Safety Guidelines for Reopening Your Restaurant Amid COVID-19

// By Kristin Fenchak // , Jun 11, 2020

Topics: Restaurant Management

As if running a restaurant weren't stressful enough, we now have to keep in mind the additional safety and sanitation guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19. Following these guidelines may be stressful, but your top priority right now should be the safety of your staff and guests.


Before opening your doors to the public, you will have to make quite a few adjustments to keep your restaurant compliant with the new regulations. If you prepare accordingly, you can expect a much smoother reopening process. 


There is a lot of new information to digest, but don't fret! We've compiled and condensed the main safety procedures you will have to implement at your bar or restaurant to resume safe service. If you have additional questions or concerns, here is the complete toolkit with a comprehensive guide for Illinois residents.


The guidelines will vary by city and state, so be sure to check what the current regulations are in your area. 


Woman on blank background wearing a white sweater pulling up her face mask


Patio Service


As outlined in Phase III of Restore Illinois, only patio service is currently permitted. This is a momentous blow to any establishment that may not already have a patio seating area.


However, there are a few ways to work around this requirement. If you are able to remove at least 50% of a wall by opening windows or doors, and place the tables within 8 feet of that opening, you can allow for limited indoor seating. Any rooftops or outdoor areas connected to your establishment are also permitted.


If you don't already have an outdoor dining area, it may be wise to invest a little time and money in setting it up. Traditional indoor dining with higher occupancy levels won't be fully permitted until the end of June, so an outdoor seating area is key to bringing in additional revenue for the next month.


Seating and Occupancy Requirements


Okay, so you've got your patio/rooftop/outdoor area ready to go. Now what?


Before COVID-19, you may have boasted quite a few outdoor tables to seat as many people as possible. On summer days, your patio was probably elbow to elbow with guests drinking Margaritas and enjoying the sun. Well, it's not going to look quite the same.


At this point, tables must be placed at minimum 6 feet apart. And guests can only dine in parties of 6 or less. So, you're not going to be coming back with a full house. And your seating area is going to be looking pretty sparse.


Some restaurants have gotten creative with this requirement, opting to add placeholders and mannequins rather than remove tables altogether. While adding mannequins may not be for you, try to get creative with your new layout, so guests can still feel connected to one another.


Sanitation, Cleanliness, and Hygiene


You can say goodbye to those communal ketchup and mustard bottles that used to live on your tables. Say hello to hand sanitizer for everyone!


Man in green shirt on white background putting hand sanitizer on his hands 


Most of the changes that need to be made are service oriented, so you can expect your guests to feel a little confused about these changes. "Where's the salt? Do I have to ask for everything? Why can't I get a refill in the same glass?" Prepare yourself to field a lot of questions, but make sure they know that these necessary changes will keep them safe.


Here are a few of the main service guidelines:


  • No presets on tables (i.e silverware, glasses, or plates)
  • Menus need to be disposed or sanitized after each use, or you can implement QR codes to replace them
  • No self-serve food or drink stations are allowed
  • Use disposable or single serve items wherever possible
  • All condiments and extras must be brought to the table upon request, in single serve portions or disposable packaging
  • No refills in the same glass. A new glass must be used every time to prevent cross-contamination
  • Display clear signage to your guests that details the social distancing requirements for patio dining
  • Regularly clean and decontaminate high traffic areas, including doors, doorknobs, railings, and common areas
  • Provide ample hand sanitizer, soap, and paper towels for guests


How to Streamline Service


Efficiency and speed is key to running a smooth restaurant operation. With the burden of additional health and safety requirements, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the initial surge of customers.


Simply put, you need to have a plan. To avoid confusion, long lines, or too many people gathering outside at once, consider implementing a call-ahead or reservation only model for the time being. This will also allow you to stagger dining times, so you can adequately sanitize and prepare for your next round of guests safely. 


To keep your outdoor area organized, use visual markers to show guests where to stand while waiting to be seated. If possible, encourage guests to wait in their vehicles, rather than on the sidewalk.


Staff and Management Requirements 


Maybe before all this went down, you would let the small things slide when your staff didn't quite hit their marks. This is not a time to be lax, especially given the new health and safety precautions. Management needs to diligently follow these new rules, and enforce them among their staff as well. 


COVID-19 Training 


Before returning to work, your staff needs to be trained on what is expected of them going forward. If you don't know where to start, ServSafe is offering free training videos and resources to get you and your staff on track with COVID-19 guidelines. 


Among many other things, here are some of the basic requirements you and your staff will have to fulfill:


  • Wear a mask that covers nose and mouth at all times (preferably cloth masks)
  • Must wash hands every 30 minutes, or directly after completing any tasks
  • Must social distance from customers and each other unless directly engaging in service
  • Deliver all food and drinks on trays to limit direct contact
  • Must frequently and thoroughly disinfect tables, workstations, and communal areas
  • Staff must alert management if they are exhibiting any symptoms


Health and Wellness Checks


The only way to keep your guests and your staff safe is to recognize symptoms, and to act accordingly when they do appear. By conducting regular health and wellness checks on your staff, you can stop the spread before it starts. 


If possible, conduct regular temperature checks before beginning service, for both your FOH and BOH staff. This extra step will give you some peace of mind, and you'll know right away that your staff is healthy and ready to work.


Most importantly, be sure to check in with your staff frequently, especially if they seem to be struggling. This is a stressful time for everyone, and your staff needs a listening ear. Restaurants are not going to bounce back right away, and team morale could suffer as a result. Being smart, prepared, and having a good attitude will go a long way in your restaurant's long term success and recovery.


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Key Points to Remember:

  • Be sure your tables are 6 feet apart, and that you limit groups to 6 individuals or less
  • Educate your guests as well as your staff on social distancing policies
  • Streamline your operation by using visual markers and a call ahead model
  • Regularly clean and disinfect high traffic areas
  • Check on your staff regularly to make sure they are healthy and happy







Kristin Fenchak

About the author, Kristin Fenchak

Kristin has been working in bars and restaurants since her teens, and now she's using her industry smarts as Backbar's marketing intern.

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