A Blueprint for Restaurant Reopening

A Blueprint for Restaurant Reopening

Here's a comprehensive guide on all processes of reopening a restaurant. Learn about restaurant reopening rules, health and safety guidelines, and the importance of staff training in a restaurant.


“Nothing goes perfectly, especially when you’re opening a restaurant”.

Bobby Flay's quote is relevant even in good times - more so when the restaurant industry starts to reopen in the aftermath of a pandemic. 2022 saw restaurant owners looking for safe and responsible ways to reopen and this is a major challenge today given the constantly evolving public health information updates, news, and a changing public opinion.

Even a year into business as usual restaurant owners are still grappling with new health and safety guidelines and restaurant reopening rules. Guidelines vary state by state but there are some general best practices that should be followed according to the CDC, HACCP, OSHA, and local government authorities. Policy decisions are influenced by local conditions, so staying in touch with local officials is important. Some rules that apply universally to all restaurant reopening are:

  • No sick employees on site
  • Prevent transmission on-site
  • Improved cleaning and disinfection to increase safety
  • Contactless or less touch-points
  • Takeout/delivery as a preferred option

Best practices to keep in mind

Dining out has been influenced by COVID-19, so it's crucial to listen to those involved. Nearly 24 percent of people will spend less at restaurants because of lingering fears over the virus and changes in consumer behavior, according to a Nielsen survey. For restaurants to reassure customers, value, safety, and a quality experience need to be prioritized through the following practices:

  • Ensure health and well-being: Restaurants must show that they care about the health and well-being of employees and customers. Clear policies on employee safety will help as will educating customers about new behavior expectations. McDonald’s is doing this through a variety of initiatives. It has launched an internal webpage called BeWell@McD dedicated to supporting US employees, a toolkit to help global markets develop resources, and a weekly newsletter in the post-pandemic scenario.
  • Stay informed: Changing guidance from authorities, reviewing customer feedback, and trying new things means an ever-changing environment. Restaurants must prepare for multiple possible scenarios and keep track of results and metrics. They should stay in touch with their area health inspectors and other legal bodies to stay updated on the latest reforms.
  • Adapt the menu:  A more focused menu will help kitchens better prepare for staffing needs, better inventory management, and help run a more sanitized set-up. The menus of many restaurants have been redesigned to give customers more economical choices, for example, family meals instead of à la carte meals. Several independent restaurants have also begun pre-selling items to plan for capacity and seating.

In its new avatar as Olmstead Trading Post, fine-dining restaurant Olmstead of New York City offers pre-packaged menu items and local produce. Ledger Restaurant and Bar in Salem, Massachusetts, now known as Ledger Basket, offers prepared foods and pantry items.

  • Separation of areas: Separate entrances should be kept for FOH and BOH employees, and the line between these two areas should be clearly and visibly delineated in many ways, such as different uniform colors, glove colors, aprons, etc.
  • Safe FOH: Multiple levels of barriers must be maintained in the FOH like a bulletproof FOH system for example. This can be achieved by keeping distance between furniture, digital/disposable menus, and minimal table settings. Such steps will also ensure having a lean service staff.  
  • Be positive: Show that you care about your customers and use regulations to innovate by adopting new technologies. Many restaurants are doing that in interesting ways. Chuck E. Cheese released new online entertainment options to accompany its delivery/carryout options apart from launching afternoon fun breaks on social media channels. Many bakeries are selling cookie decorating kits for parents and children to decorate together. Restaurants are employing performance artists to deliver an experience. You'll find this at Vampire Pizza in Los Angeles where a vampire in full makeup and costume delivers the pizza along with a suspenseful game.
  • Clear communication: Being open and transparent with employees will boost their productivity.

Steps to Reopening

1. Getting the Message Out to Diners

Across different areas of restaurants, customers need to be informed about the expectations of customer behavior and safety norms.  

