Air Quality in Restaurants – An Economic and Environmental Necessity

Improving air quality in restaurants can provide an economic benefit, as customers will feel more confident in dining out once more. Also, there is increasing pressure on restaurants to correct emissions problems and provide a clean and safe environment for guests. Restaurants produce high concentrations of organic aerosols which are then ventilated and spread into the urban environment. 

The pollution from the kitchen coupled with the possible presence of COVID-19 particles is not a healthy concoction. But there are strategies at hand to both clean up the air in restaurants and monitor readings of CO2, humidity, and temperature. 

Hesitancy to Return to Normality

With COVID-19 positive cases on the decline, restaurants can finally focus on getting customers back into dining rooms and promoting their dining experiences. However, many potential customers are still not comfortable with the idea of the dining out experience. In a recent Nielsen survey, 57 percent of respondents said they don’t feel safe being close to strangers in a restaurant setting, while 45 percent said it would take longer for them to feel comfortable returning to on-premise venues. In addition, from the same survey of 1,560 customers, 41 percent of respondents said they had been out to eat in July 2021, which was only up slightly from 37 percent of people in the previous month.

Another issue facing restaurants is the behavior of consumers with regard to food delivery. Pre-pandemic, only 5 percent of restaurant orders were takeaway, whereas the estimated number is now closer to 20 percent. Due to these habits increasing over the pandemic, customers are now used to having their favorite food available to them via various delivery apps. When taking into account the commission to delivery apps, and the loss of spending more on food in the restaurant, it is a harmful trend for restaurants.

To combat the loss of guests and to drive customers away from using delivery apps, restaurant owners should first and foremost ensure that guests can feel 100 percent safe and comfortable within the four walls of their establishment. The top priority is to ensure air quality and to make sure that their own emissions are kept as low as possible. 

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to be more considerate with air and the environment. Restaurants that agree to reduce their emissions early enough will achieve a competitive edge. They can advertise to their customers that they are helping to protect the environment. According to a recent survey by PMQ, ethical concerns weigh heavily on consumers’ minds, and 83 percent of the respondents said they wish restaurants would use more environmentally friendly practices.

Those who want to lead this debate on reducing harmful aerosols and improving air quality can start by examining what high air quality means and how it can be easily and reliably achieved.

Air Quality Basics

Let’s start with the basic know-how on air quality. Calculating how much air the Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filters pump out and how much fresh air needs to be brought into the restaurant isn’t easy, but there are a few essential guidelines to be aware of.

In terms of fresh air for diners, there should be 10 liters each second per person during a pandemic. This translates to an air exchange rate of six times an hour as a minimum. CO2 levels are amongst the clearest indications of how much an area is being ventilated. Generally, outdoor CO2 levels are 400 parts per million (ppm). Indoors, a consistent CO2 value less than 800ppm is likely to indicate that a space is well ventilated.

Air Quality Monitoring and Action Guides for Restaurants 

Restaurant owners will need to consider different strategies for the front-of-house and kitchen units. Primarily, front-of-house should focus on optimizing their HVAC systems, whereas creating airflow is even more important in the kitchen. This doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling an existing system but rather cleaning or replacing filters to keep static pressure down, increase airflow, and save money. 

It can also help activate the HVAC system for at least two hours before opening and after closing. UV-C light also kills pathogens like the coronavirus, and several companies now make room air purifiers that use both HEPA filters and UV-C light to help clean the air. In addition to these points, it’s also essential to maintain an indoor relative humidity of between 40 percent-60 percent, as viruses such as COVID-19 struggle to survive in these conditions.

Intuitive dashboards presenting these metrics can be mounted on the walls and viewed by customers, giving a real-time overview for the guests and staff. Presenting these metrics leaves the restaurant open to criticism but can also be a motivating factor to bring air quality up to standard. Additionally, as with sanitation checks, restaurants can advertise their air quality status on the front-facing window. This can give customers confidence that air quality is being properly monitored.

Restaurant owners that implement these monitoring measures will have a significant edge over competitors, as they will be able to establish a better relationship with their customers. As discussed above, there is still a clear hesitancy from customers to properly return to a normal dining experience. Therefore, implementing essential air quality and having dashboards with clearly presented metrics in restaurants will go a long way to securing customer’s trust.