Several States in the U.S.  have now allowed restaurants to re-open their dining rooms to customers. But things are far from normal. On one hand, are the extensive guidelines laid down by the state governments for restaurants planning to open their dining rooms, while on the other hand are customers who may still be wary of returning to public places.

Restaurant owners must go above and beyond to ensure that all possible safety measures are in place to build trust in their communities and to welcome-back dine-in guests.

To help restaurant owners we have come up with a reopening checklist for restaurants to help you in preparing to welcome back dine-in guests. We have divided the reopening checklist for restaurants into 3 categories.

  1. Logistic Checklist
  2. Operational Checklist
  3. Marketing Checklist

LOGISTICAl CHECKLIST

Reopening Checklist for Restaurants

a. Operating Hours

Closure of restaurant dining rooms and the depressed demand in the past weeks forced several restaurant owners to cut down on the hours of operation. If you have been operating on a modified schedule for the past few weeks, it is one of the first things you would want to reconsider. Take into account the demand at your location in the previous weeks and the associated costs to reach a qualified decision. 

You could also consider going back to normal operating hours in a phased manner. Once you have decided whether you want to return full-time operations or continue with a modified schedule you can proceed to take stock of your inventory.

b. Rethink Your Menu

Looking at order history from the past few weeks (based on what customers are ordering most), you can work out which menu items you can eliminate for the time being based on their relative popularity and profitability. If possible eliminate buffets and other resource-intensive menu items or items having a very low demand.

c. Take Stock of Your Inventory

Supply chains the world over are likely to be affected due to the current crisis. In the circumstances, managing your inventory would require more planning than usual due to the dynamic demand and supply situation. Procuring supplies on short notice may no longer be feasible, so it is best to plan ahead and communicate with your vendors on a regular basis to say on top of raw material availability.

  • Keep small inventories. 
  • Are there any items you do not need to purchase considering the changes in your menu.
  • Are there any fresh purchases you can avoid given the changing demand.
  • You should also check to see if there are any items that will be difficult to procure and look for substitutes.

d. Labor

Labor is another aspect that you need to consider if you are planning to reopen your dining room to guests. Especially if you had let go of some of your staff due to the reduced working hours. You should also consider that for some time to come you will see a higher percentage of take-out and delivery orders, so you should have adequate staff to cater to the dine-in guests plus the increased sanitation requirements without disrupting take-out and delivery end of things.

  • You can choose to incrementally adjust labor based on demand and hours of operation.
  • If you do plan to hire additional labor, ensure that you start the hiring process well in time to be ready for the re-opening.
  • You may want to prioritize any staff that you let go in the previous months.

Managing Large Teams and Multiple locations

  • If you own multiple locations,  you should avoid sharing resources between them to minimize contact between personnel.
  • If you work with a larger team, you could consider splitting them into two teams that do not interact with one another. This limits the impact on operations in case if someone on one team contracts the virus and the rest of the team needs to self-isolate.

Operational Checklist

Reopening Checklist for Restaurants

a. Staff Training

If you have  a training material in place, you would want to update it to focus on 

  • sanitization
  • minimizing contact with customers and best practices for take-out and delivery orders.

Lay Down Clear GUIDELINES for the Staff

Clear directives will not only help your staff but it would also make your task of tracking and monitoring activities easier.

The person in charge at your establishment should be ServSafe certified and his/her certification should be up to date. Provide a refresher food-handler training to employees, if possible.

Train all employees on:

  • appropriate cleaning and disinfection, and respiratory etiquette. 
  • The proper way to wear and remove masks and gloves safely, their proper disposal or disinfection for re-use.
  • Kitchen cleaning procedures.
  • Serving guests while ensuring minimum contact.
  • Disinfecting the area after each interaction with a guest
  • Train your staff to deal with a guest showing symptoms or a guest wearing a quarantine bracelet.

b. Managing Your Staff On A Day-to Day Basis

  • Screen employees before coming into the restaurant.
  • Ensure that none of the staff is sick or showing symptoms of sickness.
  • Make it mandatory for all employees to wash their hands upon entering the restaurant, and between interactions with customers.
  • All employees should be using face masks and gloves.
  • Strongly discourage travel or socializing of team members for the moment. 
  • Where possible, workstations should be staggered so employees can avoid standing directly opposite one another or next to each other. 
  • Limit the number of employees allowed simultaneously in break rooms.
  • With larger staffs, use communication boards to or digital messaging to convey pre-shift meeting information.
  • You may want to make changes to your existing sick leave policy for employees.

