You'd better hope the H1N1 flu has a much smaller impact than U.S. health organizations are predicting. Otherwise, full-service operators might face mandated closings like those that were imposed in Mexico, where dining rooms were seen as de facto incubators of pandemic virus germs. Takeout meals weren't part of the ban, but restaurant operators, including U.S. fast food chains with a large presence there, still took a financial beating.
But that's Mexico. How about the U.S.? Already, kid-friendly pizza chain Chuck E. Cheese has reported an H1N1-related revenue drop, even though its stores are in the U.S, not Mexico. With a typical unit swarming with children who interact and move around, worried parents see Chuck E. Cheese as a potential flu-catching hot spot. So many stay away.
But mainstream full-service operators face the specter of germ-phobic customers shunning them, too. What to do? In Spain, one restaurateur took the proactive route. Customers arriving at Mesa y Placer are given a packet of disinfectant hand gel and a freshly disinfected, plastic-covered menu. They are waited on by staffers whose temperatures have been taken at the start of their shift; anyone with a high temperature is sent home. The back of the house crew? They all wear face masks. A second Madrid restaurant, Silk & Soya, has already followed suit.
It's clear to everyone who eats or works at these restaurants that in the H1N1 era, sanitation reigns supreme. It's a message U.S. operators may want to send this fall, because the fear factor could be huge.