It’s all about adjusting, adapting, and doing things the right way in the era of COVID-19, as the Atlantis evolves its clean and safe protocols, to ensure people feel safe to return to the iconic resort, which began its reopening process by throwing open the doors to its Nobu dining option.
And, you immediately notice the difference with physical distancing and front-of-the house procedures. Indoor dining capacity has been reduced by 50 percent to ensure physical distance protocols, and seating has been expanded outdoors, as they are now making use of their outdoor patio space with 42 seats, six feet apart, with tables for two tops and four tops to make sure there are large groups. They’ve also gotten rid of the large tables in their private dining room where they used to accommodate large groups, to allow for physical distancing, and taken away some seats at the sushi bar.
The new physical spacing allows patrons and staff to move through the tables without cross contaminating tables and chairs or each other, leaving plenty of physical space for guests to feel comfortable.
Dining at Nobu means sanitizing your hands and having your temperature checked before venturing into the restaurant, where you’re led to a table that is no longer pre-set, again to avoid any contamination. As you dine, utensils are brought to the table wrapped.
And it’s not just the front of the house – the improved sanitation protocols are across the board to the back of the house as well.
Sean O’Connell, general manager and vice president of food, beverage and culinary operations at Atlantis, says safety is of utmost importance as they reopen, retrain staff and break habits of how they’ve been trained for the last three decades of their career, with the focus on the safety of patrons and staff, as they return to welcoming people back to the Atlantis.
“I know these are very trying times, and I’m just so excited to stop closing things and actually start to open things again – and to do it in a safe manner,” said O’Connell as Nobu reopened last week. “We’re not just rushing to open here. We want to do it right. We want to make sure that we’re doing things sustainably, and that people are safe.”
Nobu begins the comprehensive roll-out process, opening three nights per week, Thursday through Saturday, during the month of July, as the resort hosts Nobu Summer Nights.
“Nobu is our first restaurant to open. We wanted to just make an effort to at least get up and running. We wanted to start thinking small and going step-by-step. Let’s start with this venue, let’s make sure we’re getting our practices in place and making sure that they’re actually correct, and the food aligned and the team aligned and get going back out there and seeing Atlantis is strong again.”
In preparation for its reopening, O’Connell says Nobu’s staff has been put through rigorous training in respect to the new physical distancing protocols, guest considerations and sanitation procedures, as far as how they actually make things better.
He noted that in kitchens, it’s about working close, and a team effort in a space that isn’t designed to be spacious, but economical. And, that Atlantis has decided on a clean work flow for its kitchens. Working three people on a station and kitchen staff running past each other is a thing of the past.
O’Connell says each person now has their area – and instead of handing and touching, staff lay an item on the counter next to them, so the person that needs it next can pick up the item and move it down the line. With this work flow, they’re practicing physical distancing, but still have a chain and process that’s clean, and keeping things sanitary.
He says the new protocols keep the line sanitary, which ensures protection of the integrity of the way things are flowing.
“It’s all about economy. If I’m going out to the restaurant, I’ve got to be bringing something back. Now, you have one person that’s just dealing with clean food, and they’re not touching anything dirty, or anything that’s been cross-contaminated. Then, you’ve got people that are just dealing with touched products, and dealing with that in a whole different process, and there’s no crossover,” he said.
“It’s just breaking everybody’s habits of how they’ve been trained over the last 30 years of their career to be efficient and do as much as possible, and not walk around empty-handed.”
Taking the new kitchen protocols into account and physical distancing, Nobu reopened with a kind of thinned-out menu. They took about 20 percent of items off the menu, which O’Connell says was done to ensure the kitchen stations they have set up are sustainable and won’t be overloaded.
“We don’t have to overstaff them, so we can protect the integrity of the sanitation protocols that we put in place and ensure that that clean work flow is solid.”
Prior to going live, Nobu’s employees engaged in role play after talking through the new protocols to ensure they had sunk in.
“We spent the whole afternoon prepping the restaurant and practicing and I made sure I had a person on each station that was our new sanitation agent that was just kind of looking at it and making sure, and coaching and saying we need to do this differently, [because] now that we’re actually doing this, we didn’t see this all the way through, so let’s redesign this now. Let’s adjust, let’s adapt, let’s do it right.”
O’Connell says they are encouraging employees to hold each other accountable going forward, and if they see something not being done correctly, to call that person out on it.
“We have to do more. We have to evolve,” he says.
O’Connell is no stranger to having to adopt hazard protocols during pandemics, having worked in Asia during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. He has exposure to what happens in communities and restaurants and kitchens when things like this happen, but he says COVID-19 is the worst he’s seen.
At Atlantis, he says their new protocols goes well beyond the resort, to include accountability of product, accountability of how things are received, to who they’re buying products from, and whether the supplier is following safe practices, and products they receive are in the best condition they can be.
“I learned a lot from just going through that in Hong Kong and we’re able to react and take some of those practices to make sure that it’s being embraced here,” said O’Connell.
Atlantis team members also go through rigorous training when onboarding again. When reporting to work, their temperature is checked at security, and if it’s not within the allowable range, they’re not allowed in the building.
Prior to returning to work, O’Connell said staff is put through a screening process, and if they’ve been associated with anyone that’s been in contact with the virus, they’re asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. If sick, they’re not allowed to work, and must get a doctor’s clearance, which must be submitted before returning.
“We’re recertifying everybody on these cleaning protocols. We’re also going through role play to make sure everybody’s living it, breathing it and practicing it,” said O’Connell. “And, we have a stringent accountability protocol where we’re each holding each other accountable, but we also have agents that come through and spot check what we’re doing, because people are people and we want to be human and we want to recognize that, but also we want to make sure we’re nipping these bad habits in the bud.”
O’Connell says they have two cleaning companies each with its own responsibility – one that focuses on front of house, with the other focusing on the back of the house, with both areas receiving daily deep cleanings.
Tables, chairs, bars, and sushi counters, are deep-cleaned nightly. In addition, they’re disinfected leaving microbial cleaning agents on the surfaces, that he said are active in destroying bacteria and viruses for up to 90 days – despite this, he says they’re treating them nightly.
In the kitchen, he says protocols are even more aggressive with a thorough disinfection done three times daily.
“When people are coming in in the morning, we’re starting work with disinfecting and cleaning the stations, and then as we start to work, we make sure that people are washing their hands automatically, at least every 30 minutes, or after every task. And after every task, we’re making sure that they sanitize their workstation using a product specifically designed for viruses and bacteria. We make sure we’re applying that to every surface that we’re actually cooking and prepping food on, and also applying that to the passes,” he said.
Atlantis closed its doors on March 25, after The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 15.
The Bahamas has 113 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday with two new cases confirmed on Grand Bahama bringing the island’s total to 16, with 83 cases on New Providence, 13 on Bimini, and one on Cat Cay.
There are 11 deaths, two non-COVID-related deaths, 91 recovered cases, zero hospitalized cases, nine active cases, and 2,540 tests completed.
Worldwide, there are 12,995,0377 confirmed cases and 570,435 deaths.