How to reopen your restaurant safely after COVID-19

Important PPP update for 2021

On December 22, 2020, Congress passed a bill renewing funding under the CARES Act, including an additional $284 billion earmarked for America’s struggling small businesses. The rules and application process for PPP loans and forgiveness have been modified, with more businesses eligible for PPP loans, more expenses forgivable, and a simplified application process. Also there is provision for “second draw” PPP loans for businesses that received PPP funding in 2020.


In this 4-minute read:

  • Safety guidelines for reopening your restaurant after the coronavirus pandemic
  • When can I reopen?
  • Communicate with your customers and
  • Potential supply chain problems to prepare for

As several states are starting to reopen and gradually remove their shelter-in-place orders, there’s going to be a transitional phase as businesses reopen before things get back to normal. 

Restaurants across several states will be allowed to reopen their dining rooms and lobbies soon, and it’s important that strict hygiene and social distancing practices are maintained in order to keep a resurgence in new COVID-19 cases from occurring. 

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What can you do to safely reopen your restaurant after COVID-19?

The most important thing to remember as you are reopening your restaurant to the public is that COVID-19 has not been eradicated and hygiene best practices must be strict and maintained as people are allowed back in your space. 

We have a few guidelines that may be helpful to follow as you prepare to reopen your restaurant. It’s also important to check your state and local health guidelines to ensure you are in full compliance with any regulations specific to your area.

Start slowly and maintain social distancing, sanitizing, and other precautionary guidelines

President Trump’s initiative for “Opening Up America Again” is occurring in phases, and most state governors are following the federal government’s lead as they make the decision to start reopening businesses in their regions. 

Your state may have 3 to 4 phases for reopening, each phase occurring 1-2 weeks after the next and allowing more types of businesses to open after local health leaders have determined that there haven’t been a significant spike in new COVID-19 cases. (Check local government sources to determine when you’re allowed to re-open and whether you’re under any further restrictions.)

Because of this, it is important to take extreme caution and maintain strict hygiene and social distancing practices to help keep the virus at bay, and we urge you to adhere to any of your local governments’ directives, which vary from state to state and in some cases even city to city.

Here are a few practices to consider adopting as you reopen your restaurant:

    • Rearrange your dining room/lobby to create more distance between separate parties (i.e. chairs and tables farther apart, markers on the floor in bathrooms and areas where lines may form)
    • Limit the number of people in your restaurant in order to more easily maintain social distancing guidelines
    • Don’t allow employees to come in if they’ve been feeling sick (fever, chills, coughing, etc.) and take employee temperatures as they arrive for work
    • Have your staff wear masks as they are handling food or interacting with customers (some areas are requiring the use of masks whenever in public, regardless of whether you’re a restaurant or not)
    • Regularly (and visibly) sanitize surfaces like counters, door handles, tabletops, chairs, bathrooms, etc.
    • Keep hand sanitizer readily available and ensure that employees are washing hands and changing gloves frequently (food handlers should be doing this anyway, but it’s extra-important as we are all trying to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections)
    • Encourage contactless or cashless payment options (and/or ordering online before they arrive or from their table). Some restaurants have temporarily banned the use of cash, but this will likely be discontinued as the reopening process progresses
    • Remove customer access to items like self-serve condiments, disposable dinnerware, and/or self-service drink stations to avoid cross-contamination from anyone carrying the coronavirus
    • If you use hand-held menus, print disposable ones or be sure to sanitize menu surfaces after each use
    • Plexiglass shields can help limit exposure of cashiers and other workers, as well as further protecting customers. Install physical barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions at cash registers, bars, host stands and other areas where maintaining a physical distance of six feet is not possible
    • Clean and disinfect restaurant tables and other surfaces in front of your customers—don’t wait for the restaurant to be empty
    • Have a staff member seat customers at a table that has already been cleaned. Don’t allow customers to seat themselves (and make sure they know this is for their safety)
    • Consider moving to a reservation- or order-ahead model for the first few weeks. This can prevent overcrowding and ensure your staff has adequate time between seatings to sanitize surfaces properly
    • Arrange seating so any airflow from HVAC systems or room fans is not blowing air from one customer seating area directly to another. Some studies have shown that those downwind of an infected person have a greater chance of being infected themselves
    • Infections seem to result from exposure x time, so consider limiting diners’ time at the restaurant to 45 minutes or an hour, or whatever time limit you think appropriate for your type of restaurant experience
    • Rope off or remove any seating necessary to maintain at least 6 feet between parties
    • Limit parties to 6 people or less, and remove extra chairs to discourage sharing/congregating beyond that limit
    • Remove or disconnect/tape off any air hand dryers in restrooms, and replace with touchless paper towel dispensers. Touchless faucets, toilets, and soap dispensers are also preferred
    • Cashless, touchless, and/or pay-ahead payments are strongly preferred (and may be required in your area). When exchanging paper and coin money, employees should not touch their faces afterward. Ask customers to place cash on the counter rather than directly into your hand. Place any change on the counter, not in customers’ hands. Clean and sanitize the counter after each customer at checkout
    • Consider limiting or eliminating your waiting area, and text or call clients in their cars (if you have a parking lot) or encourage them to wait outside
    • If you keep your waiting area open, space chairs or other furniture appropriately, and sanitize regularly (and visibly)
    • Consider taking employees’ temperatures as they arrive at work, and possibly screening each client as well. This not only helps ensure people with fevers aren’t admitted, it also puts clients at ease, knowing that everyone is being pre-screened
    • Speak to your HVAC professional and ask that your outdoor air exchange be increased, with negative pressure in restroom areas, and relative humidity be maintained at 40-60%. Sanitize HVAC intake and outputs/vents daily, and clean filters more regularly
    • Help your staff know how to deal with any impatient customers who don’t understand any additional wait time due to proper sanitation.
    • Develop and adhere to any state-mandated tracking/recording of sanitizing surfaces, cleaning restrooms, and replenishing hand sanitizer or other preventative supplies.

Communicate with your customers

When your restaurant has been closed or at least restricted to offering takeout and delivery services for the past while, and suddenly you’re able to open up again (when your state allows), this is going to be a difficult transition for everyone involved and customers are likely to be wary of contracting the disease and still keeping their distance when in public. 

You should use your email marketing software or any other means you have to communicate with your customers as you reopen your restaurant. Assure them that you are keeping up with hygiene best practices and your local directives, not allowing sick employees to work, and doing everything you can to maintain a safe and clean environment. 

Continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery services

Consumers and restaurant owners alike have had to warm up to the idea of curbside pickup, drive-through, and food delivery services as the impacts of the coronavirus continue. We encourage you to continue offering these services, especially in the beginning reopening phases as people are still being extra cautious about public activity. 

This crisis has forced many formerly reluctant restaurants to adopt curbside and/or drive-through mechanisms of sale, and that’s actually a good thing. The more ways you have for customers to pay and get their food, the better it is for your bottom line in the long run.

You may even continue to encourage customers to get takeout and delivery services to help keep your staff members safe and limit the number of customers in your restaurant. 

You might offer discounts or special promotions for customers that order online or purchase via drive-through/curbside options.

What problems do restaurant owners need to prepare for as restaurants reopen?

The largest problems that restaurants (and most businesses) may face as they reopen are supply chain issues, particularly with PPE and sanitization supplies, and customers continuing to be extra cautious even as states reopen. 

As you prepare to reopen, be ready for supply orders to take longer than they did before COVID-19. There’s likely to be increased demand for things like face masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and other similar items as businesses are allowed to reopen. 

As many restaurants across the country are opening relatively close to the same time, other products like food, utensils, napkins, takeout boxes, etc. are going to see an increase in demand as well. Be sure to prepare for the time that it may take to receive large orders of supplies and take it slow as you reopen, and ask your employees and customers to be patient if you need to make modifications to the menu or some services for a while.

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And as your business comes back online, you’ll need to make sure you’re staying on top of your online reputation and customer reviews to keep more customers coming in. Womply’s small business software makes it easy and allows you to read and respond to all your online reviews from one platform with one login. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

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