The restaurant industry is among those hit the hardest by the global pandemic. As food businesses were forced to close their dining rooms and revenues started to drop when COVID-19 hit, operators experienced catastrophic losses and faced many hurdles to survive. The unprecedented effects of the restaurant closures rippled through the whole economy, with millions of employees finding themselves out of work.

Even when COVID-19 restrictions have slowly been easing, the restaurant dining landscape as we know it will never be the same. Now more than ever, dining out comes with great risks and consequences, and many customers remain anxious about their health and safety when they think about dining in restaurants.

Food businesses are slowly pivoting to survive and thrive in a world where health protocols and social distancing are the new normal. From transitioning to online ordering and contactless payment to ramping up technology, boosting curbside pickup and delivery, and more, restaurants have to make profound changes to incorporate health and safety measures and still deliver authentic customer experiences that their patrons crave.

What does reopening look like for restaurants? 

Outdoor dining spaces stand out as one of the most prominent features eyed by restaurants that want to return to normal operations. Not only does outdoor seating help food businesses adhere to strict and consistent physical distancing protocols and crowd control, but it also reimagines a unique curb appeal that works to attract customers.

Here’s how restaurants can leverage outdoor patio areas to give customers peace of mind and gain their trust and confidence in a post-pandemic era.

  • Rethink Your Floor Plan and Layout While Keeping It Creative and Fun

A significant concern among many diners is the risk of indoor viral spread. Social distancing guidelines and restrictions may vary per area, but the goal remains the same: to create outdoor restaurant spaces that keep your staff and customers safe, protected, and comfortable at all times.

For some restaurants, general adjustments may have to involve limiting the number of people allowed inside the area at once. Even with social distancing in place, too many people in a room will increase the chances of a viral spread. Owners will have to minimize the table count and space out tables to more than 6 feet apart for better circulation and fresh air.

Owners also have to look at traffic patterns and see how they can improve the paths and flow to limit contact between guests, staff, and all those within the space. Work with your employees to figure out how to maximize the space and ensure efficiency and productivity. Creating dedicated entrances and exits to the restaurant patio area and showing guests exactly where they need to go to get to the washroom and other critical areas will prevent unnecessary traffic.

Don’t be afraid to get creative to make the outdoor dining experience more comfortable and enjoyable for both your guests and employees. Shop for wooden patio furniture or picnic tables that will help you maintain all the protocols. Think of ways to convert streets and grassy areas into dining pavilions and use living walls, natural plants, or vertical gardens as natural barriers to make things cozier.

  • Develop Specific Health, Safety, and Cleaning Protocols and Train Your Staff to Maintain Them 

Restaurants will have to double-down their efforts in implementing policies and procedures that prioritize health and cleanliness. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and health screenings are a must for all employees and stakeholders. Everyone must be held to the same standard when it comes to implementing temperature checks.

Sanitation and deep cleaning are crucial to every restaurant’s pandemic and post-pandemic cleaning protocols. Owners must put together rigorous cleaning routines that maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and ensure that everything guests come into contact with is sanitized. Many consumers will also demand that restaurants be transparent about their cleanliness procedures and use Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants.

All high-touch surfaces and high traffic areas—from the doorknobs and handles to the faucets, chairs, tables, levers, kitchens, bathrooms, walkways, and more—must be disinfected and sanitized regularly. Cleanliness can make or break the success of your restaurant’s reopening, so it’s best to put in the extra time and effort to make your customers feel safe and secure.

The Future of Food Business

Restaurants will undoubtedly face overwhelming challenges as they seek to reopen with a sense of normalcy, but the industry has shown time and again that agility, determination, and resilience are the driving forces behind success.

While patio and outdoor dining will be a major draw, owners must prioritize people, food safety, and public health. Top-notch safety measures and a unique vision of hospitality will contribute to a safer post-pandemic dining experience that will make consumers yearn for more once the health crisis is over.

Christopher Lao is the Managing Member of Charlie’s Fixtures, LLC, who is responsible for the overall well-being of the company’s operations. He believes that customer service is key to long-term business success. When not working, he spends time with his loved ones and travels to different places.

Outside dining stock photo by View Apart/Shutterstock