Opinion: Privacy vs Safety



There have been a lot of comments in the press recently about the difficulties restaurateurs face in maintaining a guest register.


All restaurants are required to record the name, telephone number and email or residential address for EVERY guest who dines in, as well as staff and contractors. This information needs to be kept for between 28 and 56 days depending on where you are. It is also a requirement that the records be stored confidentially and securely and in some cases, digitally.


Note that contact details are generally not required for takeaway.


But in practice, guest registration seems to vary. Some restaurants are actively seeking information. Others are more passive. A few don’t bother. And several have been fined for non-compliance. And the fines can be significant.


The issue of venue non-compliance is further exacerbated by the fact that 1 in 10 guests provide false or misleading information. A recent survey by GuestCheck has indicated that 10% of guests are giving false information whilst 20% are concerned about privacy. They are concerned that their details will be used for marketing and may be given to other companies. And 50% are concerned about filling in a paper form that anyone can see.


So, venues are now strongly recommended to check guest IDs to ensure they are collecting the correct information. But this is onerous, time consuming and can lead to arguments with customers. It is also asking restaurateurs to do more than the police do on the borders.


But the simple fact is, this information is vital. We need it in order to track and trace any outbreak of COVID-19. So, we must all try to comply. Guests must willing give their correct details and restaurants must actively seek to record it accurately.


The simplest method is, of course, to use a book register or clipboard with a sheet of paper and pen that guests fill in. However, this is generally considered unsuitable and not legal as it can be tampered with by another patron and is not private. It is also a requirement in some States, that these paper details are digitised – i.e. scanned – within 24 hours. Privacy with paper registers is an issue, with later guests able to read the previous guest details. And one café owner told me that she saw a person taking pictures of the list with their phone. Yet many venues use this method, unaware that they may be breaking the law.


I have also seen venues ask for business cards and provide blank cards for those who do not have them. These are then dropped into a box, like a polling booth. At the end of the day, the venue simply puts all the cards into a bag, seals it, labels it with the date and then stores the bags for as long as required. This is more secure but does not satisfy the requirement in some States for digital records.


It is highly recommended to use one of the commercial data collection systems, such as GuestCheck’s SMS system, GuestHQ’s QR code system and VisitSafe, which all have some built-in validation and are digital, but, of course, come with an extra cost.


Running a restaurant or café was difficult before COVID-19. The hours are long and the margins are wafer thin. With COVID, most places had to close, with no revenue, and lay off staff or put them on JobKeeper. Post COVID, operations are limited and the costs continue to rise – less guests and income per venue due to social distancing; higher cleaning and disinfection costs; costs of disposable menus and non-contact items; guest registration costs and high fines for misunderstanding and non-compliance.


Our industry is facing a tough future and needs all the help it can get. The restaurant and hospitality industry supports many others – farmers and food producers, brewers, wineries, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers! Without a viable hospitality industry, many others will fail. Without a viable hospitality industry, social discourse will decline. Food is more than just fuel, it is a social experience – one of the simple pleasures of life. The sharing of meals is fundamental to family, social, commerce and economic cohesion. To help cover some of the additional costs and to build confidence, the industry needs help to ensure accurate guest registration, and the government should abolish FBT, GST and state-based payroll tax. Let’s help one another so we can all dine another day. #SaveHospitalityandTourism.


By Jeremy Ryland


Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash