As states and localities start to reopen, restauranteurs begin to prepare for transitioning from off-premise channels to reopening their dining rooms, albeit in a limited approach. This checklist is meant to provide you with the guidance you need to reopen safely and thrive in a post-COVID world.
Enhancing your health and safety protocols
Most states have issued executive orders that provide specific requirements that must be followed in order to reopen dining rooms. Check for state requirements on your governor’s or state health department’s website.
Adhere to protocols addressing the protection of both customers and employees. Since your customers and your employees will interact, all protocols are critical for minimizing the risk of transmission. In adapting your restaurant business for a new short-term normal, keep the following guidelines in mind.
Covering the Basics
- Research new codes, and make sure you stay in compliance to ensure your customers and staff have a safe experience.
- Thoroughly sanitize your entire restaurant, especially if you were completely shut down. Focus on areas frequently touched by staff and customers.
- Create internal standard operating procedures detailing what your opening, closing, and operations cleaning will entail. General managers and restaurant owner/operators should create checklists for crew and managers to use during their shifts.
- Clean and organize your shelves. This will streamline your inventory and give you better visual access to your shelves.
- Closely examine your ice machine, door gaskets, and your soda nozzles (especially the ice chute) for mold. These are the most common places to find mold buildup in your restaurant. Health inspectors will most likely be doing massive sweeps of restaurants in the post-COVID era, so stay ahead of the curve by eradicating mold in advance of their visits.
- Communicate your distancing requirements with third-party delivery drivers and other suppliers.
- Clean and sanitize restaurants daily.
- Make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available to employees, contractors, and customers.
- Ensure proper training for food employees with new or altered duties and require that they apply the training according to established procedures.
- Familiarize yourself with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employer Paid Leave Requirements (FFCRA), which are effective through December 31, 2020. Post the FFCRA requirements in a conspicuous place on your restaurant premises as required by law. Access a copy of the U.S. Department of Labor’s FFCRA poster in English or Spanish.
Staff Health, Hygiene and Training
- Screen employees before they come into your restaurant. If they show any signs of COVID-19, send them home. Take employees’ temperatures at your discretion. The CDC has not required that you do so, however, if you choose to check their temperatures, consult with health officials to ensure you’re adopting policies aligned with appropriate procedures.
- Separate employee workstations so that they avoid standing directly opposite one another or next to each other.
- Limit the number of employees allowed in break rooms at the same time to promote social distancing.
- Require all employees to wash their hands upon entering the restaurant, between interactions with customers, and after visiting the restroom.
- Require employees to maintain at least six feet separation from other individuals.
- Compel employees to follow state and local regulations regarding wearing face masks.
- Consider requiring servers to wear face coverings if it is not mandated in your area.
- Train all employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette.
- Conduct a team meeting (preferably on Zoom or other online meeting platform) to review all infection control and food safety protocols prior to reopening your dining room.
Managing Food Pick Up and Delivery
- Observe established food safety practices for time/temp control, preventing cross contamination, cleaning hands, and storage of food, etc.
- Apply operational changes in order to maintain social distancing for customers ordering takeout.
- Establish designated customer pick-up zones to help maintain social distancing.
- Practice social distancing when delivering food.
- Offer “no touch” deliveries by sending text alerts to customers when their food has arrived at their homes.
Employing Social Distancing Strategies
- Space tables six feet apart and limit each table to six diners.
- Do not allow guests to congregate in waiting or bar areas.
- Design a process to ensure guest separation while they are waiting to be seated. This can include adding floor markings, enforcing social distancing outside the restaurant, having customers wait in cars, etc.
- Use a separate entrance and exit door, if possible with your restaurant’s design.
- Predetermine traffic paths to/from restrooms to limit proximity for guests and staff.
Ensuring Customer Safety
- Utilize automated ordering systems, contactless payment systems and mobile ordering apps to minimize customer/employee contact.
- Have hand sanitizer available for customers upon entering your restaurant.
- Use clean glassware to provide customer refills. Do not refill beverages at the table or from common containers (e.g., pitchers, carafes, bottles, etc.).
- Print disposable menus (full-service and fine dining included) and dispose after each customer use.
- Switch to disposable plates and utensils.
- Provide condiments only upon request, and in single use, non-reusable portions.
- Do not leave condiments, flatware, glassware, or other traditional table top items on an unoccupied table.
- Clean and disinfect the area used for dining after each group of customers depart, including tables, chairs, stalls, and countertops.
- Avoid having salad bars and buffets, unless staff does the serving.
- Do not allow self-serve drink stations.
- Install sneeze guards at cash registers.
- Place foot-operated trash receptacles with liners near the doors in restroom facilities to enable customers to use a paper towel to exit the restroom, while safely disposing of it after use.
- Regularly and frequently clean restrooms and document the cleanings.
Exchanging Paper and Coin Money
- Require any employee handling money to use gloves.
- Emphasize to your employees not to touch their faces after touching money.
