Pittsburgh Restaurant Industry Leaders Launch Best Practices Website

Safe Service PGH is a compilation of updates and guidelines.
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PHOTO BY CHUCK BEARD

Restaurant owners, catering operators and other foodservice business owners have navigated an ever-changing series of information and regulations since Gov. Tom Wolf first ordered a shutdown in response to the then-emergent COVID-19 pandemic on March 16.

Following more than two months of takeout only service, Wolf, bolstered by low virus counts and improved science-based knowledge of transmission vectors, slowly began loosening restrictions at the end of May. However, as the number of positive cases began to rise, spurred, in part, by bad behavior from a portion of the restaurant- and bar-going public and a minority of business owners deciding that short-term profit was more important than long-term public interest (and, frankly, long-term profit), Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and, two weeks later, Wolf, clamped down on what is allowed.

It’s challenging, even for the most engaged restaurant owners and diners, to keep up.

A group of restaurant industry leaders recently banded together to launch Safe Service PGH, an initiative to compile and organize the best available resources to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Ehrrin Keenan, formerly special distribution manager of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, oversees the Safe Service website as its director. She’d spent the past few months gathering links and sharing them in a Google document. In the process, she noticed other lists going around. “A lot of small businesses have been struggling on a lot of fronts to keep their employees and customers safe. For consumers, it’s been tough to figure out where they can go to support small businesses that are taking safety seriously.”

That sentiment is echoed by Kate Romane, owner of Black Radish Kitchen and one of the organization’s founders. She noticed that owners of catering businesses such as hers were having a hard time finding out what the latest allowances meant for their operations. Among her chef and farmer friends, the confusion often was the same. “We’re all in a desperate situation, and we feel like we’re all on our own lifeboats. If we could create one together, it’ll be more effective for us all,” she says.

To that end, the Safe Service website features a resource page that’s divided into five sections: Current Guidelines, Reporting & Enforcement, Training & Classes, Best Practices & Templates and Financial Resources. Those sections provide well-organized, vetted information that will help foodservice business owners make choices that put safety first. “To navigate through blanket policy is hard. Each business has its own challenges. We want to help each other find solutions,” says Romane.

Safe Service also can be a resource for restaurant-goers and people looking to hire a catering company. Participating businesses — a growing list that includes restaurants such as Scratch Food & Beverage, Station and Spirit; catering companies such as Black Radish Kitchen and All in Good Taste Productions; and on-site venues such as Churchview Farm — are asked to take a pledge promising to adhere to a series of guidelines. If it works as intended, the Participating Businesses section of the website will provide consumers a place to find restaurants they will feel comfortable patronizing.

Guests, too, are offered advice on how to be a good customer with a “Save Service PGH Pledge” that includes promises such as wearing a face-covering unless eating or drinking, being patient and kind with staff and staying home if they feel sick. “Let’s put some positive peer pressure out there for people to adhere to the guidelines and make sure everyone stays safe,” Keenan says.

safeservicepgh.com

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