The dining experience will be significantly changed when diners return to their favorite eateries as they begin to open after lockdowns. The changes may last a long time and some may be permanent. Owners and patrons alike can prepare with information about what restaurateurs should expect for reopening.
More Space, Fewer People, Less Noise
Although specific regulations and requirements may vary depending on location, all restaurants that reopen dining rooms are likely to limit the party size per table. In addition, tables will be spaced at least six feet apart. Capacity restrictions will likely drive down noise levels. Owners will have to assess the impact of these precautions on restaurant ambiance and the dining experience. Consider adjustments in music and décor to compensate.
Outdoor Seating and Open Windows
Air conditioning systems can distribute virus-carrying droplets in enclosed spaces. Where possible, one option is to shut off the air and open the windows. The first phase of reopening in most locations allows outdoor seating only as the safest option. Some cities have closed streets to enable outdoor dining with proper distancing. Restaurant parking lots have reclaimed some of that outdoor space for tables and put up tents or canopies for shade and protection from rain showers.
No Waiting at the Bar
Restaurants will have to come up with an alternative to crowded bar areas. Reservations will become more important; that way, restaurants can plan to stay within capacity restrictions. This may require some retraining for staff taking calls, and perhaps some adjustments to online reservation systems, to forewarn patrons of the necessity of timeliness and the inability to accommodate walk-ins.
Restaurants have always taken measures to protect their staff, but most standard protective equipment in restaurants has been in the kitchen and out of view of diners. Now, however, servers will be required to wear masks. This kind of PPE helps keep patrons and employees safe. Depending on local public health regulations and recommendations, diners might be asked to wear masks while waiting for their meals to arrive. Some establishments may check temperatures at the host station. Be sure to set expectations when patrons reserve tables and post notices explaining the extra sanitation measures the restaurant has implemented to reassure returning diners.
No-Touch Menus and Disposable Dishes
Before restaurants closed because of the pandemic, many were already offering apps that enable online ordering and payment. Restaurants that reopen may use similar tech to send virtual menus to customers’ phones rather than distributing high-touch reusable menus. Some restaurants are even contemplating serving on disposable dishes with disposable utensils to reduce the risk of transmission between clearing, washing, and reusing their set-ups.
Salad bars and buffet-style dining are not likely to return, unless a restaurant can afford to add staff to serve from behind them. Even then, the sneeze guards aren’t going to feel like sufficient protection to most germ-sensitized patrons. Some states have banned buffets outright.
COVID-19 has changed many restaurants permanently and, sadly, forced others out of business. Take-out and delivery will still be many people’s choice, and restaurants are likely to continue to offer those options. When it comes to what restauranteurs should expect for reopening—as well as what the public can expect—the transition can be smoothed by clearly setting expectations and partnering with patrons to protect their health and that of restaurant staff.