The first wave of states opening back up started at the end of April with Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Even with the ability to open, many restaurants have held off on moving forward. Operators have cited many reasons on the holdout, largely due to the fact that their employees don’t feel comfortable interacting with guests even with the proper protective measures.
As more states make a move to reopen, restaurants must develop a strategy to be successful in this post-COVID-19 world. Here are some steps to take that will help ease the transition for your employees and make your guests feel comfortable to come back into your brick-and-mortar establishments.
Step 1: Adjust your Floor Plans
Most states are slowly opening, requiring restaurants to utilize only 50% (or less) capacity. Even with your doors open and kitchen cooking, guests will still be hesitant to break that lovely 6-foot rule. Take a look at your current table floor plan and figure out how to maximize your table numbers while still giving guests the space they need to feel comfortable. Be sensitive here; guests will be more aware of their surroundings than ever before. Create a simple, clear, and open path for your staff to walk through the restaurant. Eliminate any potential tight squeezes. Consider a reservation-only format, and put a cap on group sizes to help control the capacity of the floor plan. Remake your space into a place customers will be able to enjoy their meal without the added worry.
Step 2: Establish New Safety Protocols
One of your top priorities is to create a safe and healthy work environment for your staff (with or without a pandemic, by the way). With reopening comes more foot traffic and closer human contact. It is vital to establish new protocols now, to ensure proper cleanliness moving forward. Set up personal protective equipment (PPE) stations at multiple places in the restaurant space, making it easy for your staff to change gloves between guest interactions. Stay over-prepared– Black Sheep Restaurants suggest that each surface be sanitized every 30 minutes, and cleaning companies should be hired to do deep cleans every 10 days.
Step 3: Continue to Educate your Guests
Restaurants that quickly pivoted to digital ordering and kept their guests well-informed every step of the way were the ones to experience the most success during the quarantine. It is essential to continue with open dialogue as restaurants slowly open up. Again, guests will be especially sensitive to hygiene, and if they feel any risk at all, they won’t step foot into your establishment. Create strong communication with your guests by publishing weekly newsletters that highlight all the steps you are taking to ensure their safety. Utilize A-frames to communicate to foot traffic in a much more concise manner. Create content to publish on your social channels that will visually explain to your guests the exact lengths that you’ve taken to make your restaurant a safe place.
Step 4: Invest in Digital Ordering Solutions
Quarantine has changed the way guests interact with restaurants. Guests have become accustomed to ordering from the safety of their homes. Upon returning to the outside, there will be hesitation in picking up a physical menu that has been touched and used by other guests before them. Investing in digital ordering solutions like “Phone-to-Table” or “Self-Ordering Kiosks” helps to establish safety credibility. The importance of omnichannel ordering is only going to grow post-COVID-19. Bareburger, a client of Lunchbox, recently moved 51% of their digital sales to their first-party platform and away from sites like Grubhub. By bringing “Phone-to-Table” ordering into the mix, Bareburger will be able to connect the dots between dine-in and digital guests. By investing in an effective and robust digital ordering system, Bareburger has set itself up for continued success as guests ordering patterns continue to shift.
Step 5: Eliminate Excess
Now is the time to evaluate everything you place on your tables. Do you need to have that table-top weekly special promotion, or could it be part of a server’s initial communication? Could the salt & pepper shakers instead be brought upon request? Utilize that space with items that showcase cleanliness. One small hand sanitizer bottle or pack of table wipes per table, accompanied by a place for guests to hang their masks while they dine in. Eliminate clutter; appearance is everything in our world. Don’t give your guests any reason to doubt that your tables are as clean as possible.
Establish a plan based on these five steps and stick to it incessantly. Do it well. Use common sense, stay safe, and keep your guests and employees happy and healthy.