As our government and their experts continue working to flatten the curve and develop a vaccine for COVID-19, officials are also saying it’s acceptable for bars and restaurants to reopen their business for dine-in services. It’s no secret that Shelter in Place orders have made a huge impact on the restaurant industry. In March alone, there were 3% permanent restaurant closures with April hitting an additional 11%. Unfortunately, by the end of this crisis some reports say up to 15–25% of restaurants will be closed or thinned.
This is a stressful time for many businesses owners who must decide whether or not their restaurant should open up again, as choosing to stay closed could very well mean the end of the road. Only you, the owner and person in charge, can know for certain if your restaurant is prepared to serve customers again. For those who are struggling to decide what to do, we’d like to offer some helpful advice and resources for how to ensure your restaurant can reopen safely and successfully.
How to Clean & Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
If business owners believe nothing else, they should believe the COVID-19 virus can be spread throughout their establishments at any time, from anyone, and it won’t be visible to the naked eye. California governor Gavin Newsom recently issued an official guidance document for opening restaurants. If restaurants want to avoid closing their doors for a second time, they must comply with Gov. Newsom’s guidelines and they must respectfully view every patron and employee as a potential contaminant, and set up consistent and diligent systems for sanitizing every surface.
What are the First Steps?
At the start and end of every work day, thoroughly detail-clean and sanitize the entire facility. Focus on high-contact areas that would be touched by both employees and guests like bar counters, door handles, menus and cooking equipment. Also do not overlook seldom touched surfaces like benches and chairs, soap dispensers, and wait stations. Follow sanitizing material guidance to ensure it’s at effective sanitizing strength and don’t forget the containers holding cleaning supplies need to be cleaned too!
What Will Be the Greatest Difference in Our Sanitizing Process?
Servers and managers will have to take more time to clean tables before seating new parties. If you use table cloths, replace them between every table. Otherwise every table and chair should be sanitized before being touched by a new patron. This process will slow down turnover between parties, but keep in mind that maintaining social distancing guidelines requires less patrons to be inside the building anyway. In these times restaurants should be more concerned with cleanliness over speed.
Never forget when this crisis is over you want your business to be known as the place that reported zero cases of COVID-19 after reopening.
The Ongoing Rules of Cleanliness in Times of COVID-19
- Remove lemons and unwrapped straws from self service drink stations and keep them behind a counter for staff to distribute.
- Make hand sanitizer readily available to guests. Consider touchless hand sanitizing solutions. Choose safety over decor as even the most high-scale restaurants could benefit from a hand sanitizing station.
- Maintain strict hygiene and social distancing practices in order to keep a resurgence in new COVID-19 cases from occurring. The last thing you want is to be forced to shut down a second time.
- Where salad bars and buffets are permitted, they must have sneeze guards. Change, wash and sanitize utensils frequently and place appropriate barriers in open areas.
- If providing a “grab and go” service, stock coolers to no more than minimum levels.
- Clean and sanitize reusable menus. Discard paper menus when customers are finished with them.
- Employers should follow local and state requirements when it comes to CDC recommendations for face coverings.
Most importantly, listen to your local government, the CDC and the FDA. Don’t assume you know more than the experts.
How to Bring In Customers Back Inside
As difficult as these times have been for everyone, the mandatory closure of bars and restaurants have been a good opportunity for businesses to reconnect with their customers and remind them what was so special about their restaurant to begin with. After weeks of being stuck inside their homes consumers are eager to get out and support local, independent businesses. Before you reopen, take this time to reach out to those customers to address their safety concerns and provide incentives for them to come back to your establishment.
Strong Marketing Strategies
Before your doors open back up, your team should focus social media marketing on community-based advertising. Reach out to homeowners associations, next-door neighbor sites, and city blog pages to promote your local brand. For example, revenue from gift cards has been a huge help in keeping many businesses afloat, so keep that revenue coming by taking a look at past promotions you’ve run and offer a similar deal via email or social media.
Restaurant coach, Donald Burns, told Upserve that keeping your restaurant top-of-mind for guests will be crucial to winning back their business when it’s time to reopen. “If you’re not communicating with me and telling me what’s going on, I think you shut down for good,” Burns says. “Keep content light and entertaining to get guests excited about coming back. Share videos on your social media teaching knife skills, basic recipes, or showing a new recipe you are developing. Promote this content to your email subscribers as well to get more eyes on your message.”
In a world where a dangerous virus can be spread through touch, make contactless technology your friend. If financially possible, invest in automated systems that can take customers orders as well as cash them out. Cut down on server/guest interaction by keeping the menus on your business website up to date and promote them in your marketing campaigns. Don’t forget to update your mobile website as well, since many potential customers are spending the majority of their internet research on their phone. Finally, encourage customers to pay for their meals with a credit card and other cashless systems such as Paypal or Venmo.
