What Is It Going to Take to Be Comfortable in Restaurants Again?

After months of quarantine, consumers crave their favorite restaurant fare more than ever. We’re all a bit tired of cooking, and have grown bored with the limited menu of meals that we know how to prepare at home. The desire to eat out is greater than ever, and restaurants are reopening from coast to coast, with curbside pickup and delivery, new opportunistic outdoor dining areas, and other innovative approaches like drive-ins and carhop service. In most states across the U.S., it is legal (or soon will be) to re-open dining rooms with reduced capacity.

Reopening restaurant dining rooms still puts customers and employees at risk, so safety is the first concern, driving a shift in business operations.

Yet the virus continues to spread, spiking in Florida, Texas and other states, just as many restaurants were ramping back up. A Covid-19 vaccine is not yet in sight, so what is it going to take for guests to feel safe dining out at restaurants again?

Reopening restaurant dining rooms still puts customers and employees at risk, so safety is the first concern, driving a shift in business operations. Restaurants are rolling out new safety protocols, and it’s clear they are taking them seriously. McDonalds published a comprehensive Dine In Re-opening Playbook with guidance to help employees and franchisees begin to welcome customers back into the stores—but only when owners are safely ready to reopen.

In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that McDonalds was pausing the reopening of dine-in service in the U.S. as coronavirus cases continue to spread across states, waiting another three weeks before any new U.S. restaurants add dine-in service.

Safety Protocol and Guidelines Protect Employees and Guests

At McDonalds, the changes that are being implemented are reported to include closing tables to ensure state-defined social distancing measures are being followed; keeping children's play areas closed; no self-serve soda machines, and other measures to minimize contact. Bathrooms will be cleaned every half hour, and a comprehensive list of hygiene and cleanliness measures must be followed.

Beyond McDonalds, all restaurants are managing similar new and expanded safety protocols. Openly addressing those challenges is the key to understanding our question of what it will take for the public to be comfortable in restaurants again. Those safety measures must be visible. Publish or talk about your reopening guidelines with employees, and guests.

Assure guests (and employees) that your restaurant is taking proper precautions with the five most important aspects of safely re-opening:

Cleanliness — Deep cleaning and repeat sanitation of high-touch areas.

Social Distancing – Limited occupancy/spaced seating; minimum contact table service.

Contactless – Kiosks, digital menus, contactless ordering/payment

Employee Care and Health – Wellness and temperature checks (ideally, contactless); protective panels; gloves/masks and PPP.

Technology Innovations – Digital checklists to ensure compliance for safety and cleaning protocol, from sanitation to wellness/temperature checks.

Continue to engage your customers and your community to show how your restaurant is taking action to ensure everyone is kept as safe as possible when guests begin to return to the dining room. Let them see how your employees are using contactless temperature scanning. Show the completed checklists that detail all the steps your employees are taking for sanitation and food safety. Guests are longing for a chef-cooked meal, and will start to return when they see that extra assurance you’re taking every precaution to make their dining room experience safe.