Your Guests’ Greatest Fears about Restaurants Reopening
If you were tired of hearing the word “unprecedented” in the early stages of the pandemic, get used to it. As we trundle into a reopen and tentatively feel out the new landscape, “uncertain” might become the next COVID buzzword. Restaurant operators, staff, and guests feel it in full measure, a consuming fear that ripples throughout the psyche. It’s important not to lose hope, though! We’ll focus on your guests’ greatest fears about restaurants reopening, and how you can address them.
“It’s not restaurants they’re afraid of; it’s other people.” That’s a sentiment running through much of the writing on the subject. We feel the same way. When it comes to your guests’ fears, you can run a tight ship, but you can’t control what other guests do. As we navigate the grey areas of walk-in dining amidst a reopening, you can still minimize the spread of germs and, most importantly, visually communicate it to your guests.
Crowding in the Lobby
Whether in a pandemic or not, the lobby is the first contact that any visitor has with your restaurant. It’s here where you see the most “cross-contact” between different parties in the dining journey.
With guests coming in for takeout, third party drivers collecting delivery orders, and (where applicable) walk-in diners, the lobby is central to much of the anxiety around restaurants. Fortunately, contactless technology features, like SMS texting, reduce the need for crowding in the front, facilitating a smoother, calmer dining experience. A quality guest management solution can send a text message to guests, informing them of their order status. Guests can stay in their car, and through 2-way texting, they can tell your staff they’ve arrived to facilitate curbside pickup.
When it comes to SMS features, think about the future as well. Pagers were once a standard device to keep guests in the loop, but their future seems bleak. Guests don’t want to handle objects that strangers have been touching, especially right now. Giving them all the capability to retrieve their order (safely) with a familiar tool will help diminish guest fears about your restaurant reopening.
Public bathroom hygiene creates unease in guests across the hospitality sector, going back before the COVID-19 outbreak. In a business where you’re preparing food for public consumption, you need every surface in your restaurant to be clean and disinfected regularly! It’s important to note now that the coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets released by sneezing, coughing, and talking. Infections via surface contact, though remotely possible via particular circumstances, aren’t the primary drivers of the spread. Still, bacteria come in many forms, and treating every surface with the same diligence and care, from gleaming countertops to your porcelain thrones, is paramount. Remember to always consult a competent health authority, like the center for disease control (CDC), or other restaurant-specific COVID resources, when making any particular decisions.
Create reminder prompts in your technology that reminds your staff to wipe down surfaces. This can include property sanitizing laminated menus if you have them. These might take the form of “phantom tickets” that come through the KDS. You can customize these tickets as regular reminders for staff who might not remember something in the heat of a high-volume run. You can customize any number of prompts from wiping counters to checking soap dispensers. Depending on where they work, some areas might receive more attention than others (especially the bathroom), so a simple prompt to check-in, making sure things are clean, the floors are spotless, and there’s no standing water, goes a long way.
It’s often not feasible to do a deep-clean on the bathroom during working hours, but as the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.” By doing a quick check of the essentials, like the floor, the sink, the soap and paper dispensers, your job cleaning between shifts will go much smoother.
Finally, create visible signage for your staff and guests about proper handwashing techniques. Including signs might seem like an insignificant measure, but slowing COVID-19’s spread happens through multiple small, rational decisions — not one sweeping gesture. By hanging visible signage, you’ll keep safety in the forefront of everyone’s mind, leading to action.
Party Sizes/Number of People
Wriggling within the heart of this fear lies that which we’ve emphasized in the introductory paragraph. Guests are less concerned with a restaurant’s particular hygiene protocol (though this is important) than they are with other people. Even with limited capacities and social distancing measures, crowds at restaurants can still form, causing guests to feel anxious.
One way to diminish the impact and potential of these crowds is to utilize capable restaurant management software, particularly waitlisting features. If you’re creating enough distance between tables, and where applicable, providing dedicated booths, you’ve got half the equation. Many guests already know that by calling ahead or getting on the waitlist remotely, they can secure a table, or place in line. Try to bring attention to these features, so guests know they don’t have to deal with any crowding at the lobby.
Though it won’t be appropriate for every restaurant, particularly those who specialize in quick-serve, those with the right table service setup may consider making reservations a requirement. Naturally, the condition will ensure that a restaurant doesn’t overfill its limited capacity. Moreover, it will send a signal to your guests that they needn’t worry; They get the assurance that they won’t arrive at your restaurant to an unruly crowd.
Staff wearing Masks and Gloves
This restaurant reopening fear is a no-brainer, so we’ll be brief. Masks and gloves help cut down the spread of droplets, the primary vehicle through which COVID-19 spreads. While many businesses require patrons and customers to wear masks, there are just as many who don’t.
There are a variety of opinions about masks, and we aren’t here to espouse one. Collect information from competent health authorities, and proceed from there. It’s important to note though: your guests are concerned about the virus. The optics of your staff taking precautions through masks and other proper coverings will do much to absolve their concerns.
Paying with Touchless Tech
Perhaps you’ve heard the discussions around cash in the modern era, whether to continue using it with so many alternatives. The truth is that physical currency passes through untraceable numbers of hands before it gets to you. With so much attention on bacteria and surface contact, many restaurants are urging customers to use touchless payment technology.
Pay-at-the-table solutions speed up the “post-meal” process and remove the need for a card handoff between the customer and staff. If Pay-at-the-table isn’t feasible, you can still encourage customers to use contactless forms of payment, like kiosks or tablets. Of course, to make this seamless, you’ll need to ensure your guest management technology and kitchen tech can integrate with these POS partners.
Finally, most off-premise options allow customers to pay remotely, through the website or app, before arriving at your restaurant. This feature removes the question of how they’ll pay altogether.
When government mandates enforce limited capacities, it’s natural that an operator will lose some seating real-estate. 6 feet distancing rules will help you maintain distances between guests.
Still, restaurant technology can help you optimize your seating space, even when you find it compromised. With detailed floor plans, different data shows you, in a given layout, how best to seat guests to be the most economical. Seating rotations tell you which guests have been at their table’s the longest. This data enables you to seat future guests with ease.
Restaurant data helps you identify trends and rushes in traffic, especially on the days these rushes happen. With data and a reliable floor plan, you can pivot with staffing decisions or layout changes based on these swells.
Fears About Restaurants Reopening and Another Shutdown
We can’t predict what happens next, no matter how much we want to. In March, many said we’d be “home free” by July. In July, they said we’d be over the hill by October. Rather than run the fool’s errand of predicting the unprecedented (D’oh!), do the work now that will ensure you maintain business on a day to day level. We do anticipate a reversal of fortunes. Though the pandemic has taught us much about our processes and priorities, and claimed many businesses in its wake, a greater tragedy would be to pass through it without having learned and made adjustments.
How has the pandemic altered your course? Click the link below for our page containing helpful restaurant resources for the COVID-19 outbreak.
About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.