- Ask customers to place cash on the counter rather than directly into the employee’s hand.
- Place money directly on the counter when providing change back to customers.
- Wipe counter between each customer at checkout with a clean paper towel and disinfectant.
Ensuring Food Safety
- Follow all food handling requirements set forth by the CDC, FDA, EPA, and OSHA.
- Consult the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic for helpful tips on managing employee health and more.
- For additional information on employee health and hygiene recommendations to help prevent worker transmission of foodborne illness, refer to the FDA’s Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook.
Implementing operational adjustments
Flexibility is critical for your reopening. Expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. You might be expecting a slow start and have a wait list on your first day. You might have customers who don’t want to follow social distancing or other guidelines. Make sure you and your staff are prepared for all contingencies.
- Ensure your “person-in-charge” has an up-to-date ServSafe Food Manager certification. As required by the Food and Drug Administration, every restaurant must have a person in charge on site during operating hours.
- Put a sign on your window encouraging customers to follow all federal, state and local guidelines. If your state requires masks while guests are not seated at their table, position a staff member at the entrance ensuring compliance.
- Keep weekly records of your drive through, carry out, takeout/curbside, online ordering and third-party delivery service percentages and adjust accordingly. Some concepts must make larger adjustments than others. Takeout/curbside, drive through and online ordering will temporarily account for higher percentages of your business, so make sure you focus your efforts toward your speed, quality, and customer service. Plan your standard operating procedures to handle these service types.
- Be ready for a sharp increase in sales, then a plateau. Avoid the plateau by adjusting your forecasts and budgets in advance of your reopening.
- Create declining budgets for your operating expenses, and other necessary areas of your business.
- Put standard operating procedures for internal cleaning into place for every designated area in your restaurant.
- Place extreme focus on creating smart hours of operation, labor control, ordering, and inventory and ensure that your management team is in perfect sync.
- Adjust menu prices as needed for new factors such as increased labor, delivery commission, etc.)
- Review vendors and services that you paused during your period of adjusted operations such as landscaping and window cleaning, then resume as needed.
- Prepare for new items you’ll need for your reopening, e.g., sneeze guards, single-use utensils, foot-operating trash receptacles, hand sanitizer, etc.
Ordering and inventory control through uncertainty
The key to avoiding food waste during your recovery period is to keep your inventory as low as possible. Consider limiting your menu offerings temporarily to lower your food costs. Keep menu items that are your most profitable and popular, based on data you’ve gathered through recipe costing and historical sales. Then examine which of your most profitable items can be prepared using the same ingredients as other popular items to reduce the number of food items in your inventory.
- After you have cleaned and organized your shelves, create pars. This will allow you to track the necessary items’ flow through usage and will allow you to stay skinny until business returns to a new normal.
- Review all of your current/past pricing and shop for better deals.
- Create consistency with stock counts/inventory. A best practice would be to do a weekly inventory so you can keep your ordering to a minimum while necessary.
- Reach out to vendors to see if you can procure contract pricing for certain items to reduce your CoGS (bag-in-a-box soda, proteins, produce, dry goods, etc.).
- Create new ordering pars as the pars or ordering norms you had don’t make sense now. Establish what a baseline shelf/refrigerator/freezer looks like to ensure you only order what you need.
- Evaluate all vendors and vendor items. With menu adjustments and the ripple effects they have had on food production, it is important to review every item you purchase. Many items could have changes in pricing or availability. Eliminate unnecessary items to save on food costs. Look for items that may allow you to reduce prep labor hours (buying precooked, pre-sliced/pre-diced, etc.). Review all contracts as well. Negotiating down price caps on volume items, if possible, is a great way to help keep costs down.
Managing your financial health
Tracking and managing your financials has never been more important. Understanding your cash flow, knowing your break-even point, tracking daily sales and running a daily P&L will help you manage uncertainty in these unprecedented times.
- Proof your reporting to make sure your numbers are correct. Pull multiple reports and validate them with your POS sales, banking, or balance sheets from 2019 tax returns.
- Monitor your break-even point, cash flow, and the industry pulse. Develop an understandingof what sales you need daily so that you can adjust staffing, ordering, etc., on the fly if you’re having a bad week. Use our free break-even calculator.
- Make sure your bank reconciliations are up to date and accurate. If not, catch them up before ‘normal’ business resumes. Also, don’t forget to close out your periods in your LE record.
- Take advantage of the latest federal and state financial resources available to you.
- Plan CARES Act loan repayment if you received funding and are required to repay a portion of it. Work with your CPA to ensure you are properly tracking how you spend the funds in order to comply with loan forgiveness guidelines.
- Discuss COVID-19 tax breaks with your CPA to ensure you’re not missing money-saving opportunities.
- Evaluate revenue streams and explore new opportunities. If you haven’t set up takeout, delivery, gift cards, alcohol sales, grocery sales, merchandise sales, etc., then set it up prior to your dining room reopening. Merch4relief.com is a great resource for restaurants that are new to merchandise sales.
