AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — There is now an extra layer of protection for you and your family when visiting your local restaurant.
“For us, it’s the right thing to do. It was the right decision just to ensure the safety for our guests and to ensure the safety for our employees as well,” Damien Blevins told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.
Blevins is the owner/operator at Aiken Fish House and Oyster Bar. Hundreds of people visit his location weekly to get the fresh catch of the day. “Mostly, I do carry-out but if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, I don’t have a problem. I love fish,” Johnathan Pope shared.
The restaurant is one of the dozens of spots in South Carolina participating in Palmetto Priority. To get the seal of approval each business must jump through some serious hoops — including an inspection by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, special training through a national food handling certification program, and other items, too. As long as the establishment has a retail food service permit issued by DHEC, they are eligible to participate.”The trainings are free, the inspections are free. The decal is free. The exposure is free a hundred percent. There is no cost whatsoever to a restaurant to do that. What it does cost the restaurant is their commitment,” Vice President of the South Carolina Restaurant Lodging Association Douglass Oflaherty said.
It’s not just for casual dining restaurants. Quick-service restaurants like McDonald’s on 102 W Frontage Road in Aiken are also participating. Owner and Operator Angela Harrelson says that the initiative allows customers to see that stores like hers are doing their part to try and keep people safe. “We are already with McDonald’s have standards with temperature checks and the social distancing and wearing the mask and the gloves. So a lot of the requirements we were already doing, so we only had to do a few little extra steps,” she said.
In place at McDonald’s, signage, masks for employees, a sanitizing ambassador, and a free gift to customers when they come in. “We have installed sanitation hand sanitizers at each door entry. So when the customers come in, it says they got a free gift and they can get their free sanitizer. So they feel comfortable before they even come into the restaurant,” she said.
The drink station is also manned by an employee to stop COVID-19 in its tracks.”We have a person back there with masking gloves behind a shield. Once you leave the front counter, they’ll know your drink order, they’ll fix it for you ad that helps speeds up the service on the inside,” the owner of more than 10 years said.
She was impressed with the virtual DHEC inspection — part of the process to participate. “We did it with our iPhones and we got to go around taking temperatures of our product after it’s cooked, while it’s cooking, our hand washing sink to making sure it’s up to temperature. We took her around the store just like she was there. We would hold the thermometer and take the temperature for her and show it. So that was pretty neat to do that,” she said.
Some say Palmetto Priority is the right thing to do to restore consumer confidence.”It’s just, it’s a scary time. For me personally, I feel like restaurants are being looked at as the center for the coronavirus. Restaurants are already a clean and sanitary place. We hold ourselves to a much higher standard than the majority of businesses, in my opinion,” Blevins added.
“The difficult side with restaurants is the amount of time we spend in a restaurant. So if you run into a restaurant and you have a quick bite for lunch, you’re not in there very long, your exposure is very minimal,” Oflaherty said. “If you choose to go into a restaurant and have dinner, and you’re going to sit there for a couple of hours and really enjoy yourself, your exposure expands the longer you’re in a confined space with strangers,” he added.
The program also allows you to be a watchdog, providing feedback on locations that may cause you to have a cause for concern. “There is a QR code on the decal itself. So they can just scan the QR code with their camera phone, or go to palmettopriority.com,” Oflaherty shared.
The group is looking for both good and less than perfect feedback. “What we do with those comments and that feedback is actually share that with the restaurant. We actually call and have a conversation with the restaurant manager or the restaurant owner, and, you know, and talk to them about that,” he added.
As of Friday morning, 1,012 applications were already approved for the program. Sixty-eight were scheduled to be approved by the close of business. “There’s no deadline because we know that the education criteria may take some time or some steps need to be in place prior to applying.”
In Aiken County, there are a number of restaurants participating in Aiken, North Augusta, Wagener, and Beech Island.
As more businesses sign on, it could be the deciding factor for families looking to get out and enjoy a bit of normalcy. “Not everyone’s perfect so there could be a hiccup. If there is a mistake or something else, this gives us the opportunity to correct it so the next guest becomes and be safer than the last guest,” he said.
Restaurants can sign up at PalmettoPriority.Com.
Find what restaurants have the seal of approval, here.