Indoor Dining: How to Make Restaurant Goers Comfortable Again

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

After long and trying months of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions, restaurants are finally opening their doors for indoor dining.

This is good news for restaurant owners and managers looking to revive their business after significant income dips during the pandemic. However, customers are still concerned about their safety as public health experts warn that relaxing restrictions too early and quickly could lead to more COVID-19 cases.

Restaurants are tasked with balancing health and safety restrictions and shifting back to pre-pandemic operations. Here are some ways you can ensure a smooth transition to indoor dining that keeps staff and customers comfortable.

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1. Continue requiring masks and gloves

Even when we get to a stage where masks, visors and gloves are no longer a requirement, continuing to use them for a period may reassure people. Those who are nervous of the risks may feel better dining somewhere that makes a point of demonstrating the extra precautions being taken.

2. Maintain social distance (if you can)

Many restaurants and pubs have warned they will struggle to survive social distancing measures that restrict the number of diners. But if you can create a sense of space around tables, nervous customers will appreciate it.

If you have invested in thin, transparent walls to separate tables, you may benefit from keeping them in place for a while to help reassure people.
Other measures such as limited occupancy where possible, opening windows or doors when the weather allows and disinfecting dining surfaces between customers can also be helpful.

3. Stay touch-free

Touch-free payments have been on the rise for years, but rapidly became more popular due to pandemic restrictions.

By embracing touch-free payments, you provide a way for customers to pay for services with fewer worries.

Digital menus also come in handy. No need to pass menus from staff to diners; instead, your customers can place their orders on their mobile phones with QR codes, and you fulfill those orders right from your point-of-sale or online dashboard.

4. Communicate safety measures to your customers

It’s one thing to have safety measures in place, it’s another thing to ensure that your customers are aware of them. The need to communicate regularly and build meaningful relationships with customers became even more acute during the pandemic as regulars stayed home because of health concerns.

Staying top of mind means sending carefully crafted messages that reassure customers of your commitment to ensuring safety and protecting their interests, whether they are dining in or ordering takeaway.

Here are some creative ways to reduce customer anxiety:

  • Put up a notice on your website about your reopening plans. Explain the strategies you have put in place to make sure that diners are safe within your walls.
  • Send out a newsletter to your subscribers and offer incentives for customers who choose to dine in. Post updates and share photos on your social media channels, highlighting the preparations you have made for diners.
  • Within your premises, put up signs consistent with your messages on other channels that remind diners of the rules and safety measures.

5. Provide alternatives for reluctant diners

Despite your best efforts, some customers may still be squeamish about dining in. That’s okay — but that doesn’t mean you can’t serve them.

You can still connect with these customers by creating memorable outdoor dining, takeaway and delivery offers, or drive-through experiences. You can offer promotions and include them in loyalty programmes too.

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Stay proactive

The ripple effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt as businesses and consumers adapt to the new normal. While no one knows what success might look like, the businesses leading the way are those constantly innovating and adapting to the changes.

As patrons return to dine-in, your business can continue to show resilience by adopting effective strategies to make customers more comfortable — from touchless payments to the use of screens and socially-distanced tables.
And for the regulars who are still on the fence about returning to indoor dining, you can continue to nurture and grow the relationship by offering equally rewarding takeaway and delivery experiences.

The success of the UK Government’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme shows that many diners can be drawn back in with the right offer. Using the types of strategies and incentives you might use to pull customers in during off-peak hours could work during periods of easing of pandemic restrictions too.