Top 10 ways to make your customers feel safe post-lockdown
Adam Umarji -Restaurant enthusiast
It was the moment restaurant and pub owners across the UK had been desperate for, Boris Johnson finally giving the green light for venues to reopen and welcome back their customers with open arms.
Well, ok maybe not with open arms and perhaps more with an elbow bump and a friendly smile. Nevertheless, from the 4th July restaurants and pubs will be allowed to open (with 1 meter plus social distancing) once again after three agonising months of lockdown.
But the initial jubilation at being able to welcome back customers into their venues has likely been met by trepidation at the thought of all the logistical, operational and regulatory challenges you’re now facing to get COVID-ready.
In particular, the government’s demands that all venues must offer table service only (e.g. no queuing at the bar), rotating shift patterns for staff and increased use of hand sanitisers are some of the bigger operational hurdles that venues are having to work out.
From health and safety and cleaning to turning tables and payment, it feels like the whole restaurant game has changed in just a few short months. But that doesn’t mean the challenge is insurmountable!
Getting your restaurant COVID-ready is simply a matter of staying alert to government guidance, prioritising the safety of your customers and employees, and taking the same sort of precautions that we’ve all been doing anyway since the pandemic began.
To make it even easier, we’ve put together the top 10 ways you can make your customers feel safe post-lockdown and get your restaurant ready for reopening. Think of it as our handy 10-step guide to getting your restaurant open and delighting your customers once again.
1. Invest in more cleaning products
The number one way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is for everyone to wash their hands vigorously and religiously. Ensuring your restaurant or pub is well stocked with cleaning products for both customers and staff is an absolute must to stop the spread of infection and to make your diners feel safe.
Antibacterial hand sanitising stations at the entrance and exits of your venue tells customers that you’re serious about hygiene and don’t cost the earth. You might even consider placing complimentary dispensers on every table too.
And don’t forget the soap dispensers in your toilets. They’ve always needed to be adequately stocked and replenished but especially now!
Surfaces and items that are touched regularly, such as tables, cutlery and menus must be cleaned frequently to prevent the spread of the virus so you’re likely to go through even more cleaning products than usual. Make sure you stock up so that you’re not caught short.
2. Implement contact-free payment
Minimising contact between diners and your staff while still maintaining a top-notch dining experience is going to be one of the major challenges while the coronavirus is still with us.
The points in the customer journey where contact is most likely to occur are during ordering and payment, so finding strategies to maintain 1-metre social distancing during food service is absolutely crucial.
Introducing an electronic point of sale (EPOS) system which supports contactless card payments is one strategy, but this only goes so far as it still requires customers to approach a till or a member of staff to provide a chip and pin terminal. And it doesn’t solve the problem of service staff having to take orders.
At Dines, we’ve developed an entirely contact-free ordering system in collaboration with our restaurant partners which makes the entire customer journey contact-free.
Customers scan a QR code on their table bringing up the menu on their mobile phone. They choose what they want from the menu and pay through the app. Their choices are filtered through to the kitchen who prepare the food which is then served directly to their table, entirely contact-free.
Easy to set up digital solutions like ours help to put customer’s minds at ease by minimising contact between themselves and hospitality staff. And they help restaurants to focus on what they do best, serving up great food that their customers love.
3. Stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE) for your staff
In all the best restaurants it’s the dedicated and passionate staff who make the experience what it is and that hasn’t changed in the post-COVID world.
According to guidance from the Food Standards Agency, PPE includes the obvious stuff like gloves and face masks, but you can also add perspex screens into the equation.
However, it’s not enough to just stock up on protective equipment. Face masks can still carry germs and the COVID-19 virus along with other bacteria can still contaminate gloves as it can human skin. This means gloves must be replaced as often as workers need to wash their hands and should especially be disposed of if employees carry out non-food related activities.
PPE helps employees and members of the public feel safe, but shouldn’t be a replacement for good personal hygiene procedures.
4. Create a COVID-ready cleaning policy
Just as we’ve all been washing our hands a lot more in the last three months, you’re going to be doing a lot more cleaning in your restaurant or pub too.
Of course, hospitality venues have always been held to a high standard when it comes to hygiene and cleaning, so most of this isn’t new. However, the stakes are now a lot higher with the potential for a coronavirus outbreak to completely ruin a venue’s reputation.
Before opening, revisit your cleaning, disinfection and hygiene procedures and remind your employees about their own roles and responsibilities as part of it.
Studies of other coronaviruses have shown that they can live on surfaces for up to 28 days in low temperatures, a horrifying thought when you consider how often your tables and kitchen surfaces are touched on a daily basis.
This means that it is even more important than ever to regularly clean and disinfect surfaces to keep your employees and customers safe, so make sure this is included in your COVID-ready cleaning policy.
One more thing to note: you might be tempted to order new disinfectant cleaning products as an added measure. If you do, the FSA advises that you only use products that have been designated food safe and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions as they may differ from your previous product.
