Burger with a side of face mask: Restaurant etiquette in our new normal

John Barker is President & CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association. His parents and family operated the Rustic Lounge restaurant and bar in the 1970s, He was an executive at Wendy’s for nearly 20 years and teaches at The Ohio State University. He writes about the foodservice industry, inspiring restaurateurs, important issues and thought leadership. 


On Friday, May 22 our CEO, Claire Coder, interviewed John and asked him about his knowledge and expertise of the restaurant industry. The video of this interview has been edited and posted online on Claire’s Linkedin page. Below is a transcription of the interview. 




[CLAIRE] Yes, John, I know you are a busy man, you are in high demand and that’s because you are the President and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association. Sound about right?


[JOHN] It is, which means I get to make the coffee at the office in the morning. It’s an important job. 


[CLAIRE] Yes, you’re keeping everyone in check.. Ohio restaurants are reopening and so you have a lot on your plate. We are so glad to have you. 


As restaurants are reopening, they are adding additional infrastructure and PPE to keep people safe. Do you have any idea of the acreage cost that restaurants are incurring with this influx of need for personal protective equipment and all the barriers and all of these widgets and things? Do you have an idea of average cost?


[JOHN] It’s difficult to get to averages, but I would say if it’s a quick-service restaurant where they already have the ability to move tables and things like that, it might be a bit easier. Restaurants that have booths, it’s harder because now you have to erect plexiglas in between booths and things like that. 


So additional cost depending on the type of restaurant you have, but quick-serve restaurants have a higher volume, so they might have to have more sanitizer. They may have to have more soap and, you know, soap in the restrooms because they have more employees. It just really depends, but I tell you that everybody that we’ve talked about is looking down at their PNL and it’s thousands of additional dollars.


[CLAIRE] What happens when people break the rules? What happens when restaurants break to rules? Have you seen repercussions?


[JOHN] Yeah, so, you know, the governor put in place the Ohio Investigative Unit. And this is essentially plain closed people, who may have used to work for the highway patrol and their jobs have always been to go out and go to places that are serving liquor to make sure things are being done the right way. So, they’re going to be out in the next couple of weeks in particular, right, and just making sure people are following all these rules. And their job when they go in is to educate and work with people and get it right. 


[CLAIRE] As a consumer, are you going to restaurants? Have you jumped back in and started going--real life you--going to restaurants?


[JOHN] Yesterday (May 21, 2020), I went out for the very first opening of the Rusty Bucket, which is a great member of ours. I had lunch with the president and founder, Gary Callicoat. We sat in the restaurant. We had our masks on until the food came. We were being good citizens. We made sure we sanitized our hands and we had a great meal. The servers and everybody was doing the right thing. We really loved it.


[CLAIRE] So you talked a little about--you’re wearing your mask and you were sanitizing your hands. It comes to that point where--there you have it (John puts on a face mask). There’s the mask. Then you have to eat your burger. What do I do with my mask? Do I just slide it across or what does the operation look like there?


[JOHN] Well, that’s going to be different for everybody. Guys, oftentimes, have a pocket. We have an unfair advantage. So I just tuck mine in my pocket, but you can put it in your purse or in your pocket in your pants. Just keep it nearby and then when you’re done just pop it back on.


[CLAIRE] So, John, we’re coming to my favorite part of the clarification show and I want to ask you: there’s a lot going on in the industry. Help me understand one misconception about you or the restaurant industry that you want to clarify.


[JOHN] You know, Claire, I’d say this one. First of all, people don’t know how complicated the restaurant business is. It looks real simple when you just kind of walk in and it’s all running well and the server’s good and the food’s good and the manager comes over and says hello and you think, ‘How hard can this be, right?’ It’s actually very complicated if you think about all the regulations that a restaurant needs to follow. Now, you’re going to layer on top all these new mandatory requirements and recommended best practices and cost. Yesterday, after I had lunch, one of the things I did is I gave a ridiculously large tip to our server because they’ve been out of work for a couple months. Right now over 300,000 people are unemployed in this industry just in Ohio. It might actually push toward 200,00 but we still have a long way to go. We believe recovery is going to take months. In fact, some of the economists are saying it is going to take into 2021. So, be supportive of your restaurant, be a good citizen, and give a nice tip.




By: Ally Williams