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restaurant reopening playbook

As outdoor dining resumes and more and more people are being vaccinated, restaurants can expect a rise in dine-in guests. Now is the time to come up with a restaurant reopening game plan and try to best prepare for more in-house activity.

Here are a few topics to consider when creating your playbook.

4 Things to Consider When Creating a Restaurant Reopening Playbook

We recommend making your playbook a living document – something that can continuously be edited and added to – so that your plan can adapt along with changes, updates, and as new information becomes available. This is also helpful to have alongside your restaurant’s crisis plan, so you are prepared for any situation that may arise in the future.

1. Decide on a Dining Room and/or Patio Setup

Customers who are open to dining-in have certain expectations. Even though more folks will be comfortable with the prospect of in-house dining this summer, many are still going to want to see efforts made to sanitize surfaces and reduce person-to-person contact.

According to this poll from Inspire PR, your guests are more concerned about other patrons than the safety of your staff or food. Polled guests said they would prefer:

  • At least 6 feet between tables: 68%
  • Limit the number of customers inside: 59%
  • Every employee wears gloves: 55%
  • Every employee wears a face mask: 52%
  • Bills paid with touchless technology: 39%
  • Tape on the waiting area floor: 37%
  • Require reservations (limited number): 33%
  • Every customer wears a face mask: 27%

post-covid-19 in-house dining for restaurants

Use Contactless Payment and Ordering Options

Reduce the amount of contact between guests and staff by implementing contactless options for guests to view your menu and pay their bill.

  • Post the Menu Online. Instead of sanitizing menus after each use or throwing away disposable ones, go digital. Post your menu on your website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages and direct customers to those sites to view the menu. For guests who don’t have smartphones, keep a few disposable paper menus on hand.
  • Generate a QR Code. If you want to make it even simpler for your guests, generate a QR code and have it available on the table somewhere. Guests can simply scan the code from their phones and the menu will open up for them, no typing required. Post this code in your window as well so passersby can scan it and see what you have.
  • Use Your Mobile POS. If you have a mobile restaurant POS that takes payment tableside, utilize it as much as possible. While there may have to be some contact with certain credit cards, cards with close-proximity chips and apps like Apple Pay will be virtually touch-free. To limit the number of people who touch the device, consider disabling the sign on-screen option.
  • Use Online Ordering (OLO). If you have a native OLO integration set up via your POS, try using it to take in-house orders as well. Leave a table tent instruction for guests to place their order as “takeout” and write their table number (also provided on the table tent) in the order notes. This takes care of ordering and payments all at once. While guests may not want to put in a second order for another round of drinks or other add-ons, they may order more when they don’t have to wait for a server’s attention.
  • Contactless Payment Apps. Apps like Rooam were gaining popularity before this pandemic hit, especially in bars where people open tabs. The app syncs with your POS, allowing the guest to view, close, and pay their tab all from their phone. It frees up your staff, decreases table turn times, and is completely contactless. Plus, if a guest leaves without paying their tab, the app will close it out and submit payment automatically for you.

Reduce the Number of Tables in Dining Areas

If you have space, the easiest way to ensure social distancing is to remove some tables in your dining room or patio area and rearrange the area to maintain six feet of separation between parties. 


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Utilize Dining Room Dividers

Dining room dividers, like the chef-invented ones pictured below, are an option for dining rooms and patios where a full six feet of space may not be possible. The glass dividers can easily be sanitized, keep sightlines open for servers, won’t block any light, and can double as a dry erase board for specials or other messages.

Be Mindful of Air Circulation

A study from the CDC suggests that air circulating throughout the restaurant via air conditioning systems could spread the virus. While a key part of reopening will be to monitor the health of staff and guests (more on that below) some people may be asymptomatic carriers that could still spread the virus without appearing sick. “To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in restaurants, we recommend strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation,” the CDC says.

Read more: Reopening Checklist: Get Your Restaurant Ready to Welcome Back Dine-in Guests

2. Set Standards for Health and Safety Protocols

As we look to other countries that have controlled their outbreaks and reopened, there are behaviors that have become the new normal for restaurants and other public places which could also become commonplace in the US.