  • Check-in/Arrival: This is the earliest opportunity to prepare customers for social distancing.
  • Clear signage: One way is to place signs along the path that guests take to the front door. The font size should be appropriate for the viewing distance, and the words should communicate the social distancing norms.
  • Social media/website communication: Websites and social media materials should provide current information to customers and encourage them to make online reservations, curb side takeout, and pickup.
  • Assist customers with tech: Digital ordering and payment tools will help restaurants manage occupancy and ensure procedures are adhered to.
  • Separation of areas: A six-foot distance should be maintained between the entry, waiting, and dining areas. To prevent crowding at doorways, separate entryways for dine-ins and take outs.
  • Entry/Exit Areas: Try to restrict contact and volume in these areas.
  • Slow down entry: Use barriers to slow customers down on the entry path so they can read safety signs.
  • Place signage: Information about party sizes, masks, etc. should be communicated using images and few words.
  • Separate entry and exit: To avoid crowding, diners should enter and exit from separate entrances. Encourage bookings, take-outs, etc.
  • Staff support: Set up staff at strategic locations to guide customers away from dangerous areas by offering masks and protection kits.
  • Touchless entry/exit: Foot handles, wipes, and touchless sanitizer dispensers help ensure minimal contact.

Serving Areas

  • Bars and Eating Areas: Instead of bars, it would be a good idea to offer alcoholic beverages only at tables.
  • Staggered Seating: Diners should sit at least six feet apart. The distance between open and closed tables should be made clear with signs or partitions. Mannequins and stuffed animals ensure social distance at many restaurants. The Inn at Little Washington in the DC Metropolitan area has mannequins in 1940s fashion occupying half the tables.
  • Ventilation: If possible, keep windows and doors open for greater airflow. Maintaining thermal comfort and maximizing outdoor air according to the HVAC system can ensure good indoor air quality.
  • Table arrangements: All communal items, such as menus, cutlery, and condiments, must be replaced with disposable cutlery and containers. In addition to cleaning protocols, table cards should provide safety guidelines.  Servers should wear gloves and masks and maintain a six-foot distance from the table. Menus must be disposable or digital. Children should not be allowed to share coloring or craft materials. Napkins and tablecloths should be disposable. Using cloth tablecloths is only permitted if they are changed after each customer.
  • Payment: Alternate payment methods should be utilized using technology. Check covers should be available for each table.

Staff only areas

  • Staff only areas: Place barriers around areas that employees frequent frequently so they are inaccessible to customers.
  • Food Preparation Areas: During food preparation, care must be taken.
  • Utensils storage: Clean silverware, dishes, glasses, pots, and pans should be covered. A covered area is needed for hanging glasses. Silverware and glasses should be placed upside down on clean napkins.
  • Food handling: Gloves must be worn when handling food deliveries.
  • Food delivery: Delivered food should be unpacked outside the kitchen prep area and placed in a sanitized vessel that is temperature-controlled.
  • Food storage: When stocking deliveries, gloves must be worn. After stocking is completed, they should be discarded.

Kitchen area

  • Prep cooks should use sanitized equipment and use gloves at their prep station.
  • Cooks at pre-sanitized workstations must wear a mask, gloves, and head covering.
  • Cooking tools should be cleaned and sanitized immediately after cooking. To manage the pace, line cooks can also sanitize tools at the station while they work.
  • Plate the food on sanitized plates before serving.
  • The dishes should be covered with a sanitized plate and then handed to the designated food runner.
  • Once the food is delivered to the table, the runner should remove the plate cover.
  • To retrieve empty dishes, the food busser should wait until customers have left. Leftover food should be taken to the designated boxing area and returned to the table by the busser.
  • Empty plates must be taken to the dishwashing area immediately.

