As we look back on a year with COVID and look ahead to a future without it, it's time to start thinking about how to safely re-open restaurants. Depending on where you're located, the American experience of restrictions has been drastically different. However, regardless of whether you had to shut down completely or modify your offering to keep serving throughout the pandemic, there's a lot for the restaurant industry to still consider for the post-COVID period.
Challenges still to come
To say this coronavirus pandemic experience has been a challenge for restaurant owners would be a gross understatement. Businesses across the country are struggling, but reduced restrictions in cities are on the horizon. What restaurants do now can make all the difference in how this transition goes ahead.
There are three key challenges that restaurant businesses are going to have to manage:
1. Getting customers back to the restaurant
2. Keeping your venues, restaurant workers, and customers COVID-safe
3. Complying with all the CDC, federal government rules, and your cities rules
When your bottom line has been hit, the natural focus will be to get people through the door and drive sales up. However, any COVID concerns could see your restaurant being forced to shut down again. The steps forward have to be balanced.
Steps to Reopening Your Restaurant
Using the CDC recommendations as a reference, what follows is a best practice guide for re-opening restaurants after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. Including both marketing and COVID-safe tips.
- Determine your service options
According to the CDC, you have four options to consider when resuming service, factoring in COVID-19 risk levels. The highest risk is, of course, re-opening indoor dining with indoor seating and no physical distancing implemented, especially if you have a popular restaurant: it's going to be packed. This is not recommended until an all-clear has been announced and everyone is COVID-free.
The safest route is to do take-out or delivery only, but of course, this is not an option that is really helping you to re-open. What restaurants should be aiming for is a hybrid that sits in between these extremes.
Social distancing helps to limit contact between people, which keeps them safe. Indoors, all tables should be separated by 6 feet. If you have the capacity, keep patrons outdoors as much as possible. To keep orders up while obeying restrictions indoors, you can encourage takeaway, curbside pick-up, or deliveries.
2. Update your menu and evaluate your PL statement
With the current state of the local economy, it's important to be mindful of your prices and how much revenue you need to generate in order to make a profit. You may need to adjust your prices accordingly. Take some time to update your menu and evaluate your prices. Additionally, take a close look at your Profit and Loss statement from the last few months. Doing these things will help ensure that your restaurant is set up for success when you reopen your doors.
3. Clean and Sanitize Your Space
Whether you've been out of your space for months or have been checking in on a regular basis, the first step toward full reopening is to thoroughly clean and sanitize to maintain your restaurant. Create a checklist to help you hit the ground running and to ensure that your restaurant is a safe environment.
- Make sure all of your food preparation surfaces are clean and debris-free.
- Wash all of your dishes, utensils, and cooking equipment thoroughly.
- Sanitize all surfaces that come into contact with food.
- Inspect your restaurant for any signs of pests or infestations.
- Remove any clutters
- Make sure all food is properly stored and labeled
- Check for expired dates on all food and make sure you know what's in the various containers.
- Provide employees a property training in food safety procedures.
Once you've cleaned all of the areas in your restaurant thoroughly, set up a strict cleaning schedule for your employees to follow once you're ready to open to the public.
4. Put social distancing and contactless practices in place
When you open your restaurant doors, you're going to need communication tools to let your diners know how you're running your venue. Put up signs that detail how many people can be inside, how the tables must be arranged, and perhaps even stickers on the floor to signal the correct distance that people should be standing from one another at the cash register.
Speaking of the cash register, contactless is king in the COVID environment. If it's possible, try to avoid cash and implement a POS that accepts contactless payments.
Menus should also be taken online to remove the issue of people touching, sharing physical menus, and avoiding high-touch surfaces. One great solution is to use a QR code on the table where customers can use their own phones to access the menu. This solves the problem of reusable menus, disposable menus, and menu apps. You could take these solutions a step further to include ordering through the online platform, but simply removing the menu is a big step in the COVID-safe direction.
5. Check your food inventory
One of the most challenging aspects of operating through these uncertain times is managing your inventory. With roughly 30% of your revenue going toward food on a normal day, miscalculations and losses can really hit your bottom line when it's harder to predict your capacity.
Restaurants should count and measure ingredients to make sure everything is accounted for and consider implementing solutions like WISK, to streamline this process. Paper orders and spreadsheets are inefficient and prone to human error. Plus, they’re not exactly hygienic because they involve physically handling documents.
Software like WISK can help you to quickly and safely take inventory, as well as make automated orders based on your restaurant data.
6. Turn on Your Equipment
There are a few things you need to do to make sure everything is up and running smoothly when your restaurants reopen. One of those things is turning on all of your equipment. This includes any ovens, stoves, grills, fryers, and other cooking appliances. You'll also want to check that your refrigeration units are working properly. Once everything is turned on, give it a test run to make sure everything is working as it should be. This will help avoid any issues once you're open for business again.
7. Train your employees
Your people are on the front lines and play a vital role in your operation. What they do during this period will be heavily critiqued by your customers. Communicating your expectations to them and ensuring they follow your guidelines is critical to keeping your patrons feeling safe. This also makes your employees feel comfortable that you're taking safety seriously.
