Indoor Dining: How to Make Restaurant Goers Comfortable Again

After long and trying months of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions, restaurants are finally opening their doors for indoor dining. States like New Jersey have increased capacity limits for restaurants, bars, casinos, and other public venues from 35% to 50%. Other states are also following suit. 

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.

Indoor Dining: How to Make Restaurant Goers Comfortable Again

1. Continue requiring masks and gloves

Statistics from Square’s Future of Restaurants report show that 69% of restaurateurs will continue to require staff to wear masks and gloves. As you welcome patrons back into your restaurant, continuing to require masks and gloves may make customers feel more comfortable dining in your restaurant.

2. Maintain social distance

A McKinsey report shows that customers are most anxious about close or active interactions with other customers. Anxiety-inducing activities include standing or sitting near other customers, and touching surfaces or items that other customers have touched.

Some ways to alleviate these concerns are the use of socially distanced tables and thin, transparent walls to separate tables. More than half of restaurateurs (60%) say they will continue to use socially distanced tables based on results from the Future of Restaurants report. 

Other measures such as limited occupancy, opening windows or doors, 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. But our findings show that they have come to stay — 61% of businesses say they will continue to offer contactless payment onsite.

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

Digital-only menus also come in handy.  From the Future of Restaurants report, 88% of businesses are considering completely replacing their physical menus with digital menus. 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 takeout.

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. With Square Marketing, you can send customized marketing emails to your regulars and offer promotions and loyalty programs without leaving your dashboard.
  • Make 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, takeout, or drive-through experiences. In addition to creatively imagining these services, you can create special promotions and include this customer segment in loyalty programs to increase their patronage.

Square for Restaurants connects online and in-store activities, so whether your customers are doing takeout or curbside pickup, you can continue to offer a seamless purchase experience. 

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 on-premise, your business can continue to show resilience by adopting effective strategies to make customers more comfortable — from touchless payments to the use of 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 takeout and drive-through experiences.