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.
This week, hospitality businesses across Ireland began reopening their doors once more, following months of enforced closures as part of measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guide will look at everything small hospitality businesses need to consider as they reopen and serve guests again.
The rise of outdoor dining
Restrictions on numbers and space have meant many restaurants have to be adaptable, turning outdoor spaces into safe dining areas. It seems many people have taken to al fresco dining, whether that’s due to health and safety concerns inside, or because they simply enjoy dining in the open air.
Dublin has seen a huge increase of visitors since outdoor dining restrictions were lifted, with the city council reporting that footfall was up 80% in June compared to January. With outdoor dining here to stay while some restrictions on indoor dining remain in place, it’s likely that this trend will continue, so it makes sense to prep any available space.
Hospitality guidelines on reopening
Outdoor dining with social distancing and various other restrictions has been permitted since early June. Since Monday July 26, indoor dining is now officially permitted.
With a system allowing only those who have a vaccination certificate to dine indoors, this leaves many restaurants relying on outdoor dining only for the foreseeable future. However, with more than 60% of the population already vaccinated, many hospitality businesses are hoping to gradually welcome more guests back, while keeping the population as safe as possible.
Safety measures for reopening safely
Restaurants looking to reopen for indoor dining have a series of new measures that will need to be implemented to ensure customer and employee safety. These COVID-safe hospitality guidelines for reopening are in addition to current health and safety guidelines for restaurants.
Social distancing measures are likely to remain a feature of indoor dining for several months or more. Restaurants therefore need to re-evaluate their space and prepare table plans that allow for the recommended minimum gaps between each table – this is usually two metres or more. Space also needs to be planned for allowing customers to navigate through the restaurant to their table and to visit the bathrooms.
Sanitation and Cleaning
Restaurants should already follow high standards for cleanliness but COVID-19 restrictions will now mean increasing these measures even further. Tables and contact surfaces need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised between bookings and staff need to keep hands clean and sanitised throughout their shift.
All staff need training on the new measures prior to opening and management have a responsibility to ensure their teams appreciate the importance of proper sanitation, social distancing and other new safety measures.
Changes to Booking Systems
There may be time restrictions on bookings and time slots may need to be spaced out to minimise footfall in doorways and other open areas. An online booking system can help establish specific time slots and provide automated emails to each customer detailing any restrictions that are in place.
Changes to Ordering Systems
To help minimise unnecessary contact, many restaurants are introducing online ordering apps, allowing customers to access menus and place orders directly from their own personal devices. Self-serve ordering using QR codes also reduces indirect contact between customers tohandling of menus.
Maximising Outdoor Space
Even as indoor dining is reintroduced, many people will prefer to eat outside wherever possible to minimise their own risk. Restaurants that have the option of providing outdoor dining areas year-round may find they are among the most popular venues. Heating and rain shelters are an investment that has a good chance of paying off.
Indoor dining reopening and rules
While many people are looking forward to having the opportunity to dine indoors at restaurants with friends and family, it is essential that venues put safety measures in place, to help customers feel comfortable.
Social distancing is one of the biggest issues. Reopening restaurants need to ensure their table plans give each group of diners enough space to feel safe, even if this means removing some tables or leaving tables empty.
Cleaning schedules need to be visible and the additional sanitation schedules prominently displayed, so customers can feel assured that staff are working to control hygiene at all times.
Contactless payments also help to reassure customers that they are not touching things other customers have been in contact with and also protects staff from unnecessary contact with customers’ personal items.
Spread the word
Communicating with customers is key to encouraging people to visit again or for the first time when restaurants, cafes and pubs reopen. There are loads of ways you can choose to market your reopening. Post details and booking information on your social media channels and use email marketing aimed at existing customers. Offering incentives such as vouchers or special deals at quiet times of day can help draw more people in. Services such as local delivery and click and collect may also help bring more customers to the business while people get used to the country opening back up.
An integrated system for online ordering and booking can also be used to gather customer data such as email addresses, which can then be used to communicate special offers or ask for feedback.
Managing bookings and payments
Managing bookings and payments in a COVID-safe way may involve introducing new technologies that help minimise contact and prevent unnecessary movement around the restaurant. When customers can book online and order and pay at their table, this immediately reduces the chances of crowds building up in a reception area or at a point of sale. Automating booking and payment systems helps restaurants to create a safe environment and adhere to social distancing regulations. Square offers an integration with Appointedd, a user-friendly online booking and scheduling solution, with 3 months free upon sign up for businesses who use Square.
Square Online also provides a self-serve ordering system using unique QR codes. These allow each customer to access the full menu, place their order and make payment from their table, using their smartphones or tablets. Implementing software solutions such as these helps restaurants manage all transactions in the safest possible way. Direct and indirect contact is minimised between staff and customers and footfallis reduced in previous high-traffic areas.
After almost a year and a half of closures, restrictions and more closures, the reopening of restaurants is an exciting time. To ensure a successful reopening, take the time to plan for every eventuality and implement the proper safety measures. Hopefully, the hospitality industry in Ireland will be able to enjoy a busy summer and beyond.
Click & Collect
Restaurants have the added benefit of operating with takeaway as an extra option and then staying open during future lockdowns by operating solely in this way. They can even adapt their menu and offer to supply food boxes or recipe kits too. This is also an exciting option for drinks shops and even pubs and bars when under further lockdowns. If a restaurant is not already doing so already, it is worth considering Click & Collect as a way of trading that allows consumers to ‘click’ and order online, then ‘collect’ at a restaurant, by picking up their items, rather than having them delivered.