How F&B Service Must Now Be Different

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How F&B Service Must Now Be Different

By Tracy Stuckrath | Aug 12, 2020

In a recent poll of event planners during a webinar I presented, I asked if they made a habit, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, of asking venues and/or F&B providers about cleaning practices. The results were, unfortunately, not surprising.

77 percent - “No”
18 percent - “Yes, sometimes”
5 percent - “Yes, always”

If you asked me 11 years ago, I would have answered “no,” as well. That was well before the coronavirus and before I started my business educating the meeting industry on how to provide for attendees with dietary needs. To ensure I could walk the talk, I took the ServSafe Food Safety Protection Manager program to learn what food service companies must know and practice in the kitchen to keep people safe with the F&B they serve. After taking that class, I started asking all my venues to share their food safety practices with me and my clients.

The pandemic has put food safety prominently in front of us all—chefs, caterers, banquet captains, general managers, event planners and all of our attendees. Now, everyone is being asked point blank about their food safety practices. Do you wipe down tables before diners eat? What extra precautions are being done to protect the diner?

For any food service operation (FSO) to open and remain open, they must obtain and maintain food service licenses, building health permits and state-approved employee food handler’s permits. In-person visits by local health departments are done to ensure that FSOs are in compliance with all food safety regulations. If they fail an inspection at any point, they could lose their permits and potentially their business.

Each and every one of the caterers, hotels, convention centers and conference centers that planners contract with are considered FSOs, which means every one of them has food safety policies and procedures in place to keep our attendees safe.

Think boxed lunches, limited plated meal or buffet service for specific groups, bottled water and canned soda, staggered mealtimes and/or “curbside pickup.”

The difference now—as we get closer to being post-pandemic—is that consumers and event planners will be paying closer attention to what is being done and are expecting transparency and visual cues for their practices.

According to an April Datassential survey, 74 percent of consumers said safety and health is the biggest factor preventing them from eating inside a restaurant now. The month before, a Dataessential study revealed that 41 percent of consumers are worried about how staff are preparing and handling food. In May, Datassential reported that 57 percent and 54 percent of consumers, respectively, said buffet-style and salad bar-style restaurants are “too risky”—“anything that promotes social distancing, protects open food and eliminates the need for multi-touch contact with surfaces will be a requirement.”

While all of those reports were based on consumer eating habits at restaurants, chefs and general managers from hotels, conference centers and catering companies I’ve spoken with are describing their opening service levels the same way.

What does that mean for planners and suppliers in terms of designing safe F&B experiences when we meet again, whether within the next three, six or 12 months? Murray Hall, executive chef and food and beverage director, Dolce Hotels & Resorts, says the experience has to be “comfortable for everybody, since many may have anxiety coming back into a meeting space or building for the first time.”

Food service will come in phases, similar to what the U.S. is doing with business. The timing and practices within each phase will depend on where the property is located—country, state, county and city—and the level to which the coronavirus is present.

Phase 1: Contact-free

Dining rooms, bars or restaurants—group dining—will remain closed. Think boxed lunches, limited plated meal or buffet service for specific groups, bottled water and canned soda, staggered mealtimes and/or “curbside pickup.”

“There will be limited contact with the customer,” Hall says. “Food will be delivered to meeting rooms.”

Informational signage and constant communication are going to become critical to the success of how we operate before and during events. Brian Stapleton, vice president food and beverage - parks and destinations, Aramark Corporation, says that properties need to ensure guests’ personal safety by sharing “exactly what is in place, why it’s in place, how the property operates and how they as guests in the property can manage the environment.”

Coronavirus Dialogue Series: “Food Safety - What is the New Normal and How Do Meeting Planners Need to Prepare”

“If there is something that is needed from the customer, have a phone number, a text message account and email address so the customer can reach out and get someone immediately to provide some sort of service,” Hall says.

Phase 2: Limited-contact Environments

Communal dining spaces and restaurants will open up with redesigned space to allow for social distancing and staggered mealtimes to avoid massive lines and limited contact. Hall suggests “bringing buffets back in but having a lot of different areas where the guests would not have any contact with the plate or the service utensil, Plexiglas sneeze guards will be in place and service staff could be in personal protective equipment (PPE) as well.”

Sara Blivaiss, general manager of the Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center, says they are looking at how to use their outdoor space for dining not only to get people outside, but to increase the square footage of meeting and dining space available. She is “leaning toward having communal breaks, but in larger settings with culinary attendants to upgrade the experience.”

Everyone mentions staff uniforms and PPE. Blivaiss is looking to extend the uniform program already in use for the culinary team to servers and bartenders to ensure their uniforms are cleaned before shifts. Hall has been looking at washable face masks for kitchen associates, as well.

The properties that do the best at standardizing training and implementing such programs, according to Stapleton, are going to be the facilities “that move forward in the world.”

Supply and Demand

One final aspect of all my conversations concerns the food supply. It is being hit hard because demand is low from the food service sector.

Executive Chef Jeff Sommer at Wildhorse Resort & Casino says farmers may not be planting as much this summer because of the amount they lost this spring due to lack of demand.

Felix Maietta, corporate executive chef of Nestlé Professional North America, says his strategy for opening up begins with simplifying menus.

Communal dining spaces and restaurants will open up with redesigned space to allow for social distancing and staggered mealtimes.

“We need to streamline to reduce costs and be able to identify products and solutions that provide the most value to menus and operations,” he says.

Blivaiss also notes how menus must take the supply chain into consideration, more than ever.

“We might not have access to everything that we had before,” she says. “So how do we incorporate that into this new menu build? We didn’t have to really think about that before.”

This means planners will see simplified menus that are easier to prepare, help minimize waste and optimize labor.

F&B service is going to be different when we meet again. It will be simpler, socially distanced, extra sanitized and visibly safer. Attendees ready to participate in events are putting their trust in planners and suppliers to make us feel more comfortable and safer.

Required Precautions for Buffet-style Food Service

“Sneeze guards”/shields placed above the food.      69%
Limited number of diners allowed to get food at once.    59%
Guarantee that food is rotated at regular intervals.     58%
Staff makes sure people interact with the food safely.      56%
Only single-serve condiments.      56%
Covers for each food compartment.      55%
Single-use serving utensils for each container.      55%
Gloves/masks for customers at self-service stations.     54%
Staff at each food station serve you the food.     46%
Order items you want; staff brings to you.      39%
Datassential COVID-19 report 19: HERE I COME 5.20.20

Dining Dos and Don’ts


·      Distance tables six feet apart and limit the number of people at each

·      Stagger times of food functions

·      When serving boxed lunches, separate tables for each type of meal in order to minimize lines

·      Cease self-serve buffet stations

·      Have staff wear personal protective equipment when they serve attendees


·      Pretend everything is back to normal and serve food like it’s 2019

·      Provide community beverage stations, bread baskets or condiments

·      Be disrespectful of people’s concerns

·      Offer passed hors d’oeuvres

·      Have multiple servers serving one table



Tracy Stuckrath
Tracy Stuckrath

Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, CFPM (MPI Georgia Chapter), is founder and chief connecting officer of Thrive! Meetings & Events.