Robert Irvine, Host of Restaurant: Impossible, Speaks Candidly to Restaurateurs

“Trying to get consumer confidence back—that is the biggest problem we have,” begins Robert Irvine, television host of Restaurant: Impossible. Reporters interviewed Irvine on national radio this week, asking him to advise restaurant owners on best practices during the pandemic. Irvine is a celebrity chef and host of seven seasons of Dinner: Impossible as well as 17 seasons of Restaurant: Impossible, both on Food Network TV.

Consumer interest in dine-in restaurants has indeed dropped precipitously this year. As of May 2, pollsters found that merely 40% of patrons intended to return to restaurants “immediately and often” after restrictions on table and bar service were lifted. Data as of yesterday from OpenTable confirms that seated diners are 65% below prior year levels. This precisely matches a May survey of Californian respondents, 65% of whom said they would not be comfortable dining out, even with social distancing precautions.

“COVID-19 hit in March. 11 million workers—food and beverage and hospitality workers—go out of work, 184 plus countries shut down, and people are scared. People are fearful of restaurants,” continued Irvine.

When asked how to provide reassurance to patrons, Irvine recommended restaurant owners to provide prominent disclosures, updates, and signage about the safety compliance. “We have to do something called transparency. We have to be transparent in what we are doing in the restaurants, to be able to make sure that our employees are safe, and the consumer is safe. You know, accountability, health and safety. We have a duty of care—responsibility to both the employees and the customers.”

According to Irvine, the most important coronavirus cleanliness tool is accountability. “How do we let people know that we’re doing the jobs that we say we’re doing? Everybody’s been to a bar, and you can see those checklists on the door that say, ‘Oh, we’ve done this. We cleaned it. We cleaned the restroom. We’ve done this, we’ve done that.’ Right. So, how do you know what actually happens?” 

What is Irvine’s solution? “If people get sick from the virus, I can geotag you [the employee]. So if you’re smoking a cigarette, and you say you’re cleaning the refrigerator, I can say, ‘Well, you haven’t cleaned the refrigerator. Why haven’t you done it?’ Again, it’s accountability.”

He reiterated his suggestion of radical, prominent disclosure to patrons about cleanliness duties. “Tell me exactly what has happened, in that restaurant, on that day, so that I feel safe. All the protocols, the gloves, the masks, the social distance, the refrigerator that was checked to make sure that it was in temperature, that this one was doing the toilet. I want it all tracked. At the end of the day, we’re going to make sure that the employees are following and performing all of those mandated measures and protocols that we set in place.”

Irvine concluded with his signature bluntness. “Otherwise, nobody’s going to those restaurants, unless we get that consumer confidence back, and we show that we’re doing the right things. No coming back? We’re not making money. Right.”

The U.S. added 35,664 new COVID-19 infections today, with total cases passing 2.5 million and deaths exceeding 126,000.

Photo by Jim Greenhill from McLean, USA – 161020-Z-DZ751-351, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia

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