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6 Guidelines for Reopening Bars and Restaurants Safely

June 10, 2020
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QR Code Menu

Bars and restaurants across the country are reopening. That’s not an all-clear. It just means that many people are willing to accept the risks of public interaction when weighed against the risks of decreased economic activity.

So, to be sure, there are still risks. Not just because of COVID-19 and the lack of treatments and vaccines. Though that’s the obvious and primary risk right now. But this pandemic has shown, in general, that our old ways of interacting leave us vulnerable to pathogens. Any pathogens, of which there will be newer and more.

This entire crisis has been a wake-up call that’s shown us how fragile our society can be if we don’t remain vigilant. As an, if not the, industry that’s central to public gathering, it’s on us in hospitality to lead the way.

That’s why we reached out to our contacts. We poured over research, suggestions, and recommendations from academia, industry, and government. And we came up with this list of steps bar and restaurant operators can take right now to promote safe, germ-free dining experiences.

Maintain Distance

There are two reasons why every newly-opened bar and restaurant should make sure everyone on the premises keeps a healthy distance from each other. 

The first is that it works. We all paid attention to new case numbers and stay-at-home orders across the country. And it became clear that social distancing stabilized and slowed the spread of the virus.

The second is that it’s what people want. 85% of diners support bars and restaurants mandating social distancing. Because, even with stay-at-home orders lifted, restaurant goers are well aware of the continued uncertainty. We’re not sure who is sick. We’re not sure if, once infected, someone can be infected again. Without a reliable treatment or vaccine, very few people want to give up social distancing.

The CDC still recommends a distance of at least 6 feet between people in public environments. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Use physical guides. Place tape or signage on floors and sidewalks to make sure people know the appropriate places to stand.
  • Use physical barriers. In any scenario where social distance can’t be maintained, use physically separate people. Sneeze guards and partitions around kitchens, cash registers, host or hostess stands, and food pickup areas are great options. At present, NYC recommends these physical barriers be at least 5 feet high.
  • Change your layout. Move tables around to make sure that all parties are at least 6 feet apart.
  • Limit seating capacity if your layout change demands it. You’ll most likely have to have a sparser dining room to meet CDC guidelines.

Customer Sanitization

“It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection,” the CDC says of COVID-19. And so thorough, frequent handwashing has become a new tradition. People wash their hands and sanitize at home. Employees wash their hands and sanitize at work. But do people, when visiting places of businesses, wash and sanitize their hands as frequently as they should? Probably not.

A majority of the public supports hand sanitization for customers entering bars and restaurants. While soap and hot water for 20 seconds is most ideal for handwashing, a sanitizing solution with at least 60% alcohol is also acceptable.

Have a motion-activated touchless hand sanitizer dispenser just inside your front door. People can immediately sanitize their hands and, ultimately, your space.

Limit or Abolish Crowds

In line with social distancing is drastically reducing the instances of congregating and milling about in your bar or restaurant. Social distancing is all well and good, but people tend to submit to a non-distant reality if they must. Being in a crowd immediately takes away someone’s opportunity to exercise the distance they’re comfortable with—and that the CDC recommends.

Here’s how you can get rid of crowds:

  • Anyone at the bar must be seated. Bars are obvious destinations for those inclined toward a sort of leisurely aimlessness. Show up, order a drink, get up, chat with some folks, rinse, and repeat. Don’t let it happen. Anyone at the bar must be seated, on a stool, at the bar. And ideally, they’ll be seated and interacting with contactless menus.
  • If customers are waiting for a table or for a pickup order, they must wait outside or in their car. Make sure this rule is very visible during reservation making on order placing. 
  • Text customers to alert them that their tables or pickup orders are ready. Even if they’re told to wait outside, this is another important layer to limit the amount of times they come back inside to get an update. Automated restaurant technology can do this for you.
  • Offer no self-serve areas in any part of the bar or restaurant. No buffets, salad bars, drink stations, or anything similar.

Controlled Seating

The flow of customers in and out of your bar or restaurant depends on seating. And because there is no allowance for folks standing around, people are either seated or they’re outside. That’s why making seating seamless is crucial to running a successful bar or restaurant today. Here are some takeaways.

  • Limit the amount of time guests can spend at the table. Don’t let guests linger, as much as it can enhance the dining experience. If you have cut-off times for tables, you’ll do two things. You’ll decrease the chance of transmission. And you’ll make it easier to forecast exits, sanitize tables, and safely flip tables. Just be sure to post your cut-off times. Be very clear about them before seating and issue a reminder to each table as their time approaches.
  • Seat only for reservations or pre-orders. In line with time limits on tables, allow only reservations or seating with a pre-order. That’ll give your seating flow a predictability that makes adequately sanitizing tables between parties easier. It will also make the entire seating process smoother for guests, with no rushing or waiting. Both of which are poor customer experiences and tricky propositions during a time when moving around a public space has higher risks. Pro-tip, a big benefit of QR code marketing is the ability for guests to contactlessly order their food.

Let it Breathe

The CDC specifically states that bars and restaurants should “ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible.”

If weather and staff health permit (some may have allergies or environmentally-triggered conditions), keep doors and windows open. A strong cross-breeze will increase ventilation and keep any airborne particles and pathogens moving along.

Another way to double-down on ventilation is to prioritize outdoor seating. Sometimes increasing the circulation of outdoor air is as simple as going outside. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And, bonus, there’s no maximum seating capacity if your outdoor space is big enough.

No Physical Menus

Physical menus are the single dirtiest thing on restaurant tables, it’s a fact. There are over 185,000 germs per square centimeter on paper menus. It’s no wonder, then, that the National Restaurant Association recommends a disposable menu: disposing of and replacing paper menus after each use. The average cost of a physical menu, paper and printing included, is about 50 cents. That’s gonna add up.

The best answer is using digital menus, specifically using QR codes for a restaurant menu. By associating your menu with a scannable code printed out on a free QR code template, you unlock a 100% contactless menu experience for your guests. They view your menu on their own mobile device after a quick, touchless scan of a dynamic QR code.

And the benefits of touchless menus just keeps piling up. They’re more cost effective than dealing with paper menus (and if you're thinking of building out standalone menu app). They allow for more far agility when updating your menu, which makes disappointing your guests with 86’d items a thing of the past. They’re versatile marketing tools that are accessible anywhere a guest can scan them. And how to scan a QR code is downright simple. So is dealing with any rare QR code scanning problems.

They're also very easy to create and maintain. Just upload a file and generate a QR code. Beware, though, that there are a lot of QR code security implications behind using a free online QR code generator.

Switching to a digital menu is an easy decision and probably the most impactful choice you can make on this entire list.

Go Touchless Today

Creating a touchless restaurant experience is a recurring theme throughout the points above. And whether that be physical guides and barriers or contactless menus, you can make an immediate impact. On your bottom, line, too. Digital wine lists, for example, are shown to increase wine sales. The manager who uses QR codes creates that experience.

By going touchless, you’ll be observing CDC guidelines, doing your part for public health, and delivering on today’s customer expectations. That’s a recipe not just for a healthy business, but for a healthy population. Thanks for all that you do.