How Digital Tools Can Help Restaurants Prepare Staff for Winter Patio Dining

After months-long dining room closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants gained new life in the summer when most government jurisdictions allowed outdoor patio dining. But as temperatures fall, establishments in colder climates are exploring ways to extend their patio season into the winter. 

With the possibility that 20 percent  of restaurants could permanently close due to the pandemic, owners are looking to an array of alternatives including heaters, blankets, and plastic domes to preserve their outdoor dining spaces and continue driving business year-round. Given how different this year’s winter dining experience will be, restaurants will need to train staff to execute a turnkey dining experience in yet another “new normal.” Digital workplace tools can help restaurant owners prepare employees to remain agile this winter as they adapt to modified dining protocols.  

Opportunity to Innovate 

Although another shift in dining protocols may seem daunting to restaurant owners, it presents an opportunity for innovation — a call many restaurants have already answered during the pandemic. And fortunately for establishments located in cold cities, there are successful outdoor winter dining models to follow in Paris, Toronto, and Colorado ski towns. With the right combination of technology and training, you can set your staff up for success in the next phase of COVID-19 dining. 

Here’s how digital workplace tools can help your restaurant swiftly adapt — and re-adapt — to changes in weather as well as health and safety guidance.  

1. Use a Digital Workplace Platform

If you haven’t already, establish a digital workplace platform for your restaurant. A digital workplace platform connects all frontline restaurant employees via their mobile devices or any web-enabled computer or kiosk.

The possibility of substantial changes and shifts in your winter dining process makes it imperative to keep staff updated in real time — and a digital workplace gives you that ability. Features such as real-time messaging, push notifications, and bulletin messages keep staff abreast of important information about winter dining protocols, especially if your local government makes additional regulatory changes in response to the pandemic. 

Digital workplace platforms also help employees manage their workloads through contemporary task management. For example, with new procedures needed for outdoor winter dining, you can create “to-do” checklists and tip-sheets for employees to reference as they learn the new setup while automatically sending compliance notifications to management.

2. Create a Training Program 

Your digital workplace platform can also be used as a training hub to educate employees on new winter dining practices. By creating training programs about outdoor winter dining, you can ensure employees are prepared to work in this new environment. 

Your training should walk through all steps needed for winter dining. The advance preparation will not only better prepare your employees, but also help your customers feel safe and comfortable. For example, if you plan to use plastic domes, will your employees be responsible for setting them up before opening? If you’re offering blankets to customers, what’s the process for keeping the blankets clean and sanitized? What are the safety considerations associated with using a patio heater in a tent? 

Use videos and photos to provide context that will help your employees understand your restaurant’s new winter patio setup. To further promote compliance, your training modules can also include quizzes for workers. 

3. Gather and Implement Continuous Feedback  

Polls and surveys are valuable tools to leverage in your digital workplace platform. These tools gather real-time employee feedback you can use as key learnings to refine your outdoor winter dining experience.

Direct feedback from employees is valuable for ensuring a positive outdoor winter dining experience. Insight into small details like the temperature setting to use for a heater or which kind of blanket works best add up over time to help perfect your dining operation. Polls and surveys ensure your employees feel valued as contributors to the overall organization — which serves as an effective way to combat employee burnout.

Chat functionality is another simple, yet effective, tool that can be leveraged to gather real-time feedback from the frontlines. With established employee and manager channels, your workers can exchange tips and advice with each other on best practices for outdoor winter dining. Direct messaging features are also a suitable option for employees that want to ask questions privately. 

Restaurants have overcome challenge after challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this winter will be no different. Resilience does not need to be a heavy lift — technology can alleviate the manual processes that make change difficult. By leveraging a digital workplace platform and equipping employees with resources and training for winter patio dining, your restaurant can succeed through the next phase of the pandemic.