MANILA -- What used to be the gold standard for Filipino celebrations is no longer allowed in the "new normal" caused by the novel coronavirus.
Buffet restaurants face a tough road ahead as these are now "highly discouraged" by the Department of Tourism (DOT), which released health and safety guidelines for the hospitality industry on Monday.
The same goes for room service, as DOT now requires hotels and other accommodation establishments to offer a grab-and-go station where guests can pick up their breakfast or ordered food.
"Self-service station set up for guests at the dining area is highly discouraged," the agency said, adding that "all food and beverages must be served by restaurant crew or personnel."
Seating arrangements in dining establishments have likewise been affected by physical distancing measures. For instance, banquet tables that used to seat 10 persons can accommodate only five guests in the "new normal."
"Tables shall be arranged such that the distance from the back of one chair to the back of another chair shall be more than 1 meter apart and the guests face each other from a distance of at least 1 meter," DOT said as it also gave guidelines on regularly disinfecting all areas and being mindful of airflow in establishments to avoid virus transmission.
Restaurants all over the country have come up with ways to address the changes in consumer dining behavior amid quarantines imposed due to COVID-19.
Many of them have focused operations on delivery and takeout services, some even tweaking menus to make up for lost dine-in sales.
Among those that continue to adapt is the buffet chain Vikings, which now delivers "create your own" sets to families and groups at home.
Chef and restaurateur Margarita Fores, for her part, earlier said she has refocused her catering business to do home meal replacements.
Aside from dining habits, how chefs, cooks, and other staff operate in the kitchen is set to change because of DOT's new guidelines.
F&B establishments are now required to install a separate handwashing area for kitchen staff, who are expected to clean up as often as necessary "up to the forearms, including fingernails."
All workers in the kitchen must wear face shields and other personal protective equipment when handling food, with the use of bare hands minimized with the help of utensils, gloves, or tongs.
"Hands and exposed portions of arms must be washed before any food preparation or packaging... Kitchen staff must ensure that clean and sanitized cloths, towels, linens, aprons, and mop heads are used at appropriate intervals during the work period," DOT said.
Meanwhile, all dishes, silverware, and glassware -- including those that have not been used in the restaurant -- must be regularly washed and disinfected "as they might have been in contact with the hands of the guest or staff."
All food contact surfaces, equipment, and utensils must also be washed, sanitized, and rinsed before each use to avoid contamination.
Eric Dee, the chief executive officer of Foodee Global Concepts which houses brands such as Tim Ho Wan and Hawker Chan, earlier called on restaurateurs to "exaggerate" hygiene and safety measures to be able to get the trust of customers.
He said in a webinar last month that they have been considering the use of UV lights and allowing customers to access their CCTV to see how their food is being prepared.