How to Reopen Your Restaurant Safely

Restaurant owners and managers will continue to face challenges until a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed and widely distributed. Even in states that now allow indoor dining with safety measures, many customers still have concerns that keep them away, perhaps because a significant percentage of this summer’s outbreaks are linked to bars and restaurants.

It’s a good time to create a reopening playbook so you’ll be ready to welcome customers back when it’s safe and have a solid plan to enforce capacity limits and social distancing. Given the persistent uncertainty, now is also a good time to upgrade the customer experience and streamline operations with better online ordering, delivery and/or curbside pickup processes. 

Creating a Restaurant Reopening Playbook

Before the pandemic, familiar routines guided employee and customer interactions. The new reality calls for different processes so you can adapt to a transformed business environment. A playbook built around the customer experience can help you update policies and procedures to fit the new circumstances and train employees on new safety measures. 

Think about it from the customer’s point of view, mapping the journey every guest takes when they interact with your business, whether online, via curbside pickup, or in person when indoor dining resumes in your area. Doing this can help you identify every touchpoint and think through the safety implications so you can adjust as needed.  

The CDC has detailed information on reopening a business that has been shut down, including general advice on cleaning and disinfecting a facility and safe practices for workers once business resumes. The FDA also provides guidance specific to bar and restaurant operations, including best practices on the safe handling of food for retail sale or delivery. 

Infection control should be part of your playbook. Include measures like screening staff and guests before they enter. Contactless thermometers are easy to use and provide an instant temperature reading. Screening lets guests know your restaurant is serious about infection control. You can also ask staff to complete online questionnaires to assess COVID-19 risks.

It’s a good idea to add a contingency plan for a positive employee or guest COVID-19 test in your reopening playbook. Map out exactly how you’ll respond, including disinfection plans and a contact tracing plan for anyone who interacted with the infected person. Online forms can be useful here, and open communication is important if this scenario arises. 

Guidelines for enforcing social distancing, restaurant capacity limits and protective gear are also critical components of a reopening playbook. Make sure you train employees to follow the social distancing advice from public health authorities. Online reservation forms can help you comply with capacity limits, and forms can enable employees to request personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and face shields. 

Optimizing Online Ordering

Online ordering capabilities are critical right now because of the pandemic, but there are many other benefits to beefing up online ordering, even when things return to normal. An online ordering system that delivers a friction-free customer experience (e.g., no waiting around in cars or at the restaurant for food) can better serve customers and generate a lot of repeat business. 

An optimized online ordering process also simplifies life in the kitchen. When team members spend less time taking phone orders and processing payments, there’s more time to cook, package and/or deliver orders. Online ordering reduces errors since the customer inputs the order. And when customers have more time to browse the menu, they tend to order more.

It’s simple to integrate online ordering into your restaurant website with digital forms. Look for forms you can easily place on your site, customize to display your logo and background image, and integrate with online payment systems. Make sure you can add enticing photos of food items to the form, which can drive more purchases.

Add QR codes to your menu for contactless ordering and pickup or delivery. Customers can scan the code with their smartphones to open a page on your site where they can place an order and process their payment. Using QR codes can replace processes that require handling paper or credit cards, keeping customers and staff safer. 

Getting Past the Pandemic with a Plan

Restaurant owners, managers and employees have faced unprecedented challenges over the past several months. Adaptability is the key to getting through this difficult time. For restaurants, that means moving operations online as much as possible so they can continue serving customers safely and generate income until a safe and effective vaccine is in place. 

We don’t know how long it will take for things to return to normal, and it’s possible that customer buying patterns have permanently changed. Creating a seamless online ordering process isn’t just a temporary measure — it’s an investment in a new way of doing business that will outlast the pandemic.

Adaptability depends on having a plan so that you’ll be ready to react as conditions change. With a detailed reopening plan, you’ll have protocols in place to train employees on cleaning and disinfecting your facility as well as maintaining social distancing and capacity limits as needed. By creating a plan now, you’ll be ahead of the curve, no matter what the future holds.