Hiring and staffing for your restaurant reopening
A smooth reopening will be highly dependent on successfully rehiring your former employees or hiring new employees. Ideally, all of your key employees are still available and look forward to coming back for your opening. But most likely, you’ll open with a mix of former employees and new employees. While you may be anxious to reopen, keep in mind the high turnover rate of restaurant employees and focus on the same employee characteristics and qualifications that were important to you before the pandemic. You want to avoid the expense of training new employees during this critical time, only to have them leave soon after.
- Create employee hiring folders that are pre-filled with all of the necessary paperwork to prepare for the onslaught of applications. Create a system for processing everyone through, so you stay in compliance with all necessary hiring laws. For multi-unit restaurant businesses, delegate the process to one manager, with the general manager or owner/operator making all final hiring decisions.
- Activate all of your new and existing employees in your point-of-sale system so that they poll over to your integrated accounting system.
- Determine the cost of hiring a new employee and work to reduce that cost. Be prepared to hire back at lower wages, in some cases. Conduct a historical labor cost analysis to help you forecast what you will be able to afford in labor for the upcoming weeks and months.
- Require that staff use the app to get their schedules and other communication if you’re using an online scheduler with a mobile app for employees.
- Have necessary uniforms and/or training materials organized prior to employees being hired.
- Provide masks, instead of requiring employees to provide them, to avoid unnecessary liability.
- Leverage your key employees in multiple roles to control your labor costs. Determine which employees can fill more than one position and set up a cross-training procedure.
- Build out ideal labor schedules for different sales mix breakdowns. In most cases, no two restaurant employees cost the same (servers almost always make less than a to-go person). Consequently, your restaurant’s sales mix can have a drastic sway on labor cost just by the volume at which you must staff certain roles. You need to know what the bare minimum is for each shift in terms of staffing as sales mix changes.
- Adjust your schedule based on updated sales data. Use your sales forecasts and your custom labor model to get the suggested amount of labor for each day. Automate your scheduling and do so strategically based on updated knowledge.
Promoting your restaurant reopening
If you reopen, will they come? Forty one percent of restaurant owners believe that the biggest reopening challenge they face is a slow return of customers, according to a study by the James Beard Foundation. Expect a change in customer perceptions and behavior and learn to adapt. Customers will be hesitant to be in close proximity to other guests and will be especially concerned about your restaurant’s health and safety practices. Many of your regular customers may not want to immediately jump back into an on-premise dining experience, so your marketing must adapt to those new realities. Initially, you’ll need to give customers confidence about dining in your restaurant. Consequently, your reopening marketing must be transparent in communicating the steps you’ve taken to ensure their health and safety. But first, your customers need to know you’ve reopened.
- Update your restaurant’s website to prominently promote that you have reopened your dining room. Also promote your off-premise services and mention any specials you are running or temporary changes to your hours of operation.
- Update all of your business listings. If you were temporarily operating a delivery/curbside model and changed your listings to reflect those changes, make sure you change them back to let customers know your dining room has reopened. These include social media profiles, Google My Business listings and review sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor.
- Create branded swag such as face masks, disposable gloves and hand sanitizer to strengthen your brand and reinforce your concern for customers’ health and safety.
- Support the local community, e.g., provide free coffee for first responders, etc. It will pay dividends in the near future.
- Run promotions on social media. It is more crucial than ever to frequently communicate promotions and specials your restaurant is offering through the use of organic posts on your social media platforms.
- Offer rewards for digital ordering to reduce customer/employee interaction for takeout orders and increase revenue. In a recent study by digital experience consultancy, Bottle Rocket, it was found that 80% of customers are more likely to order from a restaurant that offers rewards for digital or text message ordering.
- Create a low-cost Facebook ad campaign with a ‘Reach’ objective to target people near your location to let them know you are open and what services you are now offering.
- Create a live video each day featuring an item from your menu and post it to social media. Not only will it drive social interaction, you may even see a bump in sales that day for that special item. Consequently, it’s smart to feature your high margin items in these videos.
- Make your standard operating procedures and policies publicly available on your website to encourage customer confidence in your restaurant’s health and safety protocols. Also print them and have them readily available for customers in your restaurant.
For more marketing ideas, watch the recorded webinar, Marketing Tips for Promoting Your Restaurant Business Today or read the blog post, 13 Restaurant Marketing Ideas and Tips for Driving More Customers.
Your restaurant has already passed the first hurdle. You endured the forced closure and you’re preparing for reopening. You may experience a slow start, but the restaurant industry is a resilient group. If any industry can thrive after such a gargantuan jolt to its existence, it’s the restaurant industry.
For those of our friends who had to close their doors permanently, we’re anxiously anticipating the return of those owners, operators and their employees – maybe in a different location and with a different concept – but with a new determination to reemerge in their rightful place within the restaurant world.