How coronavirus is changing dine-in-restaurant service

Published October 2, 2020

As restaurants around the world begin reopening their dine-in service, the safety of their customers and employees is priority number one. And while all of them are taking many of the same safety measures, like placing tables at least six feet apart, providing hand sanitizers and using instruction and warning signs, some restaurants are getting creative in their distancing measures.

In Amsterdam, the vegetarian restaurant Mediamatic ETEN, which normally serves guests in a large greenhouse, decided to build stylish "quarantine greenhouses." Their clever thinking is making news around the world as they serve four-course vegetarian meals. In Bangkok, some restaurants have tables with plastic screens attached as well as floor markings indicating where people should stand. In some Starbucks, they’re roping off certain areas to facilitate distancing.  

Other reopening measures include a much higher standard of cleanliness and sanitization, including providing hand sanitizers for each customer, and offering contactless payments, such as mobile pay and pay at the table. And, of course, many restaurants will continue to offer curbside pickup, take-out, delivery and outdoor dining. 

In Amsterdam, the vegetarian restaurant Mediamatic ETEN, which normally serves their guests in a large greenhouse, decided to build stylish "quarantine greenhouses." Their clever thinking is making news around the world as they serve four-course vegetarian meals.

How the coronavirus makes contactless important for restaurants

Contactless payments are not entirely new to restaurants around the world; the movement towards digital payments, mainly for ease and convenience, has been on the rise for years. But with the pandemic, “contactless” isn’t just about payments anymore; the restaurant operator’s top priority is to find safe ways to serve customers at every stage of service. Fortunately, there are plenty of contactless ways guests can pay and get their meals. 

Mobile payments. Having the option to pay using their mobile wallet helps make customers feel comfortable dining in. And there's a growing range of mobile payment options, from payment apps enabled by NFC (near field communication) like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay to digital debit and credit cards they’ve downloaded onto their mobile devices. To enable guests to use their mobile wallet, restaurant owners will need to implement contactless payment integrated with the point-of-sale in the form of QR codes that can be scanned for payment or payment devices that are NFC-enabled. 

Take-out, delivery and curbside. Many restaurants had to scramble to come up with curbside service plans and takeout and delivery. An important part of the process included notifying their customers about what they’re offering and what their protocols are, including reduced/new hours, guidelines for customers like how to place orders, procedures for pick up and how payment is handled. It’s been exhausting for restaurant owners to figure out how to make it all work. And now, as many of them re-open their dining rooms, they can keep and expand their contactless foodservice which can mean more business in the future. 

How the coronavirus will change restaurant menus

With restaurants having to suddenly change so much of their operations to meet their customer's vastly different needs, making adjustments to their menus is an integral part of the process. Now, as many re-open, changes to their menus are going to increase, from the format of the menu to what’s on it. 

Family portions, family meal boxes and food kits. People are continuing to stay at home and schools in many parts of the world are still closed or operating on restricted schedules, so families have been spending a lot of time together. That's led to a desire to vary routines and introduce new ways to share experiences at home. Many restaurants have been offering family portions on their menus, which is a win-win; it's cheaper for the family, no one has to cook and clean up and it's much more cost effective for restaurants. In addition, some restaurants have been offering food kits that families can use to prepare a meal together, often making them kid friendly.

Many restaurants have been offering family portions on their menus, which is a win-win; it's cheaper for the family, no one has to cook and clean up and it's much more cost effective for restaurants.

Trim items that aren't selling and cross-use ingredients. Restaurants can also take a data-drive approach to knowing what’s selling and what’s not. Then they can simply stop making the items that consumers aren't buying, which brings down cost and waste. Smart restaurant operators are also checking their inventory and determining which ingredients can be used in multiple recipes. Some owners are also stepping away from the more complicated dishes.   

The physical menu changes. Contactless will extend to every part of your restaurant service including how a consumer browses your menu. While you can still include disposable menus in delivery, take-out and curbside orders, there are other changes to keep in mind. For consumers dining in with you, you can offer contactless ways to look at your menu. This involves adding QR codes to your tables that guests can scan using their mobile device; the code takes the guest directly to your menu.  

Shareables are likely a thing of the past. Especially for family-style restaurants where food is served on large platters for sharing, now smaller, individual plates will replace them. Some restaurants menus in this case may be completely overhauled.  

Alcohol and cocktail kits. As a way to increase revenue, restaurants have been selling beer, wine and cocktails for take-out and delivery. For some restaurants that's added up to thousands of dollars in weekly revenue, helping to keep their restaurant in business during the pandemic. Once again, that’s likely to become a permanent change. Other restaurants are providing cocktail kits minus everything but the booze. 

As a way to increase revenue, restaurants have been selling beer, wine and cocktails for take-out and delivery. For some restaurants that's added up to thousands of dollars in weekly revenue, helping to keep their restaurant in business during the pandemic.

Lunch-only restaurants will expand service. Menus for restaurants that usually open only for lunch are likely to expand to include not only dinner service, but, for some, breakfast as well. Just as so many restaurants are having to change their business models, lunch only will likely not be enough for restaurants needing to make up for lost revenue. 

Small plates are going to be a big thing. Already trending in the restaurant industry, small plates give consumers more opportunities to try different dishes and it offer chefs more culinary freedom. During the pandemic and moving forward, restaurants will change their menus to include small plates with some tweaks like serving a few of them together on an individual tasting platter. 

