The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on people, but it has been especially hard on businesses, such as restaurants, that rely on creating a highly social environment. As many of us were forced to stay home, restaurants were challenged to reimagine the customer experience and deliver the same quality taste and signature flavors to our doorsteps.
But with lockdown restrictions easing all over the world, restaurants have received the go-ahead to reopen for outdoor dine-in services, just in time for patio season. As public health and safety against COVID-19 remain the top priority, restaurants and their eager patrons are mandated to maintain physical distancing, wear masks, and pay increased attention to food safety through good hand hygiene, clean and temperature-controlled storage in commercial refrigerators, and sanitary food preparation techniques. But how can restaurants adapt to increased health and safety measures during COVID-19?
Promote Proper Hygiene and Physical Distancing
Restaurants need to follow public health guidelines to continue operating during COVID-19 and establish trust with customers who are eager to return to life outdoors. This starts with accommodating hygiene modifications, such as installing hand sanitizer stations, body temperature scanning, and arranging dining booths and staff workstations to maintain physical distancing.
Open with a Reduced Capacity
Restaurants also need to look into work conditions to ensure that staff can maintain physical distancing. Restaurants can utilize stagger shifts to limit restaurant capacity and enforce strict limits on the number of customers that can be accommodated with dine-in services, while continuing to advertise takeout and delivery options.
Limit Contact and Cross-Contamination
When serving customers, consider making condiments, paper napkins, and paper menus available as single-use items. Condiments can be served in single sachets upon request, and napkins and cutlery can be provided at the same time as food to reduce the risk of exposure to respiratory droplets. Try using digital alternatives where possible, particularly for menus and payment, which would otherwise be handled by multiple people.
Depending on your menu and ingredients, you may consider making a modified version available to minimize cross-contamination during storage in commercial refrigerators and food preparation. When taking reservations, make sure to inform your customers of the limited dining area and toilet access as well as contactless payment options to discourage cash transactions, as bills frequently change hands and can be a source of infection.
Sanitize Dining Area and Kitchen
Kitchen equipment, like commercial refrigerators, and frequently touched surfaces like counters and tabletops should be thoroughly cleaned in between food preparation and serving customers. Before stocking new inventory in your refrigerator, make sure it’s sanitized to improve food safety while in storage.
Finally, when cleaning up at the end of every meal, avoid handwashing glassware, plates, and cutlery. Where possible, wash these separately in a commercial dishwasher, and make sure to regularly sanitize all points of contact. Refraining from handwashing cutlery and dishware reduces the potential for transmission of infected respiratory droplets onto restaurant staff, so they can safely interact with customers.
How to Reduce Restaurant Expenses During COVID-19
Staying open for business to serve customers who missed your cooking and want to enjoy patio season isn’t just about maintaining your signature touch in every dish. Restaurants also need to keep costs low to recoup losses from operating in a limited capacity.
Assess the Damage
The first step restaurants should take is to calculate their losses — how much did sales fall since COVID-19 started? The fact is, many restaurants struggled to stay open despite the shift to takeout and delivery options as many patrons also looked towards saving or coping with unemployment.
Inventory Your Available Resources
Knowing how much needs to be recouped allows you to plan for a smart reopening. Consider ramping up on best-sellers and maintaining a comprehensive inventory of available ingredients and supplies before restocking to prevent waste. You can also consider reducing the hours of operation to cut back on utilities and maintain only a skeleton staff that can handle the reduced volume of customer orders.
Maintain Your Kitchen Equipment
This is also a good time to check on kitchen appliances, such as the refrigerator, freezer, stove, and dishwasher. Regular maintenance of commercial kitchen equipment helps detect and repair issues early on. Ageing parts can be proactively replaced, and energy-efficient add-ons or completely new models can be installed to reduce long-term repair and utility costs.
By regularly maintaining essential equipment like refrigerators, you can also guarantee food safety and fresh, quality taste at this time of heightened health and sanitation concerns.
How to Boost Restaurant Sales During COVID-19
Customers are the lifeline of any business — and their continued support is needed now more than ever. In order to stay open, many restaurants were forced to adapt by operating at limited capacity and by offering takeout and delivery options. At the core of these modified business models is remaining committed to excellent service.
Keep Up the Good Experience
COVID-19 has changed how we interact and enjoy small pleasures. During these tough times, restaurants need to let customers know that they are there for them. To do this, restaurants need to maintain communication via social media, newsletters, and other marketing and customer service channels to keep customers informed of menu changes, safety guidelines, reduced operating hours, takeout and delivery services, and ongoing promotions.
This should also be accompanied by improved food presentation for takeaway and delivery orders, so customers continue to feel like they’re enjoying restaurant-quality food at home. When offering pick-up and delivery options, consider incentives or promotions for each takeaway service, such as limited-time discounts and contactless options.
Plan for a Safe Reopening
Just as you make hand sanitizing stations visible and easy to locate, make sure to keep kitchen equipment like your commercial refrigerators clean and the interior display organized. Sanitize these surfaces and customer touchpoints regularly, and limit physical contact with in-store merchandise and supplies when possible. This is so customers and staff can easily find what they need while reducing common points of transmission.
Keeping customers informed of these safety precautions communicates your continued commitment to their health and dining experience.
The Future of Restaurants After COVID-19
The reality is that COVID-19 isn’t over — the steady decline of cases worldwide is a welcome relief, but public health authorities continue to brace for a second wave. This being the case, increased attention will be paid towards health and sanitation for the foreseeable future. For restaurants and their patrons, this means continuing to offer and subscribe to a mix of limited dine-in, takeout, and delivery options, as well as enhanced food safety measures.
The key to survival during these difficult times is maintaining excellent customer service, which ranges from safe food handling and equipment maintenance to frequent sanitation and creative promotions for encouraging memorable dining experiences, whether at home or in-store.