customers know and understand what is being done and that everyone feels reassured that they are in a safe environment. 

Cleanliness is of course one of the most important factors in ensuring workplace health and safety, so extra cleaning of tables and chairs between customers as well as high traffic areas will be imperative. Provision of hand sanitiser will become expected everywhere you go, along with constant reminders to staff and customers to clean their hands. 

There will be many physical changes in your new working environment including different layouts, increased spacing of tables and one way systems. Perspex screens may be added between tables, at tills and counters and between front of house and the kitchen; anywhere where staff and customers are more likely to come into close contact. Clear signage is important to keep everyone informed and you will see signs throughout your working environment telling everyone what the business is doing to manage health and safety for their staff and customers.

Throughout the course of a restaurant visit, staff and customers come into contact with many different items and these all have to be taken into account. No longer can we have bottles of ketchup on the table and despite the desire to be more eco-friendly, we will likely see an increase in single use items making a comeback. Cutlery cannot be set out prior to customers arriving and restaurants will likely be producing disposable paper menus that can be changed after each guest. 

Over the coming weeks and months we will probably see the use of mobile apps for contactless ordering becoming more prevalent in restaurants and bars. In the same way, contactless payment, where possible, will continue to be encouraged in most establishments.

Another significant change to your job if you work in a restaurant, is the new requirement to record the names and contact numbers of your customers. If customers pre-book then you will likely already have this information, but in accordance with the NHS Test and Trace guidelines it is now necessary to keep these details for 21 days in England. The requirements may vary in other parts of the UK.

The continuing future of work in the hospitality industry

Workplace health and safety will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind for the foreseeable future. Restaurants, pubs, cafes and hotels will all have to continually assess risks and keep evolving and adapting their processes to find the most effective and practical solutions for their working environments. Being on the frontline, the kitchen staff and Front of House staff need to be involved in the process to help identify issues and come up with viable solutions. 

Further Resources

The Food Standards Agency has put together a useful guide on workplace health and safety and food hygiene for businesses reopening during COVID-19. 

This guide from UK Hospitality is to help food businesses with their risk assessment and planning as they reopen to the public. 


1 Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services. COVID-19 secure guidance for employers, employees and the self- employed3 July 2020