Enhanced cleaning visibility

  • Visibility of cleaning staff: Guests should be able to distinguish between wait staff and cleaning staff based on their attire. A dedicated cleaning team is recommended to prevent cross-contamination. You can win customer confidence by demonstrating all sanitary tasks completed inside your restaurant. The Delightree app helps you do that with Live COVID Dashboards.
  • Washrooms: The bathroom needs to be clean on the outside and the inside.
  • Prevent accidental visits: Diners should be prevented from walking into the kitchen or areas with high staff presence while looking for the washroom by signs and barriers.
  • Contactless use: Door kicks, foot handles, touchless faucets, air dryers, and soap dispensers, as well as easy-to-access trash cans and disposable paper towels should be installed.
  • Maintain logs: Place a cleaning log that customers can see in order to build customer trust.
  • Trash cans: They should be located next to each door within easy reach.
  • Waiting space: Provide "wait here" signs in the washroom area to avoid crowding.

Protecting Employees

Keeping employees healthy is essential for maintaining a healthy business. For this to happen, restaurateurs and managers must implement the following measures:

  • Employees with underlying medical conditions or older adults should work in roles that limit their exposure risk, like handling inventory or billing. Rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of employees in the restaurant at the same time.
  • Telework can contribute to maintaining social distance between colleagues.
  • Employees should be encouraged to walk, bike, drive, or ride a car to reduce exposure risk.  
  • When traveling to and from work, they should wear face masks and other protection. Hands should be washed when they enter.
  • Every shift, a staff member should handle COVID-19 concerns. All employees must know who and how to contact this person.
  • Put in place flexible sick leave policies and practices so that employees can stay home if they are ill or have to care for someone who is ill. Provide policies for the return to work after a COVID-19 illness.
  • You should have a backup staff that is well-trained. If possible, train employees virtually on safety procedures. Alternatively, maintain social distancing during training sessions.
  • Employees should be health checked every day.
  • Employees should be encouraged to eat healthy, exercise, and share their concerns about their health.
  • Employees who are sick should only return to work once they have completed home isolation in accordance with CDC guidelines.
  • Whenever employees or customers show signs of illness at work, they should be separated and taken to a health center.
  • Place the restaurant areas that were accessed by the sick person off limits until they are cleaned and disinfected.

Crisis = Innovation = Opportunity

Restaurant owners should have a plan for after the coronavirus, regardless of whether they move indoors or offer only takeout and delivery. Priority should be given to updating operating procedures, reactivating customers to bring them to dining rooms, adapting menus to meet changing preferences and habits, and enhancing delivery capabilities. Restaurants can do all this and provide their customers with a safe dining experience that gives them peace of mind that the establishment is taking every step to keep them healthy by using the right technologies.

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Boosting Front of House Operations with Technology

Digital Menus

Since COVID-19, digital menus have gained in popularity, despite being around for a while. A mobile device can also be used to browse the current menu and select a dish. Going digital in these times has many advantages, like:

  • Safer to Use: Surface areas can be cleaned after each use so fewer germs live on them. As per National Restaurant Association guidelines all tabletop devices must be sanitized between seatings.
  • Saves Time:  Changing menu items, changing prices, and promoting specials take just minutes.
  • Saves Money: Updating a paper or handwritten menu requires hiring an artist every time. A digital menu eliminates this.
  • Flexibility: Have a new special? You can add it on the fly. A QR code offers flexibility in an age of disruptions in the food supply chain.
  • More Sales: Digital menus lead to better customer interactions and greater sales. Chili's Grill & Bar, for example, installed over 45,000 tablets in its restaurants in 2014 after finding that appetizer and dessert sales increased by 20% in locations with tablets.
  • Brand Unifier: A digital menu provides consistency across brands. It is particularly useful for franchise owners who manage multiple locations. It's easy to update every site with the same menu format in real-time. Digital restaurant platform MENU offers a customized look which helps every brand stand out.  It also offers a complete online ordering and engagement solution for restaurant brands across mobile, kiosks, and the web.

Tableside Ordering System

When restaurants are facing labor shortages, a tableside ordering system can help in many ways.