The most significant challenge restaurants will face with dine-in services are faces themselves. Patrons are not able to wear a face mask while eating. If the coronavirus can transmit through droplets when you speak and breathe, then eating indoors is inherently riskier. It’s important that restaurant owners acknowledge this risk when they decide to reopen their business.
The responsibility to maintain the health of safety of your patrons is top priority. Before you reopen, remake your floor plan to abide by social distancing guidelines. Don’t allow customers to congregate at the bar, the host stand, or outside the bathrooms. Post signs in these areas informing customers and be sure to train your staff how to guide guests to the appropriate waiting areas.
Another important, but troublesome, step those in charge must take is prohibiting customers with a fever or any COVID-19 symptoms from entering the building. Some will argue their right to enter, but when in doubt, refer combative customers to the FDA recommendations.
How to Be Know When You’re Ready
California Governor Gavin Newsom has been outspoken when talking about what “the new normal” could look like for the restaurant industry. Food and Wine Magazine reported Newsom as saying “You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask, a dinner where the menu is disposable, where the tables, half of the tables, in that restaurant no longer appear, where your temperature is checked before you walk into the establishment.”
It’s no doubt going out for dinner will be different than it was a few months ago. Before you light up the “we’re open” sign on the front door, consider the obstacles that you will have to face.
Got the Staff?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has given the greenlight for employers to take their staff’s body temperature with the use of a contactless thermometer as long as employers follow ADA confidentiality requirements. Therefore, a sick employee should never come in to work and a sick employee should never feel compelled to come to work because they couldn’t find anyone else to cover their shift. Have additional servers on-call should a server have to call out.
In order for staff to remain healthy, employers must require they wear safety masks and gloves at all times. However, don’t put the responsibility of providing gloves and masks on to your employees. Provide your staff in the front and back of the house with the proper, washable masks and plenty of disposable gloves that have the proper preventive qualities. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re wearing a mask and can blow out a candle, then your mask isn’t good enough.
Finally, create a space for employees to easily keep social distancing measures. Redesign the kitchen and bar set up, as well as your wait stations, to allow co-workers to remain six feet apart. Hold staff meetings remotely and listen to their concerns about returning to work. If your staff is telling you your plan to reopen isn’t feasible, open up a discussion for how it can be improved.
Got the Supplies?
Supply chains are likely to see a dip in production for restaurant products as the commodity markets focus on retail. This means restaurant owners need to have a plan for how you will get your products if supply is low?
Donald Burns told Upserve many restaurants are currently doing fire sales on wine, liquor, and beer so it’s worth reaching out to your vendors to ask if they’ll take back any non-perishable products. Chances are they will be able to resell it to another merchant and you’ll get an extra bit of cash to work with. “I had a client today whose beer purveyor actually came to their restaurant and said, ‘Hey, do you have any untapped kegs or any unopened cases of beer? We’d be more than happy to take them back for you.’”
This means talk to your vendors and talk to other business owners and see how you could work together to gather all the supplies you need to run your operation and set yourselves up for success.
Look for Opportunities
Burns also recommends taking the opportunity now, while business is slow and you have less inventory coming in, to learn how to better manage food costs, revamp your menu, and widen your margins. You can use your own POS data to research your historic menu trends, best selling items, and dishes that are more cost and effort than they’re worth. He also wants restaurant owners to start looking deeper into their P&L statements to better understand where their money is going to make better decisions now and in the future.
So while some might say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” we say, “if it can be better, why leave it worse?”
Preparing to reopen your restaurant means being prepared for everything. Questions like where guests should wait for the rest of their party, where employees spend their break time, where customers go to pick up take-out orders should all be answered and communicated to the entire staff before they ever come into contact with guests. And if your business can’t follow through with the mandates you intend to set, then you might have to accept that your business is not ready to reopen.
If you’re unsure what the best decision would be for your business, restaurant coach Donald Burns is currently offering his services to anyone looking for advice or guidance.
Knowing when it’s the right time to reopen your business is a decision only you can make. As distressing as that responsibility can be, take comfort in the fact that we’re already seeing other countries begin to settle into their new normal.
In China restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten reopened his businesses in Shanghai and Guangzhou at the end of March, and quickly saw business bounce back to about 40-50%. “When you walk into the restaurant, it’s all government rules — there are a lot of restrictions,” says Vongerichten to Eater Magazine. “Taking the temperature from all the chefs, taking temperature from the customers as well; no table bigger than four, spaced six to eight feet between tables. Nobody touches money, so people go to an app for the restaurant on their phone, the waiter just brings wine, water, and food. It’s very limited, restricted, but it seems to be working,”