For decades, full service restaurant designs focused on offering a large number of seats with the goal of maximizing revenue. COVID-19 has disrupted the viability of this design, forcing restaurateurs to physically redesign their restaurants in accordance with government guidelines. In this chapter of Avero’s Restaurant Reopening Guide, we explore industry best practices on physical changes you can make to bring both your front-of-house and back-of-house operations in compliance with local regulations.
Waiting Area/Host Stand
Despite an expected shift in consumer preference towards making reservations to dine out, there will always be walk-in guests looking for a table. In the past, customers have crammed into a small room or packed the bar to wait for a table. Avero Recommends investing in a health check station where staff can check all guests’ temperatures with a contactless thermometer. This practice is a new standard in hotels, and will likely become standard in the restaurant industry as well.
If a walk-in guest passes the temperature test, have them join a virtual waiting list. It’s recommended to ask guest to wait outside, socially distanced, until they receive a text informing them their table is ready. Since many local governments lifted open container laws, restaurants that want to optimize their revenues may consider offering an outdoor kiosk where guests can order drinks while they wait.
Dining Room Seating
Most restaurant designs aim to seat as many people as possible to maximize revenue. In this new age, dining rooms have instead shifted their focus to three key factors: social distancing, maximizing throughput, and implementing protective measures.
Many restaurants that have relied on communal dining tables, packed dining rooms, and bar seating to optimize capacity will need to rethink dining room designs to make guests feel safe. Mass Design Group, an architecture firm founded ten years ago in response to a similar epidemic disease, recommends adding booths and flexible dining tables to replace high tops and bar seating. Restaurants should arrange tables to be physically separated by no less than six feet. Avero Recommends using these resources to redesign your dining room in compliance with local regulations.
Additionally, restaurants should be taking advantage of the summer weather to maximize capacity by offering additional seating outdoors. Typically, getting the proper permits to offer outdoor seating can take months and costs thousands of dollars. Even in highly populated cities like NYC, many governments are speeding up the application process and waiving fees to allow expanded restaurant capacity via outdoor space. Avero Recommends reaching out to your local government to add additional outdoor dining to your restaurant.
When it comes to driving revenue with reduced capacity, maximizing throughput is key. In combination with a socially distanced dining room, restaurants may consider putting time limits on tables during peak times to optimize revenues. Staggering table seating across the restaurant will allow quicker table turns with ample time for sanitizing between seatings. Avero Recommends considering prix fixe menus that can be prepared seamlessly in a short time frame.
Physical Safety Measures
Avero Recommends speaking with peers to understand additional safety measures you can take to enhance the dining experience. For example, Lindsey Brous, Owner of Collegetown Bagels in Ithaca, New York took the following measures:
- Added plexiglass partitions at all points of interaction between guest and staff
- Provided touchless hand sanitizing solutions so guests and staff can sanitize frequently
- Created floor markings and signage to encourage social distancing throughout the restaurant
It’s also important to address how self-service concepts such as buffets, drink stations and salad bars commonly found in Casinos and Hotels will adapt as a result of COVID-19. Several Avero hotel customers, including Kimpton Hotels and Omni Hotels, are shifting to an attended service model. In this model customers still move through a socially distanced buffet line, but allow the attendant to plate the food instead of touching serving utensils themselves.
One of our casino partners, Wynn, has taken on the challenge of slightly redesigning its existing buffet concepts. They modernized the concept by “combining the abundance of the traditional buffet with the benefits of a full-service restaurant.” Guests will have the option to choose from over 90 dishes and will order directly with a server from the table, rather than going through a buffet line. They can then place as many additional orders as they would like during a two-hour time window. Avero Recommends adjusting your self-service model to an attended model rather than investing in re-concepting the outlet.
As takeout and delivery continue to be a strong source of revenue, consider creating a dedicated area for third-party delivery service pickups. Avero Recommends setting up a staging area dedicated to takeout and delivery orders to prevent clustering. If possible, leverage a separate entrance or outdoor area for these orders to ensure social distancing for guests and staff.
Taking extra precautions to keep your staff safe during this time is essential to running your business successfully. Set the team up for success by following safety protocols and reducing interactions with others. Jose Andres, Founder of Think Food Group and World Central Kitchen, created a helpful guide to help redesign your back-of-house to keep staff safe that has a lot of good advice that we’ve seen many of our customers put into practice.
Many clients have created wellness screening areas for staff. Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has created wellness screening areas and protocols which require temperature checks before entering the workplace. Avero Recommends creating a similar health check area at the staff entrance to ensure employees do not have any symptoms before clocking in.
Additionally, ensure that your staff break room is set up for social distancing. Avero Recommends limiting the number of people allowed in the staff area and staggering breaks to maintain social distancing.
Dedicated Receiving Zone
Creating a separate area for receiving supplies is a great way to prevent a potential exposure from entering your restaurant. Avero Recommends designating an area just outside of the restaurant for all deliveries. If possible, delivery drivers should not be entering the premises, instead should only use the outdoor delivery area. If a driver must enter the restaurant, placing sanitation mats by entrances will help reduce the spread of potential contaminants. All delivered items must then be thoroughly sanitized by a dedicated staff member.
Socially Distanced Kitchen
Traditional kitchens are not designed for maintaining social distancing precautions. Since equipment is often heavy and expensive, Avero recommends making minor changes to your kitchen design to improve social distancing without impacting efficiency.
Consider steps like establishing a one-way directional flow for through the kitchen, reducing the need for employees to pass within six feet of one another. You may be able to add additional hand washing stations to minimize the distance BOH employees need to move. Perhaps you can increase the distance between BOH and FOH staff at food pickup windows and wheel stations. Additionally, Avero Recommends increasing the airflow in BOH spaces with additional fans and venting.
Tune into our next chapter where we shift the focus towards the steps operators are taking to keep their employees safe by discussing PPE, developing new safety SOPs for staff members, and maintaining outbreak response plans.