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Outdoor dining

If you’re like most restaurant workers, you’re probably struggling to figure out exactly what the rules for re-opening are. Some cities are now allowing indoor dining again; other states and localities are sticking to outdoor dining, or are only allowing takeout and delivery. It can be tough to navigate the rules in your area. 

But it’s not just about following food safety rules, even though that’s important. It’s also about winning back public trust and making sure that your customers feel confident visiting your restaurant once again. This can be challenging. Fortunately, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has put together some great guidelines for reopening your restaurant safely and securely. Keep reading to learn more about the best way to re-open your restaurant.

Outdoor dining alley

Evaluating Your Risk Level

The CDC says that every restaurant owner should assess their own risk level, so that they can decide what kind of precautions they’ll need to take when re-opening. Not every restaurant is going to have the same risk factors, of course. Restaurants which do only pick up and delivery are going to involve less risk than restaurants which offer indoor dining.

This doesn’t mean that restaurants can’t re-open; it just means that they should be aware of their risk so that they can prepare for it! No matter what your situation is, you’re going to be better off if you’re prepared for it. 

The CDC says that as a rule, the more people are interacting, the greater the risk of COVID-19 spreading. That’s why the risk can be summed up as follows:

Restaurants that stick to drive through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick up have the lowest risk levels.

Restaurants offering outside dining have slightly more risk than the restaurants which are only offering take out and delivery. Spacing the tables so that they’re at least six feet apart will reduce risk levels.

Restaurants offering inside dining have a higher risk level than those which only offer outside dining. Again, spacing  carefully to allow at least six feet between tables will reduce that risk.

The restaurants with the highest level of risk are the ones which ofer indoor and outdoor dining, but which don’t have spacing between tables.

Of course, there are plenty of precautions that restaurants can take to keep their customers and employees safe and comfortable. We’ll describe some of those measures, below.

Containing the spread

The CDC recommends a number of steps which restaurants and bars can take to keep their customers and their employees safe. Most of these steps are straightforward, common-sense measures. They’ll also go a long way towards reassuring your guests that you are taking their safety seriously and that you value their health!

Make sure any sick employees stay home

Whether your restaurant is big or small, you have a responsibility towards your employees – and you also have a responsibility towards your customers. Educate your employees about the importance of staying home from work when they have any symptoms of illness. Whether they have a cold, a flu, or something more serious, you don’t want your employees to come to work sick. Not only do they need rest in order to recover and recuperate – they also might spread their illness to your customers if they come in to work while they’re not healthy.

If you do have a sick employee, send  them home right away. Make sure you immediately clean and disinfect any area that they came into contact with, using professional cleaning products.

Your customers will also lose confidence in your restaurant if they notice sick, coughing employees on the premises. Even if your employees feel well enough to work, you need to insist that they stay home if they have fever, cough, sore throat, or other symptoms of illness. Ask them not to come in to work until they have been symptom-free for at least three days, without using medicine to mask their symptoms.

Along the same lines, encourage your employees to stay home from work if they have come into contact with anyone who has COVID-19. Make it as easy as possible for your employees to take time off; make sure they know that they won’t lose their jobs because of it. Remember, you goal is to create a safe and healthy workplace where customers will feel confident and relaxed. You can achieve that by making sure that you keep sick employees at home, where they belong


Spaced booth

Remember to sanitize

It’s always been important to keep restaurants clean and hygienic. If you’re like most restaurant owners, then you’ve always worked hard to make sure that your restaurant is clean, safe, and healthy. After all, food safety means maintaining a clean environment.

Today, because of COVID-19, good hygiene is more important than ever. As you probably know, our normal hygiene routines need to be stepped up in order to keep everyone safe. You should focus on the following:

Hand washing: make sure your staff follows the right handwashing protocols, using soap and hot water and washing for at least 20 second. They should wash their hands before and after preparing food, and after handling gloves or masks. If soap and water aren’t available, they should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. There are lots of cleaning supplies on the market today; make sure you choose professional cleaning products like Seventh Generation, Lifebuoy or something of comparable quality.

