Restaurant owners hope for more guidance on COVID-19 protocols for hospitality industry

As more restaurants deep clean their spaces to protect the public during the COVID pandemic, industry leaders said they are working toward more specifics on what to do when staff members are exposed.

COVID-19 is not sparing food service workers.

“We had our first worker exposed last week on Tuesday,” said Jeff Gigante, the owner of Forbici Modern Italian in Tampa.

In the last few weeks, the virus crept into dozens of restaurants across Tampa Bay. On Thursday, Datz announced it will temporarily close its doors to customers for a day for professional deep cleaning.

Park and Rec St. Pete was forced to temporarily close for a few days earlier this month when two workers tested positive, and the owner Stephen Schrutt said they have reopened with new protocols.

“Now we’re doing weekly testing, and we’ve limited our hours, so we get the results before we start a new work week,” said Schrutt, owner of Hunger Thirst Group.

Gigante said he decided to work with local hospitals for help moving forward.

“We reached out to healthcare facilities, and there are some great ones that are doing it now. We landed with AdventHealth,” said Gigante. “They guided us on their best practices on how to stay safe for your employees and your customers.”

Currently, there are no clear guidelines for what to do after COVID-19 exposure. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said they hope to ease some frustrations soon.

“So we are working with the regulators and public health officials to come up with a little bit finer point. And we’ll hopefully see that in the next few days,” said Geoff Luebkemann, the senior vice president of FRLA.

Luebkemann said there is no “one size fits all,” but he thinks some clarity would help.

“Really digging into what does exposed mean in each of these situations? Is it a roommate? Is it a coworker? Is it someone that you have brief contact with in an external sense 10 days ago?” said Luebkemann.

While guidelines would provide direction, some owners said it’s on the restaurants to be accountable.

“I do think it would be nice there were some more set guidelines, but I also think that as responsible owners, you should do the right thing,” said Schrutt.

So as restaurant owners do what’s right for their individual circumstances following exposure to the virus, they said they hope for the community’s support.

“We completely respect everyone’s opinion whether to come or not come. But we hope that if you choose to come out, that you’re going to have a belief that the restaurants that you frequent are doing the best that they can to serve you the safest,” said Gigante.

In addition to the state’s requirements for operating restaurants in phase one, restaurants owners told FOX13 they also follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including deep cleanings and informing staff about the exposure. They said they feel it’s important to disclose any COVID cases to the public.