Coronavirus-related bussing and cleaning procedures in a restaurant

The FDA has released a re-opening checklist for restaurants that includes tips for bussing and cleaning, including: 

  • Make sure all areas of your restaurant, from the dining room to the restrooms and kitchen, are cleaned, stocked, sanitized and disinfected  
  • Make a list of the "self-service" items your diners use including seat covers, table cloths, linen napkins, throw rugs, condiments like ketchup bottles and salt/pepper shakers, reusable menus etc. and either remove them from use or ensure that they are washed, cleaned and sanitized (and changed as it applies) after every use  
  • Clean and sanitize ice machines and ice bins 
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize food contact surfaces such as counters, food prep areas and beverage equipment after use 
  • Frequently clean and disinfect restrooms 
  • Clean, sanitize, disinfect high-touch areas and equipment like door knobs and handles, display cases, equipment handles, check-out counters, order kiosks and any other frequently touched areas or equipment in your restaurant 
  • Properly train staff on cleaning protocols to ensure they are properly, correctly and safely disinfecting and sanitizing every area of your restaurant  
  • Plan and install a disinfection and sanitizing plan and schedule and make sure your entire staff knows it and follows it 
  • For your sinks, make sure they are clean and equipped with detergent and sanitizer and ensure that your dishwasher is clean, functioning and equipped with detergent and sanitizer (single temperature machine, 165F) or reaches 180F rinse (high temperature) 
  • Make sure to have sanitizer test strips available and corresponds to the sanitizer being used 
  • Train or otherwise remind your staff about effective hand washing (hand hygiene) practices that include using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after going to the restroom, before eating and after blowing their nose, and coughing or sneezing 
  • Make sure that all hand washing sinks are accessible and fully stocked with soap, paper towels, hand washing signs and trash bins at all times 
  • Equip your bathrooms with paper towels so that customers and staff can use them to open and close doors without directly touching them, and have trash bins readily available for disposal of the paper towels 
  • Check to make sure that all hand washing sinks are working and can reach 100 F at a minimum

Dining room requirements for coronavirus safety in restaurants

The FDA has released a re-opening checklist for restaurants that includes tips for dining room safety, including: 

  • Check for any pest infestations, eradicate any that you find and put into place pest controls 
  • Post signs about how COVID-19 spreads and the measures that need to be taken to stop it and the protective measures you're taking 
  • Make sure your ventilation system is working properly, including air ducts and vents and clean them and remove any trace of mold 
  • Open windows and doors to increase ventilation, but only do so safely—if you think children could be at risk from an open door or window, then keep them closed. 
  • Have enough sanitizers and disinfectants that meet the EPA's criteria to prevent the spread of COVID-19 available and use the instructions to clean and disinfect every area of your restaurant when your restaurant is open and during prep and opening and closing 
  • If you're unable to provide single-use items like tableware and carryout utensils, ensure all reusable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher; have your employees wash their hands after removing their gloves and after directly handling food service items after they've been used 
  • For coolers, freezers and hot and cold holding units: make sure that they are functioning and that they are cleaned, sanitized and protected from contamination 
  • Use calibrated thermometers to check equipment and product temperatures to make sure food safety/HACCP plans are being executed properly 
  • For food safety: check for any spoilage, damage, expiration, or tampering by a pest or otherwise and discard accordingly; make sure to properly label and organize all food items so that the receiving date and rotation needs are clear 
  • Store all food, packaging, and chemicals so that they are protected from cross contamination 
  • Check with your suppliers to make sure that deliveries are scheduled and can be fulfilled/are on schedule 
  • Implement a protocol to check employees health and personal hygiene practices when they are at work, consider taking their temperatures when they arrive for their shifts 
  • Get to know, understand and implement the CDC guidance and practices for employee health checks and screenings as your employees return back to work 
  • Put in place a plan that deals with a higher than normal level of people calling in sick or otherwise not coming to work 
  • Have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or cloth face coverings, cloth masks should only be used if PPE is not required, and changed if needed when worn 
  • For social distancing: Take measures such as putting tape on floors and signage on walls that sets up at least 6 feet of distance between customers, employees and visitors; limit self-serve food and drink options and include more monitoring of them; restrict the number of employees in shared spaces, including kitchens, break rooms, and offices to maintain a 6-foot distance between them 

Coronavirus-related changes in restaurant advertising

During the pandemic your customers will want to know if you're open and what services you're providing, but they're also wondering about a lot of restaurants. That's why it's important to reach out to them rather than waiting for them to come to you. To do that, you'll need to put together a solid marketing strategy and extend your reach.

During the pandemic your customers will want to know if you're open and what services you're providing, but they're also wondering about a lot of restaurants. That's why it's important to reach out to them rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Update your website. Some restaurant owners don't realize that their customers visit their websites a lot more often than they visit their social media sites to get information. Take the time to update your website with the most current information possible. Clearly and as succinctly as possible, let them know what your restaurant is offering. You can use this as an opportunity to strengthen your brand.  

Capture your customer's data. Capturing your customer's data is now easier than ever as they use mobile apps and other means to place orders. Not only should you have their names, phone numbers and email addresses, keep track of their order histories, too. That way you can reach them to advertise your restaurant and it can also help you trim your restaurant menu as you determine collectively what your customers like and what they don't. 

Send emails and make social media posts. As you build up your customer database, take the time to plan creative and effective email marketing campaigns. Your customers already want to hear from you so the chances are much higher that they will open your emails. This is a great way to not just give them information about what services you're providing, but to connect with them and build customer loyalty. And make frequent posts on all of your social media platforms—if you aren't using them now is a great time to extend your social media presence.  

As you build up your customer data base, take the time to plan creative and effective email marketing campaigns. Your customer's already want to hear from you so the chances are much higher that they will open your emails.

Communicate with your customers. During this difficult time, there’s a real need for people to communicate not only with their friends and family but with their community and you're a part of that. Read about ways you can reach your customers in this NCR blog.

Need more information?