During the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have been dreaming of the day they can welcome their guests back into their dining rooms. With vaccination rates rising and public gathering limits increasing nationwide, that day draws nearer—and in some places, it's already here.
But you can't just throw open your restaurant's doors and call it a day. You'll need to follow safety procedures in order to reopen calmly, methodically, and safely—and how you reopen will affect whether you can bring new and returning guests into your restaurant.
Reopen safely with your guests in mind.
Whether your guests are new or returning, you'll need to ensure that they not only feel safe in your dining room, but that they're also following safety procedures. Some guests might snap straight back to their pre-pandemic habits, but many more will be returning to restaurants cautiously, with a heightened awareness of hygiene and personal space.
So how do you reopen safely—and, more importantly, prove to your guests that you're taking every precaution to protect them? There are a few steps to keep in mind:
- Follow CDC guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines encouraging restaurants to maintain healthy environments and operations. The CDC has also issued a checklist that recommends checking your restaurant's ventilation, keeping your staff aware of COVID information and protocols, providing hand sanitizer stations, designating entry-only and exit-only points, and more.
- Embrace technology. The fewer physical touchpoints they have, the safer your guests will be. You can use a digital platform to help manage reservations, which will have the added benefit of growing your guest database. This may be especially helpful when it comes to collecting contact tracing information. You could also embed QR codes into your menu and let guests order with their smartphones. Contactless payment options may be used to reduce the chance of contamination as well.
- Clean everything. Cleanliness, the old saying goes, is next to godliness—and that's especially the case during a pandemic. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objects and surfaces at the beginning and end of every shift. And it's probably not a bad idea to keep enough utensils, cutlery, and glasses in reserve to take whatever's been in the dining room out of circulation when diners are done with their meals.
Get the word out.
Once you're satisfied that you can reopen safely, it's time to let your community know all about it. After all, what's the point of thoroughly preparing to reopen if nobody knows what you're doing?
This is where a strong newsletter and social media game can come in handy. A well-managed newsletter can help you inform your guests about all the safety precautions you've taken to reopen. A well-executed social campaign can whet the appetites of people hungry for an in-dining experience but nervous about the lingering effects of the pandemic. Talk about what you're doing to keep people safe, and share what your guests can do to make sure they feel safe when they visit your restaurant.
Restaurants that are able to showcase their hygiene game by providing top-notch, real-life service will be in a great position to welcome new and returning guests.
Reward faith, build loyalty.
Getting people out of their homes and into your restaurant is a big deal. Going out into the world and eating in public during and after a pandemic requires taking a big leap of faith.
Rewarding that faith with a great meal and a safe, enjoyable experience is the bare minimum. Turning that nervous guest into a confident regular, though, is vital if you're looking to build your revenue back up.
Even if you provide great, safe service, people might still be apprehensive about going out again. This is where the gentle nudge of a good loyalty program can come in handy. A good loyalty program can create opportunities for surprise and delight, Deloitte says. It can also keep your restaurant at the top of your guests' minds.
Your guests—even some of your longtime regulars—have gotten used to the convenience of eating at home during the pandemic. Whatever you can do to draw people into your newly reopened dining room will be good for business. By making sure your preparation is on point, letting potential guests know that you're open, and following safety procedures and working to turn one visit into five, you'll be in a great position to capture the business during the recovery phase of the pandemic.