Here are some best practices to relay to your restaurant staff:
- Every table should be cleaned between customers
- Pens and other items should not be shared
- Maintain physical distancing
- Make sure food safety procedures are followed to prevent cross-contamination
- Sanitizer should be readily available around the restaurant
- Employees should be directed to wash hands after collecting plates or handling other items touched by customers
- Sanitization stations must be set up
- Make use of disposable paper menus
- Not accepting cash payments
Outside of how your staff members behave in front of customers, it's essential that you communicate rules regarding their health conditions at work. If anyone is showing even minimal signs of illness, they should know that they must call in sick. Consider reviewing your time off policies to ensure your staff feels comfortable calling in sick.
8. Advertise your re-opening
Whether you had to shut down fully or you've been operating at a limited capacity, any changes should be shouted from the rooftops. People are dying to return to normal. It's a cause for celebration, so treat it like one.
9. Update your website
If you have a website, add a pop-up that lets people know you're coming back and add a section that details how you will be running things. Advertising your re-opening will need to be a mix of celebration with reassurance that you're welcoming people safely. Your website is the place where you should have the most detail about your COVID-safe plan. You could also feature a countdown to build excitement for the opening.
10. Promote on social media
Design your social media strategy to have a variety of posts that:
- Let people know when you're opening back up
- Explain what changes will be implemented to keep people safe (add a link to your website for more information)
- Show people how they can find your latest menu
- Hook them with mouthwatering shots of your dishes
- Detail if they need to book ahead or follow any guidelines themselves to enter.
11. Address any concerns your customers may have ahead of time
There is a lot of confusing information circulating around about COVID-19. Addressing common questions or concerns will help you to attract people to your restaurant and also relieve a bit of pressure from your staff when these questions inevitably come up.
If you have a website, you can introduce an FAQ section, or you can simply print this and put it up in the restaurant to direct people's attention when questions come up.
Common questions or concerns could include:
- "Can I get COVID-19 from a food worker handling my food?"
- "What are you doing to minimize contact and reduce the risk of spread?"
- "How do you ensure guests are safe?"
The answers to all of these questions should return people to the measures you have in place to keep them safe. Explain why your food workers are safe, and what they're doing to ensure no germs are being spread. Explain how your staff keeps the venue clean and limits cross-contamination and other health standard practices.
12. Be Ready for an Inspection
Before you may reopen, your location will almost certainly need to pass a health inspection again. Keep up with the most recent health standards so that you're prepared when the moment arrives.
- Contact your local health department to see if any new inspections were implemented since the outbreak.
- Make sure your employees are aware of your plan and that they are prepared for an inspection.
- Create a cleaning timetable and a social distancing strategy that you can show your inspector when they visit.
13. Ease Into Reopening
It may be tempting to resume operations as soon as you are given the all-clear to reopen, but taking it slow will set your business up for long-term success while keeping your guests safe. Here are some ideas for the first few months of your reopening.
- Create a plan for your soft opening with friends and family to test new menu items and mitigation strategies.
- Start with a reduced menu selection and delivery options to ensure that you have enough ingredients on hand to keep your kitchen operating smoothly.
- Take reservations and call-ahead guests to limit the number of tables in your dining rooms while also limiting the number of dine-in guests. To preserve social distancing norms, cut the size of parties you take in your dining room.
- By investing in Tap-To-Pay systems and POS tablets that may be sanitized between guests, you may encourage contactless payments.
- Encourage pick-up orders and delivery options until you're back to full capacity.
- Instead of having customers wait in waiting areas and lobbies, set up a texting system that sends them an alert when their table is ready.
- Make your outdoor spaces more inviting for dining al fresco. Check with your local government to see if there are any restrictions on sidewalk usage while people dine in your outdoor space.
14. Run competitions or deals to build up patronage
To celebrate your opening and ensure you get the number you want through the door, you could run competitions offering discounts or deals to the first 100 or so customers. Alternatively, to get some more reach on social media, you could run a campaign offering an amazing deal that people can enter into the draw for by sharing your post and tagging a specific number of people.
The possibilities are endless for these kinds of promotional campaigns. The best way to craft them is to think of how they can benefit your restaurant and your customers. For example, you could map out your quietest days or times and design a two-for-one deal, or by one, get a free X during those periods to attract more customers. You could also design them based on your inventory. Say you have an oversupply of perishable items; you could introduce a deal that brings people in for that particular item to help you attract more customers while also avoiding food waste.
15. Introduce gift cards
Prepare gift cards which are a great way to bring in revenue ahead of time. If you're planning to re-open, you could promote gift card sales to encourage people to buy before you open. Again, your gift card sales could pair with a deal so that you encourage people to pre-purchase before your doors are open, which helps you generate some much-needed revenue to get back into gear.
How to Limit Food and Beverage Waste When Reopening
To avoid overspending once your restaurant reopens, it's critical that you monitor your stock to ensure your wait staff isn't overserving and that you're not purchasing too much food inventory. Many restaurants and bars struggle with this because it is nearly impossible to monitor each member of staff on their shift and know where food and drink may be wasted.
