Hong Kong restaurant’s coronavirus handbook becomes bible for food industry worldwide

Helen Coffey
Temperature checks outside restaurants are recommended: Getty Images

A Hong Kong restaurant group’s coronavirus handbook has unexpectedly been taken up by eateries all over the world.

Black Sheep Restaurants, which operates 25 restaurants across Hong Kong, created a “Covid-19 playbook” early on in the crisis.

It details a plan of how to adjust procedures so that dining establishments can reopen safely amid the pandemic, with advice on everything from wearing masks to dealing with problematic customers.

“Here in Hong Kong, we were at a bit of an advantage because many of us have SARS PTSD – there is a collective understanding of what we need to do to get through this,” co-founder Asim Hussain told CNN Travel.

“We knew it would spread in Hong Kong quickly because there is so much travel between Wuhan and Hong Kong – it was only a matter of time.”

The company’s 17-page document of guidelines was initially just meant to be shared internally, but in the end the decision was made to put it online so that other restaurateurs could benefit.

“We have had emails from people in Brazil in the west to Japan in the east, from India, the US, the UK, Australia ... and so far, the book’s been translated into four languages,” says Hussain.

“The response has really surprised and touched us.”

The advice in the handbook is comprehensive and practical, with three measures in particular having a huge impact, according to Hussain.

He advocates requiring all staff to wear masks at all times, plus recommends also making masks mandatory for diners until they start eating.

Collecting health and travel declaration forms, so that patrons can be contacted if there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 at the restaurant, is also advised.

Thirdly, Hussain says that temperature checks should be done at the door – any guest with a high fever is turned away.

Once inside, guests should be given a hygiene kit containing hand sanitizer and a paper bag for storing their face masks, according to Black Sheep Restaurants.

Other guidance includes recommendations for managing customer behaviour.

“Try and think about various scenarios and give your team guidance on how to handle them,” says the handbook. “What if someone who signed the health declaration starts displaying symptoms like coughing? What if you notice someone is wearing a quarantine bracelet [a wristband worn by those who should be quarantining for 14 days]?”

Many restaurants have now used the rules to help them prepare for the post-lockdown world, including Eleven Madison Park in New York City, Chefs Warehouse and Cookery School in Cape Town, TIRPSE in Japan, and Room 4 Dessert in Bali.

“Adversity can be a beautiful thing; it brings people together,” added Hussain. “And I think in a world where there’s been so much uncertainty and misinformation, this book was just our honest attempt of fighting this together.”

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