  • Safer: Orders and payments can be processed tableside meaning less paper and pens are needed, which harbor germs.
  • Faster: Service speed and order accuracy are also enhanced. This is helpful in the case of customers who are jittery being in a restaurant.
  • Access to Data: One can access valuable information regarding what kind of orders your customers are placing and what kind of payments they prefer. This helps grow the customer base and strategize new marketing techniques.

Tableside technology is perfect for both large chains and smaller restaurants like this report about Calzolaio Pasta Company Wilton, Maine, proves. The restaurant chose TouchBistro POS because it is user-friendly for both BOH and FOH. It's a hybrid system that's both integrated in-house and cloud-based, so customers can place their orders and pay their bills right from their tables.  To help meet orders more quickly and accurately, TouchBistro offers tableside ordering with visual menus. This helps new and seasoned employees answer guest questions correctly, and enter orders with minimal errors. Check out this video for details on how TouchBistro works;

Self-serve Kiosks

From fast food to sit-down dining, self-serve kiosks are gaining popularity. Advantages include:

  • Less Crowding: It gives customers a minimal contact way to order and pay for meals.
  • Reduced Labor Costs: Aside from requiring an employee to clean the kiosks between customers, self-serve kiosks reduce labor costs drastically.
  • Higher Sales: People order more food from a kiosk than they do from a person. By 2023, the automated kiosks segment is expected to grow to $34 billion.

Many QSRs use kiosks for other purposes besides processing in-store orders. They are used by some restaurants for curbside pickup. Customers can enter a code via a touchscreen to unlock compartments where orders are stored. In this manner, customers won't have to interact with employees to identify their orders since the name of the order can be found without touching something that's not theirs. Restaurant chains using the serve kiosks include:

  • McDonald’s:  Kiosks at the chain use IoT technology in innovative ways to push certain menu items according to the time of day. In the late evenings and early mornings, breakfast foods and desserts are popular. Table service is provided by McDonald's at locations with kiosks, delivering the food ordered at the kiosk to the table.
  • Subway: As details about the order are being entered, the kiosks at Subway send the information to the employees. Self-service kiosks also help Subway locations become less congested. Kiosks tend to be placed in one location, away from kitchens where food is prepared. This arrangement of kiosks reduces foot traffic, lines, and congestion by limiting the use of the counter for food pickup only. Combined with mobile device charging ports and free Wi-Fi, the kiosks are also part of a larger integrated system.

While facial recognition technology has come under scrutiny for security reasons, many QSRs are using kiosks that remember the customer's face. Pioneers of this concept include Malibu Poke in Dallas, Texas, Caliburger in Pasadena, California, and UFood Grill in Owings Mills, Maryland. In all three cases, the technology has reduced the ordering time to around 10 seconds.

Contactless payment systems

The technology has been around for years. Now it is helping to:

  • Reduce person-to-person transactions.
  • Enhance guest safety
  • Gives restaurants an opportunity to communicate their concern for customer well-being.

Electronic Check Presenters

Powered by a built-in credit card processor, customers can handle their own table service checkout. This helps:

  • Reduce labor costs.
  • Reduce contact.
  • Faster check resolution.

Virtual Gift Cards

Gift card programs help boost revenue and bring in new customers.

  • Going virtual takes away the need for person-to-person contact.
  • Everything can be conveniently stored on the Cloud.  

Guest Engagement Apps

A loyalty program that's easy to redeem from a mobile device will motivate customers to return and increase guest check averages. In addition, businesses can gain valuable insight into customer behavior, allowing them to focus on what is most effective for maximizing ROI and securing repeat business. A restaurant digital platform like Incentivo helps restaurants to acquire new customers, increase visits and loyalty, and increase spending.

Boosting Back of House Operations with Technology

There are two pillars of food safety protocols:

  • A clean environment for preparing and serving food
  • Proper food handling practices.