This is where an inventory management system can help.
Instead of performing time-consuming and ineffective manual calculations to keep track of your inventory, a food or beverage inventory management system will do it automatically for you. You'll have more time to focus on the front end of your restaurant by automating back-end procedures.
Adopting this strategy will result in significant cost savings, increased profits, lower food and beverage costs, shrinkage and waste reduction, improved operational efficiencies, and a high return on investment.
Find Ways to Drive Additional Revenue
It's crucial not to take on more than you can handle when reopening your restaurant. Trying too much in a short period of time without a solid plan can result in large sums of money being squandered, which can have serious long-term consequences for your restaurant.
However, it is worthwhile to explore a few additional revenue-generating strategies.
- Offering online ordering and delivery or curbside pickup options
- Offering special promotions or discounts
- Creating a loyalty program
- Adding new menu items that are unique and appealing
- Partnering with local businesses or organizations
- Hosting special events or themed nights
- Utilizing social media platforms to reach a wider audience
Take the time to really think of how you can set your restaurant apart from the competition. With a little effort, you may make a big difference.
What Happens if My Restaurant Closes Again?
There's always the possibility that your business will have to close down for whatever reason, whether it's due to government rules, a pandemic, or simply because you need to renovate your space. It's critical that you're ready if this occurs by keeping your assets secure.
You can make the process go more smoothly by taking a few measures to improve your cash flow, streamline your operations processes, and reconsider how you run your business for the time being.
Here are just a few tips that will help your restaurant.
Prepare for slower seasons by planning ahead and budgeting
Whether or not you expect your business to close in the near future, it's a good idea to set aside some extra cash for times when things aren't going so well. When business is booming, many restauranteurs squander all their earnings. When times get tough, think carefully about how much money your restaurant has available to spend and what the return on investment will be. It's a good idea to put aside 5% to 10% of all profits on a regular basis.
Secure your assets
When your business closes, you'll almost certainly have inventory in your restaurant. Because not all of your assets are perishable, you should keep as much of the rest as possible for when you reopen. For example, beer will last inside your kegs for 90 days - but you can extend this time by doing simple things like installing a draft beer system cooler, unhooking kegs, and turning off the gas system. By taking a few simple precautions to preserve your assets, you can save your restaurant or bar a lot of money in wasted inventory.
Turn unused inventory into cash
Most restaurants and bars are generally oversupplied. In reality, just 20% of a restaurant's product line generates 80% of sales. Why not sell it if you're shutting your business and don't intend to use the stock? You'll be turning unused stock into cash, which will assist your business during difficult times.
Heading into better times
While there is a lot to do to pave the way forward, the end is in sight, and tightening up processes and extra precautions is a positive for the whole hospitality industry. If you can make it through this, you can make it through anything.
Bonus: Restaurant Reopening Checklist
There's a lot to absorb here, and any oversights can risk health and safety, so here is your ultimate checklist to safely re-opening after a crisis:
1. Check the functionality of your utilities and equipment to ensure they're fully operational and clean before re-opening, including:
- Fridges and freezers
- Ventilation systems
2. Complete a deep clean across all areas of the restaurant, including:
- Fridges and freezers
- Dining area
3. Develop safety measures guidelines, and training for staff on how to properly clean, stock, and sanitize, covering:
- How to wash hands and how often
- Avoid direct bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods by wearing gloves and sneeze guards
- Which high-touch areas need to be cleaned more often (door handles, restrooms, waiting areas) - introduce a schedule to ensure this is completed
- Create a list of what items need to be cleaned after every party
- What to do if they are feeling sick
4. Introduce a rostering plan to reduce risks to your employees, such as:
- Rotating or staggering shifts to minimize the number of employees in the venue at any one time
- Discouraging the use of public transport
- Make sure you have a plan to find staff if others fall ill
- Order sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for your staff
- Introduce policies for dealing with staff compliance around health and personal hygiene
- Put up signs throughout the restaurant on how to stop the spread of COVID-19
- Introduce sanitization stations in key areas around the venue, including restrooms and lobby.
- Put up signs, stickers, or tape to indicate where customers need to stand in order to comply with safe restrictions
- If at all possible, use transparent physical barriers
- Introduce circulation of outdoor air by opening windows or using fans
- Remove self-serve options where multiple people touch the same utensils
- Introduce online menus to remove the risk involved with high-touch physical menus
- Use mobile check-in apps for your dine-in customers
5. Check stock levels to ensure you're prepared for indoor service again
- Inspect all food for spoilage
- Label food items for smooth rotation
- Ensure you're amply stocked with disinfectants and sanitization supplies
6. Let patrons know you're coming back
- Send welcome back emails to your diners.
- Send out discount offers.
- Consider placing outdoor advertising where you want people to notice it.
7. Design campaigns to encourage new customers
- Reach Out to Local Influencers to Promote Your Business
- Boost your social media engagements
- Set up a loyalty program to offer your customers rewards to keep coming back
- Collaborate with other businesses