  • Temperature checks and tracking disclosure forms for staff and guests.
  • Limited number of people allowed within a certain amount of space, as low as 50% of your regular capacity.
  • Readily available hand sanitizer, gloves, and protective gear.
  • Takeout and delivery will continue to be a popular option even as people become more comfortable with dining out. 

Read more: 6 Ways to Prepare Your Restaurant for Reopening After the Coronavirus Pandemic

3. Update Takeout and Delivery Plans

Just because dine-in will be allowed again, it doesn’t mean all guests will feel comfortable with the idea just yet, plus your dine-in sales will still be lower than average due to spacing and capacity restrictions. For both those reasons, it’s still going to be crucial to your bottom line to still off easy-to-access takeout and delivery options.

“The pandemic is going to shift the whole dynamics of the restaurant industry, and that won’t go away,” says Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach. “It takes 30 days to create a habit. In the post-Coronavirus economy, takeout could be a lot bigger than it was.

Data sourced from DATASSENTIAL

When looking at data from Upserve Online Ordering users, from February to April of 2020 we saw a 169% increase in the number of restaurants actively using Online Ordering with Upserve as restaurants quickly innovated and pivoted to takeout and delivery, paired with an 840% increase in weekly sales via online ordering. Additionally, we saw that a handful of restaurants were not only surviving but meeting or exceeding pre-COVID-19 sales levels despite having zero dine-in revenue. In our customers, online ordering tickets are 15% higher than average dine-in tickets. 

Online ordering growth in different geographic markets compared to average February sales.


Total online ordering sales volume by area, March-April 2020

Read more: Mapping Restaurant Recovery from Coronavirus via Online Ordering Data

4. Create a Public Relations and Marketing Plan

All these efforts won’t mean much if your guests aren’t aware that you are open, and they feel unsure about how you are going to protect them. Use tools like your email list, social media, and your restaurant’s website to help spread the word.

Update Your Local Pages

With the day-to-day uncertainty during this time, things are moving faster than usual in the restaurant industry. If you change your menu, update hours, or make any other changes that will affect customers, make sure they are reflected and consistent across all platforms, including your website.

This includes:

  • Yelp
  • Google My Business
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Reservation sites like OpenTable, Resy, and Tock
  • And anywhere else your hours, menu, and contact info are listed

Communicate with Your Guests Often

Social media sites run on algorithms, and those algorithms give preference to the most active users. Translation: if you post more often, more people will see your images. It can be a lot of work to come up with something to post every day, so encourage customers to share photos of their takeout orders on their accounts by offering one of the incentives listed above or something similar. Not only do you get them to spread the word about your restaurant on their accounts, but you also get free content to share on yours.

Even if your hours and menu aren’t changing often, other restaurants may be in a constant state of change and guests are getting familiar with that. Try and post on social media daily to let your guests know, “We’re still here!”

Let Guests See the BOH

We’re seeing a lot of guests commenting on social media with concerns about what measures restaurants are taking to ensure the health of customers when it comes to takeout and delivery orders. Take a minute to post a behind-the-scenes photo of your BOH and FOH staff in their gloves, masks, and other protective gear and share your sanitizing methods to ease any fears a potential customer may have about ordering out.

Try Paid Advertising On Social Media

Most social media platforms have very easy-to-use advertising platforms for businesses. You can set your budget, pick who you want to target by demographic, location, and interests, and tell hungry customers scrolling through their feeds that they should order from your restaurant. 

Read more: 6 Things We Learned From Making Over 400 Restaurant Facebook Ads in Two Months

How One Restaurant Group is Managing Their Recovery

Black Sheep Restaurants is a Hong Kong-based hospitality group founded in 2012 by Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark. They’ve created a comprehensive 17-page handbook that they share on their website so anyone in the industry can use it as a template for their own reopening operation. If you need more inspiration for creating your own playbook, download theirs now to use as a template. 

By outlining their procedures, planning ahead for as many scenarios as possible, and making sure the entire staff is on board with the plan, they are clearing as many obstacles as they can on the road ahead. 

Why is turnover is so high, what is the actual cost, and how do you fix it? Find the answers in our Staff Management ebook.

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Written by   |  
Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.
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