Any Employee  Who Has Any Of The Following Symptoms Should Be Sent On Leave

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breath
  • Chills Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  •  Loss of taste or smell
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling feverish or a measured temperature greater than or equal to 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Known close contact with a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-

Guidelines for Returning to Work After Recovery

Each state has its own set of guidelines for employees returning to work after recovery. Make sure that you are aware of the guidelines laid down by your state and adhere to those.

These Guidelines are for the state of Texas; In the case of an employee who was diagnosed with COVID-19, the individual may return to work when all three of the following criteria are met: 

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications), 
  • The individual has improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); 
  • and at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared

c. Make Your Restaurant Safe

  • Lay down detailed guidelines for your Service Staff and Kitchen Staff.
  • Establish a disinfecting protocol.
  • Schedule cleaning time.
  • Ensure that your restaurant is as clean as possible.  (Note: You can get a list of approved disinfectants on the EPA website. Regular soap is equally effective.
  • Sanitize all surfaces that come in contact with food such as dishware, utensils, workstations regularly.
  • Verify that your dish-washing machines are operating at the optimum temperatures and with the appropriate sanitizers.
  • Before preparing food, staff should wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Every surface that customers touch, like doors, tables, drink stations, light switches, bathrooms should be disinfected at regular intervals. 
  • Keep your door open or consider having an employee to manage the restaurant door.
  • Several states have stipulated that all self-service stations, drink dispensers, buffet counters, bars, and salad bars should remain closed.
    • Where local and state officials permit salad bars and buffets, appropriate barriers/sneeze guards should be put in place.
    • If a buffet is offered, restaurant employees can serve the food to customers. 
    • Cafeteria-style (worker served) is permissible in certain states with appropriate barriers in place.
  • Avoid any contact with food when using disinfectants.

d. Minimize Contact at Each Touchpoint

  • Consider installing physical barrier/ plexiglass shields at registers/cashier stands/ between seating booths.
  • Limit the number of customers to 50% (some states have stipulated 25%) of seating capacity.
  • Consider reservation /call ahead process so that you can adhere to capacity and distance requirement 

Think Out Of The Box

  • Use technology where possible to minimize contact, including mobile ordering, menu tablets, texts on arrival for seating, and contactless payment.
  • Use floor markings/decals to maintain distance both inside and outside your establishment and contactless payment.
  • Control and monitor all movement of guests within the restaurant such as trips to restrooms etc to maintain distancing requirements.
  • Encourage customers to remain in cars while waiting to be seated/ or for to-go orders.

e. Rethink  Seating Plan

  • No tables of more than 6 people.
  • Parties to maintain at least 6 feet distance from other parties at all times.
  • Limit the number of people in the waiting area or bar areas to maintain a distance of 6 feet 

f. Prepare Tables for Guests

  • Remove condiments, silverware, flatware, glassware, or other traditional table-top items and eliminate table presets.
  • Provide condiments only upon request, and in single-use cachets.
  • Provide rolled silverware and use gloves while rolling.
  • Use disposable or digital menus, or encourage customers to view the menu on their mobiles.

g. Assist the Customer

  • Make a hand sanitizing station available upon entry to the restaurant.
  • Keep a stash of masks for guests
  • Offer a hygienic option for guests to store their masks during the meal. 
  • Encourage customers to limit the number of personal belongings they carry in-store. (bags/scarves) 
  • Between seatings, clean and sanitize tables, menus, digital ordering devices, self-service areas, tabletops, chair handles, and all surfaces commonly touched by customers and remove any used/unused single-use add-ons.

Prominently display signage at the restaurant to remind guests and staff of the safety and hygiene practices.

h. Guidelines for Food Delivery and TakeOut 

  • Pack hot foods and cold foods cold in appropriate containers.
  • Observe established food safety practices for time/temp control and preventing contamination.
  • Pack foods judiciously to avoid contamination/cross-contamination, e.g., keeping raw foods separated from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Routinely clean and sanitize coolers and insulated bags used to deliver food.

i. Checklist for Delivery Drivers

  • Communicate distancing and safety guidelines to third-party delivery drivers.
  • Where possible, designate separate pick up points for delivery drivers.
  • Use floor decals to ensure that they are following distancing norms while waiting for orders.
  • Delivery drivers should wear masks and gloves and follow proper disinfection protocols after each delivery.

j. Handling Supplies

  • Communicate distancing and safety guidelines to suppliers.
  • Where possible, designate separate drop-off points for suppliers. 
  • The suppliers should wear masks and gloves.
  •  Follow Food Safety norms.

Continue Providing Delivery

Many customers may still be wary when returning to a public place. So you should continue providing delivery.

  • Come up with offers and discounts to promote online orders and delivery. 
  • If you have not already, get on third- party delivery services.

Contactless Delivery and curb-side pick up are here to stay

  • Advertise to your customers that they can still get contactless delivery and how to go about it.
  • Publicize that you provide curbside pickup and customers can pick up their to-go orders safely.
  • If possible,  start offering drive-thru.

Safe Delivery and Pick-Up 

  • Encourage customers to use contactless deliveries.
  • Notify customers when the delivery is arriving by text message or phone call. 
  • Establish designated pick-up zones for customers 
  • Offer curbside pick-up
  • Practice social distancing by offering to place orders in vehicle trunks

Offers and Specials to Meet Changing 

  • Work-from-home lunch specials  
  • Specials for pick-up
  • Freeze and Bake options
  • Catering options for families or Family Meal Deals

k. Managing Customer Relationship

No matter how many efforts you may be putting in to adhere to the safety and hygiene requirements at your restaurant, you should be prepared to deal with customer queries and concerns on the subject. We have to understand that much like us, our patrons are confused and perturbed by everything that is happening around us, so you could have customers questioning your way of doing things at this time or patrons inquiring about food safety norms being followed in the kitchen.

The best way to deal with this is to prepare for such scenarios. Have a pre-thought out response mechanism; train your staff to patiently refer any such inquiries or concerns to the store manager, who can take things from there. Remember it is imperative, now more than ever to win the trust of your customers. The key here is to be patient under all circumstances.


Marketing Checklist

Reopening Checklist for Restaurants

Use every marketing channel at your disposal to reach out to your customer base. This could include:

  • Social Media Handles
  • Emails
  • Text Messages
  • Chat Bot Blast

a. Create Customized Messages for Each Channel

  • Post about the safety measures you are taking for dine-in customers.
  • Promote Dine-in/Online Ordering/ Delivery.
  • Information about curbside pick up.
  • Information on contactless delivery.
  • Promote offers on Online Orders.
  • Promote specials that you may be offering at this time.

b. Instil Confidence

  • Put up posters publicizing your sanitizing efforts.
  • Pop-ups on websites/ online ordering platforms should talk about your efforts. 
  • Talk about the efforts(videos or posts) you are taking to ensure in-store sanitation on your social media handles/ emails to customers/chatbot messages/ text messages.

c. Reputation Management

You should keep an eye on any reviews you get during this period on online platforms including GMB, Yelp, Facebook. Have a mechanism in place to respond to both positive and negative reviews.

Replying to positive reviews helps give you an opportunity not only to thank your customers but also to build your reputation online.

Handling negative reviews is always tricky and more so at this time. Be positive, upfront, and transparent and never get defensive while answering a negative review. Try and get to the bottom of the matter and find an amicable way to resolve it while highlighting all the efforts you are taking to ensure the safety of your patrons. If possible, take the conversation offline.

d. Reach Out to Your Community

Engaging your community is going to be critical during the coronavirus. Reach out to them on social media, emails, calls, texts, whatever you can and show them the human face behind the brand.  

  • Communicate your commitment to the community and let them know that you are concerned about their safety and wellbeing and all the measures that are in place to ensure the safety of your guests and employees.
  • Look for ways in which you can contribute to the community;
    • By organizing a virtual fundraiser for first responders. You can ask your customers to order food online to participate in the fundraiser. Depending on your situation, you could donate part or whole of the proceeds or match the amount raised with a donation.
    • You could also run a “donate a meal campaign” by asking your customers to purchase meal kits online to help families in need.
  • Connect with local Facebook groups to reach out to your local community and thank them for their support.
  • Reach out to local group admins and request them to call on the community to support local businesses in this hour of crisis.

e. Explore Alternatives

  • Reach out to apartment complexes/ offices in the neighborhood to work out catering deals.
  • Reach out to local organizations like schools and other non-profits to see if they can organize a virtual fundraiser.
  • Gift cards:  Appeal to your loyal customers to buy gift cards to help you ride over the crisis. If you don’t currently sell gift cards, you can consider printing vouchers valid for the next 18 months.

f. Be Transparent With Your Patrons

In case, any of your employees contracts the virus, be transparent about it. It is better to share information and updates with your patrons than to appear to be hiding anything. Use all channels at your disposal to responsibly provide relevant information to your patrons.

In case you have negative comments streaming in after such an incident, answer them positively without being defensive; talk about all the efforts that you are taking to safeguard your staff and patrons. If possible, take the conversation offline.

Wrap-Up

We must understand, that it may take some time for dine-in traffic to return to pre-COVID levels. In the meantime, the onus is on us to adhere to the guidelines and take each day-at-a -time to ensure the safety and well being of our staff and guests. Be proactive and stay on top of relief measures available to restaurant owners.