As more governors issue statewide mask mandates, operators should seriously consider drafting codes of conduct aimed at their in-person guests and delivery and takeout customers.
An operator’s employee handbook (we’re certain every operator has finally created or updated their own by now) should include an employee code of conduct. The code explains exactly what’s expected of each team member, including what behavior is acceptable, what won’t be tolerated, and consequences for violations. It’s a form of protection for team members, management, operators/owners, and guests and customers.
A guest and customer code of conduct offers similar protections to the employee-focused version, including empowering team members and keeping them safe. The difference is that this document—a quick one-sheet will likely suffice—should be placed conspicuously for guests to read. That can be on the front door, a front window, the host stand, menus, tabletop and bar displays, and the designated takeout pickup area.
Guest and customer codes of conduct should be shared on the brand’s website and social media channels. Operators who are comfortable doing so can also use their email lists to share what they expect of their in-person guests and delivery and pickup customers.
When drafting this code of conduct, operators need to consider their tone. As tempting as it can be, condescension is best avoided so as to not provoke negative responses. Some people will take even the most professionally written code of conduct personally, so there’s no need to pour more fuel on that fire.
The expectations for guest and customer behavior should be authentic to the brand—serious, lighthearted, humorous, plainspoken, etc. Once finalized it can be shared with team members by management, the part of the team who should be tasked with enforcing it.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have issued mask mandates that affect the public and businesses. In some states, like Florida, statewide mask mandates are not yet in place. However, some counties and cities in the 20 states that aren’t requiring face coverings currently statewide have issued their own mask mandates for people in public.
When drafting a guest- and customer-facing code of conduct, operators need to first become familiar with what state and/or local lawmakers expect of people and businesses when it comes to face coverings. They can then express that expectation for anyone patronizing their establishments, including refusing service to anyone who shows up without a mask (barring medical exemptions, of course).
When it comes to medical exemptions for face coverings, it’s wise to contact an attorney. Arguments have been for and against making someone prove their exemption, so it’s best for operators to be well informed to avoid making a costly error.
Social Distancing Requirements
Everyone should understand social distancing and how it works in public. However, there seem to be people who just can’t—or won’t—grasp the concept. Like face coverings, operators need to understand social distancing state and/or local requirements for their establishment. They can then use this point to pass along that information to guests and takeout customers.
Listening to Instructions
It may seem silly to require grown adults to pay attention to health, safety and service instructions. Unfortunately, the hospitality industry has been subjected to far too many incidents of disrespect and abuse by hostile guests. This element of the code of conduct sets the tone that attempting to pull team members into confrontations won’t be tolerated.
Being Respectful of Employees and Other Guests
This point is an extension of the listening requirement. It can help put guests who have been reluctant to venture out for in-person dining at ease, letting them know that rude or hostile guests will be ejected.
Consequences for Reservation No-Shows
Some operators agree with charging a “no-show tax,” others believe it’s poor form that will drive some guests away. This point should be given careful and thoughtful consideration. If an operator decides to implement a penalty for no-shows, it must be clearly communicated on their website, at the time a reservation is made, and in an email and/or text to the guest making the reservation.
Operators should use this point of the code of conduct to explain howorder pickup works. Is the customer expected to call upon arrival and wait in their car? Should they pop their trunk or unlock a passenger door? Are they expected to enter the building wearing a mask and wait in a designated area?
This point can be tricky for businesses using their own team members to deliver orders. They’ve left the confines of the bar or restaurant and are going to another adult’s private residence or place of business. Operators will have to decide if they want to include this point, think about how they’d like the interaction to take place to protect their team member and customer, and consider consequences if the delivery doesn’t go well.
There are other points to consider, of course—each operation has unique experiences and expectations. Operators must also weigh whether a code of conduct will help or hurt their business before implementing one. There are potential guests and customers who are so vehemently opposed to mask and social distancing mandates that they take out their frustration on businesses following such orders.
Is it more important to avoid any possible further reduction in traffic or is it better to communicate that a business is following mandated health and safety requirements, making other potential guests feel more comfortable? Each operator has to answer that question, which is where a solid understanding of their customer base becomes crucial.
Update: Lettuce Entertain You sent an email today outlining protocols (a code of conduct) they’ve put in place to keep guests and team members safe. Some of their points addressed contactless temperature checks, travel restrictions, and face masks. The group’s email states that guests who are turned away for temperature checks have the opportunity to place a to-go order or make a reservation for a later date.
As of July 23, 2020, these are the states with mask mandates that are either already in place or will go into effect in the coming days: AL, AR, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MT, NC, NM, NJ, NV, OH, OR, PA, RI, TX, VA, WA, WV.
I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.
After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.
A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.