In the many states that have eased lockdown restrictions, restaurants are resuming dine-in service — even if only at a fraction of their original capacity. But an eager emergence from shelter-in-place may not be enough to get business back to usual — to win customers back, restaurants are going to have to build trust and share how their establishments are taking every precaution to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Communicating Safety to Your Customers
Telling customers that your employees are being screened for COVID-19 is a great place to start. Many restaurants are doing temperature checks or visually screening diners to determine if they appear sick, as well.
When Teresa Nguyen reopened Yogis Grill in Tempe, Arizona, on May 11, she started to test employee’s temperatures before every shift. Following CDC guidelines, if any employee has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more, they are sent home. All employees are also asked COVID-19 screening questions by managers prior to each shift which can include:
- Do you have any COVID-19 symptoms?
- Have you had close contact in the last 14 days with someone diagnosed with COVID- 19?
- Have you been told by a health care provider that you should self-quarantine?
If any staff member answers "yes" to any of these questions, they are sent home.
Face mask requirements for restaurants have varied based on state law. In fact, off the strip in Las Vegas, Peter Klamka, owner of The Blind Pig, requires all his staff to wear masks and gloves.
"Some customers actually wanted to buy our logo masks, so we sell those now too for added sales," Klamka says.
Adjusting Restaurants for a Socially Distant World
Alex Smith, CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group has restaurants across Maryland, Texas and Florida. His company has issued their "Atlas Hospitality Hygiene 10,” a reimagining of what dining looks like at each location. This tells customers what to expect before they arrive. For example, they still have take-out orders, but require reservations for sit-down service to minimize guest interaction. (They only serve parties of six or less now.)
New floor plans ensure a minimum of 6 feet between diners, and front doors, tables, restrooms and employee entrances are sanitized throughout the day.
"We reopened Houston restaurants at 25 percent capacity with new safety measures in place," Smith says. "We served over 1,000 people and even turned a few hundred away!"
Oliver Badgio, chief brand officer at Steak 44 in Phoenix, says they space tables out by placing large floral arrangements on tables that are not available for dining to provide more partitioned space and comfort for their guests.
We understand our guests' hesitations to dine out at restaurants again so we have put a focus on photos showcasing the tables properly spaced, our employees in masks and gloves and our sanitation stations.
—Alex Smith, CEO, Atlas Restaurant Group
"We even have our valet service take extra precautions by sanitizing the keys and any touchpoints in vehicles," Badgio explains.
Menus are also being reimagined. Some restaurants are using disposable paper menus or putting them under glass on each table. Nguyen at Yogis Grill is using OneDine’s contactless technology (other restaurants use Snackpass) for odering and payment to reduce the amount of physical touchpoints with their team and customers.
Using these systems, guests can order from the menu on their smartphone and pay their bill from their own device. Servers and managers can get instant alerts on service requests and payment verification on their smartwatches or smartphones.
Yogis Grill no longer sets out silverware before the guests sit down. Plastic forks, knives and paper plates—as well as single-use condiments—are available for those who want “the dine-out experience with the safety of takeout," Nguyen says.
Marketing to Customers
Many diners emerging from lockdown want to know what restaurants are doing to keep them safe when they visit, which restaurateurs can address through a medley of marketing channels.
Many restaurants are including on their website or with reservation confirmation what diners can expect when they visit. Yogis was recently featured on a local television station of what it would be like for guests using touchless technology to order. The segment was then shared to Yogis' social media followers so customers would know exactly what to expect at their first visit.
Restaurants are teaming up with area businesses to promote re-openings. Nguyen has partnered with other local businesses for cross promotions to publicize their new contactless curbside pickup. Customers receive a free car wash coupon or a $5 gift certificate towards their next purchase. These initiatives have earned rave reviews on social media from customers like, "Genius!", "Brilliant!", "Hitting a Home Run, Teresa!" and "Love these Innovative ways to support local businesses!" she shares.
Klamka at The Blind Pig has made a video for Instagram showing the new distancing practices. (It was shot by former local newscasters.)
"We have also had local podcasters and influencers come and eat at [the] restaurant to post about it on social media," he says.
Working with influencers and social media can help diners visualize what it's like to dine at restaurants during social distancing.
"We hired photographers to capture our re-opening weekends in Houston, Boca Raton and Baltimore," says Smith. "We understand our guests' hesitations to dine out at restaurants again so we have put a focus on photos showcasing the tables properly spaced, our employees in masks and gloves and our sanitation stations."
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Photo: Getty Images