How To Welcome Back Diners, From A Distance

🕐 5 Minute Read

Across the country and the globe, once bustling restaurants and bars became empty almost overnight. As the coronavirus crisis caused businesses nationwide to shutter, restaurant owners were quick to understand that for the hospitality industry, the ‘new normal’ would require creative solutions and resourceful thinking to keep customers and staff safe, as well as business up and running. As we begin to plan for re-opening, here are some ways restaurants can adapt to serving customers while still practicing safe social distancing.

Disposable Menus

Since the coronavirus can live on surfaces, reducing the number of surfaces people come into direct contact with can help minimize the risk of it spreading. Restaurants should consider switching to disposable, one-time use menus. By giving each customer a menu that they can throw away, it eliminates a point of contact that was previously common in restaurants. To reduce the cost of printing new menus or the environmental impact of disposable menus, restaurants can also consider hanging large-scale menus around their restaurant. Just be sure they’re visible enough that diners won’t have to leave their tables and congregate around them in order to read them.

Fewer Tables, More Space

Many restaurants will have to conduct a major overhaul regarding the design and set-up of their dining rooms. Tables should be spaced at least six feet apart when possible, and enough tables should either be removed or physically blocked off in order to maintain this distance. Bars are another concern, but since it’s impossible to split up a bar, stools should be removed and patrons should not be allowed to stand or congregate around the bar.

Protecting Staff and Customers

Though it won’t be possible for diners to eat while wearing masks, staff members can contribute to safety efforts by donning masks and gloves. Requiring staff to wear protective equipment not only helps keep employees safe, but it also helps reduce the chances that a staff member knowingly spreads the virus to customers. Restaurants should ensure that protective equipment is available to staff, and they should also strictly enforce its use. Disinfecting wipes, sprays, and hand sanitizer should also be readily available for both staff and customers.

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Less Cash, Less Contact

Just like with menus, cash changing hands is another point of contact that can be eliminated from the dine-in experience. Restaurants can take steps to make using credit cards safer, such as sanitizing cards and credit card readers. Even before the pandemic, mobile payments were becoming more popular and widely-used, and restaurant owners should also consider the possibility of switching to mobile payment options.

Crowd Control

Though many restaurants and bars thrived on packed dining rooms, a key to keeping restaurants safe is limiting the number of people allowed inside at once. Restaurants should keep careful tallies on the number of patrons who enter and exit the premises to make sure spaces are not becoming overcrowded. Limiting customers to numbers that allow people to stay at least six feet apart from one another is an effective way to keep everyone out of harm’s way. Systems that rely on calling or texting customers when they are allowed to come inside could eliminate the risk of having customers crowding around the door or host stand while waiting for a table.

Staff Training

Educating staff members is more important than ever, as safety measures won’t be effective if they aren’t enforced and properly followed. Restaurants should take care to properly educate their staff on how to maintain stringent hygiene standards that include regularly sanitizing both the kitchen and dining areas as well as following personal hygiene guidelines such as hand washing. It is also critical that staff members know not to come to work if they are sick, even if their symptoms are mild. Staff should also be trained on how to handle new situations that might arise such as if a customer isn’t following social distancing guidelines.

Social Distancing Shouldn’t Be Somber

Though maintaining a safe environment is essential, owners still have to think about what attracted customers to restaurants in the first place. Restaurants, especially now, not only provide great food and beverages, but also offer a fun and lively reprieve from everyday life. Keeping the mood light and fun in these uncertain times will not only boost morale, but also business. Restaurants can consider switching to an upbeat playlist, keeping doors open to let in fresh air, and reminding their front of house staff of the importance of being friendly and personable. For restaurants and bars with TVs, with less sports to watch, it might be tempting to put on the news. However, consider skipping this to keep things fresh and positive.

Stay Safe, Stay Legal

When the time comes for restaurants to reopen their doors for business, where they are located can play a major role in the legality and logistics of staying open. Amidst the coronavirus crisis, many safety protocols are being mandated at the local, state, and federal levels, so be sure to follow all rules and regulations that apply to your restaurant.

A New Normal

The coronavirus crisis was unprecedented, and the recovery will be no different. Restaurants should begin looking ahead to start planning how they will be able to welcome back diners in a safe, responsible way. Countries such as South Korea and China that are already beginning to phase-in new dining protocols are learning to adapt to new industry standards. Plexi-glass barriers, legal waivers, and temperature checks have been implemented, and these are also measures that can be considered by restaurant owners. In the coming weeks and months, restaurants will learn to adapt, survive, and keep their customers and staff members safe.

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