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Here's Everything Restaurants are Doing to Reopen and Communicate with Guests

Plate, Chicago, Illinois

Chandra Ram is the well-traveled, well-fed editor of Plate.

If you’re like a lot of chefs and restaurant owners I know, you’re frantically trying to keep up with what other restaurants around the country are doing as they reopen their dining rooms. And from personal experience, trying to read about every single one really is like drinking from a fire hose.

I’ve been following what people are doing for the last couple of weeks, from news stories like these to Instagram posts, and put together this exhausting-if-not-exhaustive list of what restaurants from Hong Kong to the Gulf Shore look like now, to spare you a dozen or so hours of reading.

Personally, I don’t need to see stuffed animals at the table next to me. But no matter what you decide to do, you need to figure out how to communicate your plan to your guests. Servers need to know what to say. An email with the info is a great way to get the info out there. And even more importantly, your website should have all the info available to people who are trying to decide whether to risk their health by going out.

What Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami posted is the definitive example of what to tell your customers about your new COVID practices (shout-out to Carlos Frías for his article in the Miami Herald about the restaurant's reopening that led me to it). It’s beyond detailed, but was written in a user-friendly conversational tone. But, yeah, it’s 14 pages long (you can download it as a PDF).

I don’t know if everyone is going to read all 14 pages, but even if they don't, posting a plan that is this comprehensive shows customers how seriously you are taking the health and safety of your staff and guests. Take a look at this list, decide what works for you, and get your own manual posted on your website.

Here's what restaurants are doing:

Requiring reservations, to both manage the flow of people and provide contact tracing later on if necessary

Guests wait for their table in their car or somewhere else away from the restaurant

The restaurant calls or texts guests to let them know that their table is ready

Guests are scanned to take their temperature before entering

Guests are asked for contact-tracing history at the door

A host checks that guests are wearing masks when they enter

Tables are removed throughout the dining room to maintain social distancing (and so guests can’t request to move to a table designated to stay empty)

Empty tables are “seated” with mannequins, stuffed animals or cardboard cutouts of people

The restaurant plays a soundtrack of people in conversation so the room feels noisier than it is

There are plastic partitions between each table (please no shower curtain liners)

Additional outdoor seating is available in the parking lot or on the closed street in front, with plants and even hedges in between tables when possible

Tables are not set with glasses and cutlery until guests sit down

Disposable plates, napkins and cutlery are used for everyone or available upon request

There is a bottle of hand sanitizer on the table, but no condiments, salt or pepper

A disposable bag is placed at each seat so guests can stash their masks while eating

Servers are wearing masks

Servers present single-use paper menus that are torn in half at the table after the order is taken

Or, guests order from a menu accessible on their smart phone via a QR code or the restaurant’s app or website

Menu options are smaller, and dishes are simpler

Everything is more expensive

Guests use their phones, bat-signal style, to get their server back to the table

Servers change gloves or wash their hands after every customer interaction

Guests pour their own water and wine

Food is delivered to tables on carts or trays, with cloches over the plates

Servers and bussers clean surfaces often in front of guests

Guests pay with some kind of contact-free payment system

Restaurants offer a retail component with produce, wine and house-made products for guests to visit on the way out or order online.

Restaurants manage their own takeout and delivery

Raw ingredient takeout and delivery comes with detailed cooking instructions and video demos

Meal kits come with access to video demos

Restaurants offer a personal email or phone follow-up call to answer questions and offer wine recommendations

And here’s what’s going away (for now, at least):

Small plates/shareable platters

Communal tables

Chef counters in or adjacent to the kitchen

Seating at the bar

Tablecloths

Events

Large kitchen staffs

Are you doing anything I missed? Please share it in the comments below.

Chandra Ram is the well-traveled, well-fed editor of Plate.

If the shutdown didn't kill your business, many of the stuff on this list will certainly finish the job. Craziness abounds.