Cleaning and sanitizing the restaurant requires proper and robust training of all employees. It is important that staff practice good personal hygiene, wash their hands often, and sanitize both FOH and BOH workstations. To make sure employees are in good health for work, foodservice operations can use digital wellness checks. This can determine whether employees can continue working and who needs to go home. Proper food handling practices are the second aspect of food safety where technology can help streamline operations, boost profits, and increase employee satisfaction.

  • Labeling:  Operators can print labels with dates, nutritional information, and other customizable information with an automated labeling system. Labeling is essential to ensure proper food safety practices, and staff should also be trained on how to rotate products using the first in, first out (FIFO) method. Employees can generate time-stamped labels to display on shared surfaces after sanitizing tables, counters, kiosks, restrooms, or other surfaces so customers can identify them clearly and see what was cleaned when. The management has easy-to-access digital logs instead of paper files wrangled by pencils.
  • Temperature Monitoring: By monitoring walk-in coolers, freezers, and dry storage areas 24 hours a day, IoT devices can notify managers when temperatures deviate from specified ranges. With a few clicks, operators and even corporate headquarters can see exactly what is going on at each location -- and prevent potential food safety crises.
  • Timers and Temperature-taking Apps: By using a timer app, employees can easily set several timers at once, which frees up space and gives staff more time to perform other tasks, while also ensuring food is served at the right temperature.
  • Calculated Food Prep: Modern BOH automation solutions can calculate precisely how much food to prepare each day based on historical sales data and inventory levels.
  • Food Recall Management: Most food establishment operators become aware of recalls when customers become ill. Restaurant owners and franchisees now have access to food recall management solutions. Food recall alerts can be promptly sent to them, they can be told what to do in case of a recall, and they can keep digital records in case of an audit. Food recalls can be managed well with a solution like CMX1 and save you stress and time. Its Recall Management System has all stages of recall covered.
  • Centralized Delivery Management: There are restaurant software solutions that can consolidate and centralize delivery requests into one screen when so many food delivery apps are available. Work orders are then printed as stickers for easy identification and handling. This will save employees the stress of having to juggle mobile orders on multiple devices.
  • Checklists for COVID-19 & Other Regulations: Checklists can be sent by corporate offices to all locations and management can monitor and confirm whether or not COVID-related tasks have been completed. With the Delightree app, restaurant owners and managers can ensure they stay CDC, OSHA, WHO, food safety, and COVID-19 compliant across all locations.
  • Inventory Management: The proper counting of inventory is also a challenging and time-consuming part of keeping a restaurant profitable. There are now apps and devices that allow you to take an accurate inventory.
  • Automated Task Management: Having your kitchen staff's task list digitized will allow them to keep track of their responsibilities and accurately track the tasks they've completed. A paper checklist can easily be lost or damaged, but a digital task list can be safely stored for use in the event of an inspection. With an app like Delightree you can automate closing and opening procedures at your restaurant.
  • Employee Onboarding: Whether it's on-the-job training or employee orientation, technology solutions ensure that time is spent better while also ensuring that training information can be accessed anywhere, at any time.
  • Hiring: Restaurant managers face many challenges, including recruiting and retaining employees. Here, screening software can be helpful as it screens and ranks candidates to help find people with the right skills and experience.  
  • Document Manager: This is useful for managing employee information such as tax forms, schedules, and appraisals. It can also be used to track documents easily.
  • Training:  Workers can be trained on food safety, COVID-19, and other procedures with apps like Delightree. This ensures employees are up to speed on restaurant inspections.
  • Scheduling: Managers can generate and distribute a digital weekly schedule to all employees with shift times and positions optimized based on historical staffing patterns and forecasted sales levels. Restaurants using scheduling software have seen labor costs reduced by up to 2%. With the Delightree app, it's easier than ever before to get the right people in the right place at the right time.

The last few years have changed the way we live and work in many ways. The impact on the hospitality industry in particular is even more. As people get back to normal lives and return to dining rooms, businesses can leverage technology to build customer trust, increase revenue and provide a safe and secure experience.