As of this writing, Alameda restaurants are open for pick-up and takeout but not open for dining in. But as we’re reopening in a phased approach, eventually we will open our dining room doors again.
When we do, it’s important to know that “open” isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. There are some things you should keep in mind that will help your customers feel welcome and safe. These things go beyond what a local or county ordinance requires of you. But they’ll go a long way in helping your customers choose you over the competition.
Deal with Wait Times Proactively
If you’re in the restaurant industry, you’ve managed through dining room closures. The next step will be dine-in options with limited capacity, and eventually a complete reopening at 100% capacity.
If Alameda follows what much of the country is seeing when it reopens, when we reach 100% capacity, crowds may be the biggest concern. Many people have been waiting anxiously for that moment, including restaurant and bar owners. When crowds show up, while it means long-awaited revenue for the restaurants, it can also have the potential for two things that you don’t want: crowding and aggravation.
As great as it is to have the business, if you don’t do something about wait times, your customers may not come back. The crowd is fickle that way. You want to give them great food and a great experience. Three-hour waits are not the way to do that.
While thinking about this may feel like fantasizing about your child winning an Olympic medal in running when they’re just learning how to walk, there is one reason you should be thinking about reopening and it’s not revenue.
Reopening procedures may require a lot of changes on your end so thinking about them now is not too early. It will help you be better prepared and may help you process when complete reopening is feasible for your operation. If you don’t plan early, you may not be ready.
Brainstorm ways to handle a long wait time by implementing pagers, playing live music (for entertainment), extending your bar service to waiting areas (law allowing), conducting trivia games in the waiting area, placing benches outside, implementing reservations or call ahead seating, or some other creative way to lessen the danger of a crowd and the frustration behind a long wait.
Use Temporary Menus
It’s something most of us never thought about before COVID, but there are a lot of hands on menus. That’s why many restaurants have switched to one of the following for their menus:
- QR code menus that are accessed through a phone.
- Chalkboard menus posted at each table or visible from each table.
- Disposable paper menus that are thrown away between patrons.
- Laminated menus that are wiped down between customers.
Even at full capacity, it is a good idea to limit touchpoints between patrons.
Gone are the tableside containers of ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar, and other condiments. Most restaurants are using disposable single-serve containers. However, wiping down with wipes between patrons accomplishes the same thing with less waste. Make sure customers know this is part of your hygiene practice.
Before fully opening, walk through your establishment as a customer would. Pay special attention to high traffic area like the hostess desk. Look for ways to minimize congestion like implementing one-way ins and outs. You can use technology to ensure people have a place in line without crowding the hostess platform. Ask people to pay at their tables, not at a central cash register.
Create a plan for and checklist of all surfaces your staff and guests will come in contact with. Note especially traveled areas or touchpoints like handrails. Train your staff on cleaning these surfaces. Prepare procedures for elevated cleaning and sanitizing of these surfaces and a schedule to accomplish it efficiently. In the past, cleaning might’ve distracted from the dining experience. Today, it makes people feel safe.
Learn Best Practices
There are a lot of resources out there for restaurant owners such as the Alameda Chamber and our Restaurant & Bar Coalition, the Small Business Administration, the City, and other local business organizations (including the chamber) have a lot of resources for your business. Some even have webinars on best practices related to your industry. They are usually low-cost or free.
The CDC also has a special section dedicated to restaurants and bars. It’s beneficial to take the time to learn from them. You can also consult this posting from the Restaurant Association that gives information on each state. These too, are worth perusing as you may decide you want to incorporate a best practice from another state in your operation.
While the restaurant industry has faced a lot of changes over the past six months, it’s likely that the way they serve may continue to evolve over the next year. Reaching 100% capacity doesn’t mean a return to normal. You still need to be concerned about infection. One employee or guest could jeopardize your whole operation.
Welcome your new guests but understand open doesn’t mean pre-COVID lifestyles. It’s likely we’ll need to keep up these safety protocols for a while. Whenever possible, showcase your concern for your diners. They’ll reward you with their loyalty.