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If you’re a restaurant owner heavily impacted by lockdowns and restrictions, reopening your doors isn’t as simple as just opening up a few more tables.
You are likely balancing a host of factors as you plan to reopen, including staffing and hiring challenges, inventory and supply chain changes, expanding technology and more.
On top of these factors, the restaurant industry must sort out specific considerations, like balancing indoor and outdoor dining, monitoring CDC guidelines for serving food and drink, and managing capacity.
Here are important strategies for restaurant owners to consider in their reopening plans.
Make a plan to reintroduce indoor dining gradually
You don’t have to reopen your indoor dining to pre-pandemic capacity all at once. For one thing, many restaurant owners are struggling to hire the staff they need to welcome back their guests at full capacity.
You can ramp up your indoor dining in a gradual, systematic way as you onboard new team members and prepare your space to hold more diners. Consider staffing, CDC guidelines, and your current supply chain inventory in your strategy for how to gradually reopen indoor dining.
This can not only help give you time to gather the resources you need to support higher capacity, but can also make your guests feel more comfortable as they return to the idea of indoor dining. Consider maintaining social distancing in your interior space by placing indoor tables six feet apart and keeping pandemic dividers up between booths and tables.
Post clear and open communication about your restaurant’s policies, and update these on a regular basis as you continue to increase your indoor capacity so your guests know exactly what to expect. Be sure to communicate the measures you’re taking to keep the environment safe and to lower the risk of spread to make patrons feel comfortable at all stages of reopening.
Continue using parklets and other outdoor spaces
Even as you reintroduce indoor dining, you don’t have to pack up your parklet.
A parklet is a sidewalk extension that allows restaurants and other businesses to expand their square footage past their indoor space. Parklets have become a popular way for restaurants to repurpose their parking spaces to welcome more guests for outdoor dining. Keeping your parklets or other converted outdoor dining spaces open and functioning can be a great way to bridge the transition between outdoor and indoor dining.
This can allow you to open your indoor dining more strategically, starting with a handful of tables inside, while continuing to serve the majority of guests outside. It can also help to ease anxiety or discomfort for patrons who don’t yet feel entirely comfortable dining inside. On top of that, parklets have proven themselves as a space-efficient way to create an appealing atmosphere for diners, especially in urban areas.
Keep some of your pandemic offerings
Restaurants pivoted sharply during the pandemic, coming up with creative new dishes and offerings to serve their customers.
As you drop some of last year’s restrictions, your innovative offerings don’t necessarily have to go out the door. Review all offerings that you’ve incorporated since 2020 and identify those that can still bring value moving forward. For example, to-go meal kits have become popular with patrons.
Consumers will continue to be interested in the convenience and ease of delivery services, and this will remain a valuable area to offer stellar customer experiences. Whether you started offering delivery during the pandemic or ramped up your existing delivery services with add-ons, don’t leave this one behind.
Move forward with technology trends
The pandemic forced many businesses, including restaurants, to adopt new technology to accommodate serving their audiences in touch-free ways. Many of these tech trends increase convenience for your patrons and staff, and can make for a more pleasant customer experience — even as you reopen your doors for in-person services.
Rather than returning to your pre-pandemic operations, consider how to revamp your dining operations with technology that’s now available. Digital menus and touch-free menus using QR codes can continue to replace traditional paper menus. These virtual menu options can save you in paper and printing costs, save time when making updates or changing features such as seasonal offerings, and make your business more eco-friendly. With Square Online, you can use Self-Serve Ordering with unique QR codes mapped to each table, which can help you manage increased customer demand. A recent Square survey found that on average, businesses see a 35 percent revenue increase within 30 days of introducing Self-Serve Ordering, and a 177 percent revenue increase when adding Self-Serve Ordering to a point of sale system.
Similarly, many customers will continue to prefer touch-free payment tools even after pandemic restrictions lift. Touch-free tech reduces the spread of germs, helping to keep your patrons and staff healthy, and fosters an efficient and convenient payment experience for customers.
Deepen the connection between online and in-person experiences
Customers are still enjoying ordering food online, a way of ordering that gained popularity during the pandemic. As you welcome more diners in person, don’t lose the focus on your digital channels. As much as 62% of revenue is expected to come through online channels for restaurants that are using online ordering for delivery and takeout. And 67% of consumers say they prefer to use a restaurant’s own website or app for food delivery.
Continue to make the experience more seamless between interacting with your restaurant online and visiting your location in person. Tools like Square for Restaurants make this easier by connecting online and in-person activities to help you engage your customers on both levels.
Keep the innovations
Above all, don’t think of reopening simply as a return to a pre-pandemic way of doing business. Restaurants that can reinvigorate the experience of in-person dining while still incorporating many of the new offerings, tech, and trends that came out of the past year could see the most success.
Breathe new life into the in-person dining experience by keeping some of the popular offerings, services, and menu items that you adopted during the pandemic. Consumers don’t want to lose the online experiences that many restaurants brought them during the past year, so focus on building a seamless online-offline experience for your guests.