12 Ways Restaurants Can Continue to Weather and Thrive After The Lockdown

August 19
Girl wearing mask sitting  in outdoor restaurant

Restaurant owners and employees are among the most severely impacted by the recent lockdown, personally and professionally. Over 110,000 restaurants have reported closing their doors by December 2020 and over $240 billion was lost cumulatively by restaurant owners by the end of the year. And 2 million restaurant jobs have also been lost, which makes sense considering current restaurant staffing levels are only 71% of what they were, pre-pandemic. We’ve all felt the impact of this. After all, the food service industry was the nation’s second-largest private sector- pumping over $2 trillion into the economy before the shutdown. And it’s no fault of the restaurant owner. How the virus spreads makes restaurants susceptible to the infamous “super spread event.”


When news first broke out about pandemy, everyone wanted to know how the virus spread so they could protect themselves from getting sick. Originally, everyone believed that the primary way to get infected would be through droplets in the air. Hence the face masks, social distancing, etc. But as more research was done - we learned that you could also get infected through aerosols. These are smaller than droplets and can hang in the air like smoke. And you guessed it - the more people talk, the more aerosols they put into the air, increasing the risk of infection if they have coronavirus. And the closer you are to someone, the higher the chance of them coming into contact with your aerosols. That’s what makes restaurants susceptible to “super spread” events because groups of people are very close together, often without masks because they need to eat or drink.


On top of that, restaurants struggle with poor ventilation which means aerosols or particles can hang out in the air for longer. But if 2021 has taught us anything, it is the power of pivoting when faced with challenges. Even though we are all optimistic that this season will come to an end, there is no guaranteed date when restaurants will be able to return to ‘normal’ operations. People may be nervous about physically being that close with others they don’t know for months if not years. That’s why refocusing priorities as a restaurant owner is crucial. It’s no longer about how many people you can serve but how many different ways you can serve people in a safe and maintainable way. So, here are 12 ways restaurants can continue to adapt and serve their customers on a higher level in 2021.


  1. Make Masks Mandatory

    This one may seem like an obvious one, but a reminder doesn’t hurt. Many establishments have made masks a non-negotiable on their properties. Restaurants, on the other hand, face a unique challenge when it comes to requiring masks. Often, a restaurant will mandate that a mask be worn at all times, except for when you are actually eating or drinking. This can increase the risk of infection because you can’t control how many people happen to cross paths or bump into each other when their masks happen to be off. Enforcing the rule to wear masks, until people have their meals at their tables, will help minimize confusion. Having extra signs at the tables and inside of the restaurant, instead of just outside, will help too.


  1. Be Clear About Takeout and Delivery Options

It’s no secret that takeout and delivery options have become the saving grace for many people who miss their favorite restaurants but are too nervous about dining there. But, it may not always be obvious for customers to know your delivery options and what items are available. On your website (which should be linked to your business’ Google account), you can make the delivery options very clear. Make sure that visitors can easily distinguish between what is available for delivery versus dine-in and highlight all of the ways they can contact you to place an order.


  1. Provide Paperless Menus

    It is safe to assume that at least one member of any party that comes to your restaurant will have a smartphone that can scan or access a digital menu. That being said, offering paperless menus can go a long way in minimizing waste and contact between different patrons and your staff. By uploading your menu online and removing physical menus, you’ll avoid having to print menus too, whenever you need to update or change anything. Paperless menus are both economical and hygienic.


  1. Setting Up Outdoor Seating

    This has been one of the more popular options for restaurants adjusting to the news that the rate of infection is 20 times lower outdoors than indoors. Air ventilation is key when it comes to minimizing the chances of getting sick, which explains why many restaurants have invested a lot of money into setting up comfortable outdoor seating options, with heating and more. If you’re a restaurant owner who hasn’t already done this, it should be a high priority in 2021 if you don’t want to solely rely on takeout or delivery options.


  1. Flexible Seating Options

    As a business owner, you know that it’s important to be ready for whatever the world can throw at you.  One of the best ways to do this is to keep the options for your seating arrangements open and flexible. By having moveable furniture that can be configured to suit parties of different sizes, you can increase the distance between tables at a moment’s notice. For example, instead of relying on a bar and booths, you can have 2 to 4-person tables with accompanying chairs that are easily movable throughout the day to accommodate different parties.


