7 Dine-In Restaurant Innovations for COVID
The U.S. grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak well into the year, and many states have (tentatively) begun reopening public spaces. Almost everyone is discovering that dining-in has become a much different experience than it was in early 2020! Fortunately, some smart maneuvering can help restaurants keep the public and dining staff safe. Here’s our guide to creative dine-in restaurant innovations for COVID.
Spatial Strategies for Outdoor Seating
As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) learn more about the spread of COVID-19, one thing is clear: operators need to be creative to keep the public safe. For restaurants, this creativity can manifest through health-conscious outdoor seating plans. While a thoughtful floor plan is an essential element for maintaining social distancing in dining, it’s also crucial that restaurant staff and management can navigate this new layout without injury or accidental exposure to others. While crafting a custom COVID floor plan, there are several things to consider for efficiency and safety:
- Six feet is the minimum space requirement between individuals — don’t be afraid to add more space to ensure customers feel extra comfortable.
- Consider roping off or creating barriers between open-outdoor patios and public streets.
- Put distance between the host stand and the first set of tables, so customers can walk to their seats without getting too close to other diners.
- Space outdoor chairs six feet apart to create a relaxing waiting area.
Socially-Distant In-House Seating
Indoor seating will require some trickier logistics to keep everyone from getting too close. Once you’ve mapped out your new seating area, make sure the staff runs the layout several times to get familiar with it. You don’t want staff bumping into each other or customers when they’re delivering drinks or carrying trays. You can test several different layouts to find the right one for your square footage. Be sure to communicate any changes to your entire staff, and update them in your restaurant employee handbook. Reflect these changes in your waitlist management platform so you can confidently seat and collect guest data while providing accurate wait times.
Leveraging Social Platforms for Reservations
If you’re not already familiar with utilizing social media to take reservations, you can start now. There are dozens of options. The sooner you implement this feature, the easier it will be on your customers to safely secure a table. During this strange time, allowing your guests to make a reservation through a social media DM offers them much-needed flexibility.
Because the quarantine came so quickly, many restaurants haven’t had time to inform customers about their new policies and safety procedures. Some restaurants haven’t even had time to update their social media platforms to let customers know whether or not they’re open. Setting up an online reservation system allows you to communicate with the community succinctly, and limits the number of people standing face-to-face in your lobby, trying to make a reservation. It also lets you customize your seating arrangements to accommodate a specific party size.
Shut Down Booths
Booths take up a ton of space in the dining area. They’re also more difficult to sanitize and service than tables. By shutting down any existing booths, you’ll make it easier for your staff to maneuver around tables, and you’ll give table-seated customers six feet distance.
This new setup doesn’t have to be a permanent change. If you have a reservation system in place, you can even open up a few booths if you know you can safely do so based on your reservation numbers. Plus, there are plenty of creative ways to enforce social distancing at your restaurant’s booths.
Clear Safety Signage
The first thing you need your customers to see to denote safety is a sign outside or affixed to the door itself. Signage not only reassures customers that you’re taking their health seriously, but it lets them know that the dining area won’t operate in the way it did before March 2020.
You can either print your sign or use some of the free, printable CDC guidelines to let customers know what to expect. These signs are also great visual reminders for employees to be mindful of potential exposures.
Use Technology to Keep Employees Safe
If you use a manual time clock for tracking employee hours, consider shifting to a digital model. With a non-tangible solution, no one has to touch anything communal to clock their time. You also don’t have to worry about disinfecting any other restaurant surfaces. Other steps to consider include:
- Clean POS devices frequently with appropriate disinfectant.
- Give each employee a stylus pen (clean these often as well) for touching POS screens.
- Consider switching to a digital time card system that allows employees to clock-in from their phones.
- Consider implementing QR Codes for any of those mentioned above.
Fortunately, restaurant technology is quickly catching up to the new standards of safety. There are numerous options for timekeeping systems, POS systems, and restaurant communication.
Make your Back-of-House Safe
Staff safety should be on the same priority level as guest safety. If your employees become ill, they can endanger guests and coworkers. Break rooms and other common areas in restaurants can be quickly overburdened if you have more than a few employees working at one time. Stagger break times so that only one employee is eating lunch in the break room. Provide cleaning wipes and sanitizer so that each staff member can disinfect cleaning areas after they’re finished. Make sure your staff clean bathrooms frequently, along with door handles, kitchen surfaces, and other common areas.
Assign each person an area of the restaurant to maintain. This assignment doesn’t restrict staff only to clean this area. Instead, the designation ensures every area of your restaurant gets an extra check.
7 Dine-In Restaurant Innovations for COVID
Running a restaurant in the time of COVID will require creativity and consistency to keep everyone healthy. Still, a willingness to pivot and try new off-premise options will help operators execute these restaurant innovations for COVID and stay afloat.
How has the pandemic altered your course? Click the link below for our page containing helpful restaurant resources for the COVID-19 outbreak.
About the Author
Marie Johnson is a contributor to Enlightened Digital, UX Designer, and technology writer from New York City. When not writing in the kitchen writing a blog post, you’ll likely find Marie strolling through Central Park, cappuccino in hand.