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Tips for Casual Dining & Formal Restaurants: How to Reopen During COVID-19 and Generate Revenue

Many people are eager to be able to return to dining out at their favorite restaurants once the restrictions brought about by the current COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. According to the Governor’s latest predictions, restaurants should be able to reopen sometime in early June with limited occupancy and other restrictions and requirements. While such requirements are clearly intended to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19, they also serve another purpose—they can help to reassure your patrons about the safety of dining out at your establishment.

Currently, it appears that all restaurants will be required to comply with numerous requirements into the foreseeable future (at least to some degree), such as spacing out tables for dine-in patrons to comply with social distancing, requiring masks for restaurant staff, and complying with state-mandated occupancy limits. There are, however, additional measures that restaurants can choose to take in order to help put their customers at ease.

  • If your space allows, increase ventilation. Allowing in some fresh air could reduce any potential spread of the virus. Open a window if you can, or, if the weather is nice, prop your door open a bit – in addition to letting in some air, it not only signals that you are open for business, but also keeps the air flowing (plus, your patrons don’t have to touch the door handle to enter your establishment).
  • Be transparent with your efforts to keep your employees and patrons safe. Post social distancing measures, cleaning procedures, and your rules for employees and patrons on your website. Post handwashing reminders and COVID-19 prevention tips in your entrance and restrooms. Your customers will feel better knowing that you are making everyone’s safety a priority.
  • Consider having your menu available on an app or website so that diners can choose their meals on their own phones. This way, they do not have to use menus that have been touched by others. In the alternative, print disposable paper menus that are recycled after each use. If you choose to reuse your menus, make sure they are covered in a material that is easy to disinfect and be diligent about cleaning them thoroughly after every use.
  • To further decrease the number of items that customers have to touch (and potentially decrease cash payments), offer contactless payment. Digital payments can be made through apps, such as Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and others, as well as through the many credit cards now enabled with contactless technology. Offering contactless payments allows your customers to pay their bill  without any need to touch money or the payment machine at the counter.
  • If you plan to require patrons to wear masks before they are seated at their tables, be ready for issues with those who do not agree with or wish to comply with your procedures, and be ready with your responses to support your choices. You should not, however, be willing to bend the rules for some customers simply because they become upset or cause a commotion. This will only undermine the usefulness of the procedures you have put in place and will undermine any confidence your other patrons had in the safety of dining at your establishment that resulted from their belief that the procedures you put in place were there to protect them. At the same time, you should be prepared to work with any customers whose health conditions prevent them from being able to safely wear a mask.
  • Of course, be sure to familiarize yourself with (and follow!) all guidelines issued by the CDC and OSHA, as well as your state’s latest public orders. Obviously, this advice, applies not only to restaurants, but to all businesses. If you are looking for restaurant-specific guidance on dealing with the current COVID-19 situation, the New Mexico Restaurant Association has a COVID-19 Resources page that provides industry-specific guidance for restaurants, which is available at https://www.nmrestaurants.org/coronavirus-resources/. For additional guidance that is generally applicable to any type of business, see COVID-19: Does Your Business Need a Waiver or Release for Customers and/or Employees? https://www.l4sb.com/blog/covid-19-does-your-business-need-a-waiver-or-release-for-customers-and-or-employees/.

Something else to consider is that, even after the current restrictions are relaxed (or possibly lifted altogether), many former restaurant enthusiasts will remain wary of venturing out to dine with other members of the general public, particularly since these restrictions will almost certainly be relaxed before there is a vaccine or widely-available drug treatment available.

For this reason (in addition to helping ensure the general safety of your employees and all of your customers), continuing to practice additional precautions even after they are no longer mandated may well help you keep your more cautious customers coming back.

  • Make available, or continue the availability of, online orders with curbside pick-up and any other contactless pick-up options you may use.
  • If you don’t already have one, think about instituting and  promoting your own delivery service instead of relying on Door Dash or Grub Hub to save fees. In addition to saving on delivery fees paid by your restaurant, you can also provide more hours for your employees, and they can earn tips for their deliveries.
  • You may want to consider starting a loyalty program, perhaps something that would give customers either a percentage off of their bill on a future visit or a free appetizer or dessert the next time. Incentives like this may keep them coming back and turn them into regulars.

Finally, word of mouth and reputation go a long way. If your customers observe your efforts to keep them safe while they are dining in your establishment, picking up to-go orders, and having meals delivered, they are not only more likely to be repeat customers, they are also likely to share their positive experiences with friends and family. Of course, the opposite is also true—if customers do not feel that you made their safety a priority during this inherently less-safe time, they are most certainly going to share their negative experiences as well. So, just make sure that you do everything you can to ensure positive experiences at your restaurant. The efforts you make now will not only increase your customer base now, but will also help you gain some life-long diners.

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