  1. Safer Indoor Seating Arrangements

    In addition to outdoor seating, you can optimize the seating indoors to safely accommodate more people, especially when the weather isn’t ideal. For example, keeping as much distance between tables as possible is a great first step. But don’t forget to take the orientation of the tables into account. Did you know that if you are sitting diagonally across from someone, 75% fewer droplets will reach you? This simple change will dramatically increase the health and safety of your staff and customers. Along with that, it’s important to remember that moving around is inevitable in a restaurant with servers going in and out of the kitchen and patrons using the restroom. That is why it’s important to think about the pathways in your restaurant in advance.

    How can you minimize people running into each other or passing large groups in your space? Maybe you can direct people to use a specific side of the restaurant for walking to their table and put signs that outline the exact path to take to and from the restroom, to minimize contact. Based on your space, there are different options you and your staff can consider

  2. Turn Down the Music

    One of the best parts of eating out is enjoying some great music with your meal. But, how do you determine the volume of the music you’re playing? If the music is on the higher side, people will feel the need to speak louder, which can lead to more aerosols in the air. By turning down the music so people can speak at a normal volume, you can indirectly decrease the spread of infected aerosols in the air.


  1. Offer Meal Kits

    Picking up food to go has been a popular option since even before the pandemic started. But, it may be time to think a little ‘outside of the box.’ Instead of only offering food-to-go, you can offer your customers a more holistic experience with meal kits. Meal Kits have become a popular option with restaurants setting up boxes with the ingredients needed to make their most popular dishes and directions on how to prepare the meal. This way, your customers can have an intimate experience with their friends and family while preparing a meal they love. You can also go the extra mile and include video instructions and demonstrations to serve on a deeper level.


  1. Reassure Your Customers

    Reassure customers that you are focusing on safety and sanitation measures so that they feel comfortable coming to dine or order takeout. It might seem small, but taking a few minutes to outline how your establishment is adhering to social distancing, cleaning the tables between customers, and more - can go a long way in comforting and motivating them to return.


  1. Cut Down On Costs

    Finding ways to increase revenue is always a priority for restaurant owners, but cutting down costs is another way businesses can fight the effects of the pandemic. By having leaner and shorter menus, restaurants can decrease the time it takes to prepare food and streamline their purchases for ingredients - saving money in the long run.


  1. Prioritize Creating a Reservation System

    Many establishments pre-pandemic had a strict walk-in only policy. But reservations can be a powerful way to manage the number of people in your establishment and ensure there isn’t too much foot traffic, beyond what your location can handle. This is also a great way to ensure people come at all - if your restaurant makes the reservation process simple and easy to find online, more customers will be motivated because they’ll know that when they come, they’ll be guaranteed seating and a great experience. Otherwise, many customers will question whether or not there will be a rush and may decide it’s not worth the risk.


  1.  Ensure Your Air is Being Purified

    If you peer into the windows of many restaurants, you’ll notice more and more are putting up dividers and physical measures to stop the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, many of these measures are useless against aerosols, known to be one of the major ways that the coronavirus spreads. And as mentioned earlier, restaurants are not known for being well-ventilated. So being proactive about circulating virus-free air in your restaurant is of the utmost importance. Architectural engineers recommend aiming for six full replacements of the indoor air per hour. An easy way to accomplish this is by opening a window or door to filter the air or by providing germicidal ultraviolet light.

    To make sure this is happening, you can measure your air change rate. This can be expensive without hiring a consultant but an easier way to measure it is by using a carbon dioxide monitor (which can cost about $150) and using it as a substitute. If your levels stay below 800 to 950 parts per million, your ventilation is in the safe zone. If you need to keep the doors and windows closed because of the weather, you can place air purifiers around your restaurant which can effectively dispose of 99% of the aerosols that go through them. These can cost about $100 each.


This is a long list and aiming to incorporate all of these changes at once can be overwhelming. But, by targeting one issue at a time and adapting to post-pandemic dining life, you will serve both your restaurant and your customers on a deeper level. Because it's not about perfection - it’s about steady progress.

Looking for more updated information? Please read CDC website article: