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Tips for restaurants reopening after COVID-19 closures

May 20, 2020

How to convince the cautious and impress the ready

As stay-at-home orders are lifted and restaurant owners anticipate reopening, many consumers will be looking for assurances regarding their health and safety when heading back out to dine amongst strangers.

Whether you’re operating a fine dining establishment or something more casual, your guests’ perception of cleanliness can have ripple effects for years to come. Restaurants have been competing for guests as long as the industry has existed, and the post-COVID-19 competition to stay afloat will be an intense one. COVID-19 has shed light on how easily germs can be transferred from person to person. There will be a heightened awareness for how restaurants react to new expectations regarding social distancing and cleanliness.

In this article, we introduce strategies that may help ease the concerns of cautious diners while also assuring those who are ready to venture out that the necessary steps have been taken to create as safe of an environment as possible. The strategies discussed in more detail below include communication tips, pulling back the curtain on cleanliness, ways to alter steps of service, and implementing touchless interactions and new technology — along with some creative suggestions to help inspire new ideas and solutions.

Communicate, from start to finish

Reopening successfully will require constant communication, not just with guests but also employees. Much has changed since restaurants shuttered their windows to help protect the neighborhoods they serve, and they will need to flaunt their ability to adapt once again in order to thrive in what will be a new normal.

Communicating service changes, adjustments to menus, building capacity and cleanliness protocols is only the beginning. Without properly communicating with guests and employees, all other attempts to recover will prove more difficult. Thus, we suggest the following:

  • Start proactive communication before a guest enters the restaurant and even while a reservation is made.
  • Update your website, email your loyalty members and prominently display new service guidelines, including cleanliness pledges and social distancing measures.
  • Have the reservation and host team go over the new procedures with each group of guests as they arrive.
  • Follow up with guests as they dine and again as they are leaving to learn how to improve the experience moving forward, as well as understand where the line is for your specific guests.
  • Set expectations for both guest and employee behavior.

Making efforts to protect the guests communicates a level concern for not only their health and safety but also the health and safety of your employees.

Pull back the curtain on cleanliness

  • Consider that cleaning duties often done before and after the shift may now need to happen during the shift as well.
  • Consider placing hand sanitizers throughout the restaurant so guests can see employees using it in between interactions.
  • Provide single-use disinfectant wipes at tables for guests to use as they see fit.

Altered steps of service

  • Leave empty tables in the restaurant as a visual reminder of social distancing as well as the capacity limits restaurants face.
  • Rather than serving beverages individually, utilize carafes, cans and bottles that can be left at each table.
  • Prop doors open when possible to limit the number of surfaces being touched.
  • Consider shifting to counter service when possible in order to limit the interactions between guests and staff.
  • Be open to the idea of guests clearing their own tables or waiting until the guest has left to clear the table for them.
  • Develop ways for guests to communicate with their server without the server having to drop by just to check in.

Implement touchless interactions and technology

  • Transition to downloadable menus that can be texted or emailed to guests upon arrival, increasing the guest database.
  • Perform credit card transactions at the table so the credit card is only touched by its owner.
  • When feasible, utilize single-use condiments and, at the very least, have some on hand in case someone specifically requests it.
  • Invest in UV light robots that can quickly clean line-of-sight surfaces.

Get creative and adapt

New technology may not be affordable. However, making social distancing part of the experience can be accomplished by getting creative and rethinking old processes.

  • Create branded facemasks for staff to wear, and consider selling them to guests.
  • Develop new guest ordering systems that are interactive yet practice social distancing.
  • Extend outdoor dining capacity.
  • Transform additional capacity into vertical farms.
  • Host cooking classes and wine tastings virtually.

Danny Meyer, CEO and founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group — which is responsible for multiple Michelin-starred restaurants among more casual concepts such as Shake Shack — said, “Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you.”

Many feel COVID-19 has happened to them, and as guests venture out, they will be looking for things to happen for them. This presents a wonderful opportunity for restaurants to provide a positive interaction by doing what they do best, simply doing something for the guest.

From assessing your unique circumstances to implementing recovery strategies, Wipfli can help your organization. Please reach out to our accommodations and hospitality team as well as our organizational performance team, or visit our online COVID-19 resource center to learn more.

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