Post signs about handwashing prominently in your restaurant. This will also signal to your customers that you are serious about hygiene.


Your staff should be wearing cloth face masks at all times while they are at work. This is especially important for those working indoors, but all staff should wear them, even while serving customers outside.

Encourage your customers to wear face masks whenever they get up from their table, if possible. Post signs around your restaurant explaining your masking policies. Again, this reinforces your commitment to safety and it will reassure your customers.

Salmon with wine

Clean, Disinfect, and Sanitize

Regular cleaning with high quality, professional cleaning supplies can go a long way towards making your restaurant feel safe and inviting. Reach for Seventh Generation, Domex/CIF, (or other, equally high-quality products) to maintain a fresh, clean environment free of chemical fumes and harsh odors.

The CDC recommends frequently cleaning and disinfecting any surfaces that get touched often, like doorknobs, tabletops, tableware, and cash registers. Be sure to read the instructions on your cleaning products and to carefully follow the directions for disinfecting. Your goal should be to set up a strict cleaning routine and to train every member of your staff to follow it. Aim to make a schedule for cleaning and disinfecting everything in your restaurant.

Physical layout changes

Making simple changes to your restaurant’s setup can go a long way toward keeping your customers and your employees safe. This means a shift away from open-plan dining rooms and from long, communal tables. It also means an end to packed bars where people sit cheek to jowl with each other.

The CDC is encouraging everyone to install physical barriers around cash registers; where possible, try to set up barriers between tables, or divide up your space so that it’s easier for people to distance. Use tape or other physical markers to indicate where people should stand while waiting on line, for example, so that they can be confident that they are maintaining social distance.

Again, make sure that you are keeping up a steady cleaning and disinfecting routine. All of the new barriers you install should be kept sanitary using high quality, professional cleaning supplies, like Seventh Generation, Domex/CIF or something of equal quality.

Spaced sealting

Social distancing

Today, running a safe restaurant or bar means using simple barriers and making sure there’s plenty of space between tables, chairs, and bar stools. Aim to have at least six feet of space between tables, and between customers at a bar. Limit the number of seats in your restaurant and in your outdoor spaces. Leave plenty of room for social distancing.

You’ll also want to make sure that your servers can move safely around the area without coming into close contact with each other, or with your customers. That means allowing plenty of extra space. Even if this does mean giving up a table, it will create a safe environment and inspire trust in your customers. If you make your customers comfortable, that will give them the confidence to come back often and to recommend your restaurant to others. In other words, your precautionary measures will pay off!

Give your customers plenty of socially distanced options

Customers like to have choices, and it’s a good idea to present them with plenty of options. This will also make them more comfortable and make them feel reassured that you are conscious of their needs.

The CDC suggests that you should offer delivery options wherever possible, as well as curbside pick up and drive-through. Encourage your customers to wait off-premises after they place a take-out order. Where possible, use smartphone technology to let your customers know when their orders are ready; that way, they won’t have to stay in a crowded waiting area while their food is being prepared.

It’s also a good idea to give customers an option to order their food ahead of time, even when they’re going to be dining in the restaurant. That way, they will minimize the amount of time they spend in the restaurant itself.

Final thoughts

As a restaurant owner, your goal is pretty simple. You want to serve great food to your customers; you want them to be able to unwind and enjoy themselves in a comfortable, safe environment. That means that you need to inspire trust and confidence. Of course, COVID-19 does make this more challenging than it was in the past. But it’s still absolutely possible to keep your customers safe and happy.

Maintaining a clean and wholesome atmosphere will go a long way toward keeping your customers safe and confident. Use top-quality, professional cleaning supplies, like Seventh Generation or Domex/CIF to create a sanitary and fresh-smelling environment. Post information about sanitary practices, and enforce your cleaning and disinfecting schedule. Set up social distance protocols and encourage your staff to stay home as necessary.

We are all dealing with a lot of new concerns these days. Together, with a bit of patience and hard work, we can get through this, and we can emerge stronger than ever!