5. Rethink your layout with social distancing in mind
Every restaurant is different and what works for one might not work for another. With an infinite number of layouts, seating arrangements and venue sizes out there, it’s impossible to give a one-size fits all guide to rethinking your layout.
But keeping in mind a few key factors will help you to optimise your layout with 1m social distancing in mind.
UK Government guidance recommends that venues:
Calculate the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing measures within their premises Implement separate entrance and exits where possible Limit the number of customers allowed inside and in particular congestion areas like doorways and walkways Utilise outdoor space, such as car parks, for queueing where available.
These are just some of the strategies that can help to adapt your site to the reality of socially distance dining ready for the 4th July but be flexible. This is all a learning process for everyone, so be ready to adapt it further in the coming weeks and months.
6. Update your social media channels
This is an easy one to forget with everything else you have to consider, but make sure you update your business’ social media accounts.
There’s likely to be huge pent up demand for diners wanting to eat out and socialise with others, but they need to know that you’re open first! An announcement post on your chosen social media platforms is a good start as is providing more information about the measures you’ve put in place to help stop the spread of the virus.
Also, if your opening hours have changed make sure you update those too on platforms like Google. Proactively posting online and giving your customers all the information they need before they visit will make those first opening weeks a lot smoother.
And if you haven’t got round to setting up social media accounts for your business, now would be a great time.
7. Provide take-out or click and collect
Many restaurants have already successfully scaled up their take-out and click and collect services as a way to supplement income during lockdown. If you’re one of them, keep doing it.
If you haven’t then it’s something you should seriously consider. With some estimates anticipating that even at 1m plus distancing, sit-in restaurants and pubs will be lucky to get around 70 per cent of their usual revenues. Take-out and click and collect can go a long way to making up for that lost revenue.
There’s also customer tastes and satisfaction to consider. It’s simply impossible for you to serve the same volume of customers as you have previously and many customers will still be reluctant to sit in even with social distancing measures in place. Having click and collect and take-out options solve both problems.
With Dines, getting a digital click and collect ordering system set up for your restaurant or pubs takes a matter of minutes. Customers are able to access your menu from their home, order and pay, before coming to collect.
8. Plan for queues
Queues have always been a blessing and a curse in the hospitality industry. They’re a sign of popularity and high-demand, but they can also be a source of frustration for customers and lost revenue for restaurants if your diners get sick of waiting.
As we’ve all had to come to terms with in recent months, queues are just a necessary evil when it comes to controlling the spread of coronavirus as they help to control the number of people within shops and public places at any one time.
Restaurants and pubs are now having to grapple with the same logistical challenges as supermarkets and retailers: how to enforce queuing in a way that maintains social distancing without negatively impacting customer experience.
Every restaurant is different, but all will have to think long and hard about their queuing strategy and managing the number of customers at peak periods. Delivery, take-out and click and collect options will help to manage demand and reduce footfall at peak times, but queues are still inevitable at some point.
If you’re lucky enough to have outside space such as a car park, clearly marked lanes for queues with markers to help with distancing can prevent disorderly lines forming. Having a dedicated member of staff to direct people will also reduce the chances of customers getting frustrated.
9. Implement an employee wellbeing system
The management of your workforce is going to take on even greater importance post-lockdown with shift patterns and working groups being helping to minimise mixing and the potential for the virus to spread.
Where possible, you should split your workforce into fixed teams or shift groups, so that any potential contact at work only happens between the same people. How you do this is up to you, but it could include having the same front of house and kitchen staff working together on rotating shifts.
Similarly, staff temperature checks before their shift starts and having a system in place for the sanitary disposal of face coverings will prevent potential infections and keep your employees safe.
The more you look after and support your employees, the happier and more motivated they will be and the better the experience they provide for your customers as a result.
10. Get your staff trained and ready
It’s all well and good implementing all these new processes but if your staff aren’t fully trained in them and aware of why they’re necessary then there is little point in doing them.
Making sure your staff are well drilled on your new ways of operating will not only ensure they’re followed through correctly, but they’ll also put your customer’s minds at ease that you’re a venue they can trust.
Before you open, run through your new processes in detail with your employees. Run them through how an afternoon or evening service might now look in our new social distancing reality and remember to highlight any operational changes that you have implemented.
Re-emphasise the importance of personal hygiene for both your customer-facing and kitchen staff, and take them through any additional hygiene steps or rotations they need to be aware of.
Go through all this as many times as necessary to make it as second nature to them as remembering the daily specials or how to prepare your signature dish.
Make your customers comfortable and they’ll keep coming back
Customers are going to be wary and they’re going to be nervous as the UK slowly emerges out of lockdown.
But by following some of the tips in this article, you can let them know their safe hands and remind them about the great dining experiences that they’ve missed over the last few months.
Keep them happy, make them feel comfortable and, ultimately, they’ll keep coming back for more.