Tips for Safely Reopening Your Restaurant

Reopening a restaurant is never easy. Reordering supplies, stocking refrigerators, scheduling staff, and booting, updating, and troubleshooting your POS systems can be daunting tasks even in a normal environment. Reopening after COVID-19 restrictions end, however, carries the additional burden of rethinking your operations, cleaning procedures, and even the way consumers will want to order from your restaurant going forward.

There are also state and local health codes to contend with – which may vary depending on whether your restaurant’s county is in Phase One, Two or Three of the federal government’s reopening guidelines. Here are some additional tips for reopening so you can start serving your guests quickly and safely:

Find Out What Changes You Need to Make to Your Menu

You may discover that food vendors do not have certain ingredients in stock, or that their delivery schedule has changed. Before reopening, take a close look at your menu to avoid any disruptions. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Create a list of “must have” ingredients and call vendors to ensure they can deliver these items on time.
  • Identify your least profitable menu items and consider removing them during the reopening phase.

Remember There is No One-Size-Fits-All Plan

So many different sources have guidelines to help restaurants and other businesses reopen that discerning the difference between mandates and recommendations can get confusing. Remember that no safety checklist will be comprehensive, which is why the FDA is reminding restaurants to find out the full regulatory requirements from their state and county governments.

To clear up this confusion, PAR created a Restaurant Reopening Checklist to help you get back to business by focusing on the following general guidelines to follow in conjunction with the local mandates of your state and county:

Evaluate Your Restaurant’s Safety

Purchase Enough Protective Equipment

  • Make room in your budget for face coverings, disposable thermometers, and hand sanitizer.
  • Record how much personal protective equipment (PPE) you go through in your first week open to forecast how much you will need to buy for the rest of the year and beyond.

Know the Numbers

  • Post signs to remind your team to wash their hands for 20 seconds, stand 6 feet apart, and self-quarantine at home if their temperature exceeds 100.4°F.
  • Make sure the hand sanitizer you provide to employees and customers contains at least 60% alcohol to kill viruses and bacteria more effectively.
  • Post signs near hand sanitizer dispensers showing the correct amount to use – which is 3ml, or a little over half a teaspoon.
  • Remind people to rub the front and back of their hands for at least 10 seconds before the sanitizer dries up.

Make Sure Health Officials, Customers and Staff Can Easily Identify Your Restaurant’s Safety Plans

When planning to reopen dining rooms or even modify your takeout service, communication with your county’s health department is crucial, as one restaurant in Onondaga County, New York, found out earlier this week.

When Joey’s Italian Restaurant, a single location table service venue, placed tables and chairs on their lawn for takeout customers to sit and enjoy their meals, the county health department ordered them to stop all outdoor dining – even with a bottle of Purell on every table and all tables spaced 6 feet apart. A day later, health officials allowed Joey’s to resume their outdoor seating arrangement after ensuring the restaurant was not going to start bringing food out to tables.

This shows the importance of not only communicating your plans to health officials before you reopen, but potential customers as well. As it turns out, someone notified health officials after they saw a lawn full of tables and chairs and understandably grew concerned over how Joey’s planned to follow New York’s mandate, which still bans table service during Phase One of reopening.

Simply having a sign on the lawn saying that table service is closed, but customers are free to order takeout and sit at the tables, may have avoided this misunderstanding. Here are some other ways to effectively communicate your safety strategy to all stakeholders:

Health Officials

  • Make sure all signs for sanitizing, handwashing and social distancing comply with the individual guidelines of your state and county.
  • Consult with health inspectors about best practices for storing PPE so it does not become damaged.
  • Develop a crisis management plan to be able to help contact tracers in the event of an illness outbreak at your restaurant.

Customers

  • Create a reopening timeline to coincide with state and local guidelines and post updates on your website and social media pages.
  • If your state is already allowing dine-in service, make sure you extend any dine-in promotions to delivery and takeout as well to prevent customers from forming large crowds in your restaurant.
  • If you recently implemented digital ordering, make sure your customers know how to find you online by printing QR codes on your menus that link to your ordering platform or placing signs in your restaurant.

Team Members

  • Before reopening, communicate the total number of labor hours available to your team so there are no surprises when they return to work.
  • Use your POS software to identify outstanding team members – whether through analyzing attendance records, order times, or some other metric that ensures the people you are asking back will hit the ground running.
  • Revise your training programs to get your team up to speed on online ordering, including any additional signs and protocols related to new digital ordering methods, so they will be prepared for their first day back.
  • Make sure your revised training programs also explain any changes to sick leave, hygiene requirements and cleaning procedures.