Set up protocols that ensure guests and staff are as safe as possible when dining inside.

The cold winter months and the rise of COVID-19 cases around the country point to more challenges ahead for restaurant operators. After just getting the hang of outdoor dining and takeout, many operators face hard decisions about how to keep their businesses running now that the weather is less hospitable. Watching the news and weighing the options has become a regular practice for business owners who would normally be preparing for their busiest time of the year.

For restaurants that choose to offer indoor dining during the winter months, staff and customer safety are the highest priorities. Here are some ideas for staying safe creatively.


Blend Safety into Your Brand

It can be jarring to see servers and other restaurant staff in clinical blue masks. Consider investing in masks with your business logo or brand colors to give a more friendly, brand-forward approach. If you decide to print custom masks, sell them with your other restaurant swag. It’s another way your customers can show their support (and prove their own impeccable taste in the process).

Play It Safe – Creative Indoor Dining OptionsSignage is extremely important to help guests and staff maintain social distancing. Create signage that reflects your brand elements to create a more seamless visual experience for guests. Floor signage and table tents can be especially useful in instructing guests on the safety protocols at your restaurant. Tap into your brand persona and voice to come up with language that fits the vibe of your establishment. It can be as playful or serious as your brand as long as it gets the message across clearly.

Communicate your restaurant’s safety protocols with guests in a number of ways to make sure they get the message. This can include door and floor signage, table and menu messaging, and verbal directions from staff. All of these methods represent unique opportunities to connect with guests, so make sure to approach them thoughtfully and consistently, which requires specific training for your staff. Role playing can be a good way for staff to work out various possible scenarios with guests and ways to address them productively.


Limit Staff / Guest Interactions

Finding new systems to keep everyone safe can be challenging, but technology may be able to help. Consider installing ordering kiosks, using mobile QR codes, or providing iPads that allow guests to place their order without interacting with servers.

Another way to reduce staff and guest interactions is to allow guests to check-in for their reservation via their phone, either online or by calling the restaurant from their vehicles. This has the additional advantage of reducing crowding in the lobby or bar area because guests can be alerted when their table is ready without having to wait in the restaurant.


Divide Guest Spaces

Over the summer months, many restaurant goers got used to seeing yurts and geodesic domes outside to provide safe, sheltered dining bubbles. Now that guests are moving indoors, extend the concept to your dining room. High-backed booths, folding screens, and curtains can create intimate zones of space for guests that are a safe distance away from other diners.

To fill in the unoccupied space, restaurateurs have gotten extremely creative, using mannequins, blow-up dolls, and even cardboard cutouts. You could also consider using some of the free space to display artwork or other locally-made items, collaborating with local artists and makers to encourage guests to visit their displays at your restaurant.

The changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to have a long-term impact on restaurant design as a whole, with future guests continuing to favor experiences that feel safer. Keep that in mind when considering how the design of your restaurant will change to meet safety needs.

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