The Ultimate Guide to Reopening Your Pub, Restaurant, Bar or Cafe Post-lockdown

We've compiled an ultimate guide to reopening your business post-lockdown to try and bring together the best advice that we have seen for business owners.

1. How has the coronavirus impacted the restaurant industry

Those sporting bedraggled and outgrown hairstyles - reminiscent of Liam Gallagher circa 1995 - were not the only people awaiting Boris Johnson’s latest announcement with bated breath. 

Many businesses across the country tuned into the prime ministerial address on the 23rd of June to hear the fate of their business, livelihoods and futures. For many restaurant and pub owners, it’s been a testing time since the UK was plunged into lockdown precisely three months ago. If you’re in this boat, since that fateful day you might have had to furlough long-serving employees, wave goodbye to loyal customers and regulars, juggle home-schooling whilst processing government advice, all while beadily-eyeing your dwindling bank account.

It is well known that the UK’s £72bn hospitality sector has been one of the most badly affected during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Substantial rent and PAYE bills have been piling up while over almost 80% of workers in the food service industry had been furloughed at the end of April, the highest proportion out of all UK industries.

2. When will UK restaurants and pubs reopen?

So it was a cause for celebration that restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and workplace canteens can now reopen from 4 July 2020. However, despite government advice to reopen, the industry, which employs 3.2 million people, has not quite weathered the storm safely just yet.

Restaurants and pub owners now have the monumental task of navigating the need for social distancing measures with dexterity, whilst still turning a profit. A sea of obstacles abound - shrinking menus and floor space, less staff and intense demand. Customers expect seamless and safe operations to be in place. Meanwhile, alongside many others pub owners and restaurateurs, you’re probably wondering, with tape measure in hand, exactly how to reduce customer numbers by half, increase your hygiene and sanitation measures, without halving your revenue. The good news is, we can help!

How this guide can help

If you formerly ran a packed-out and vivacious bar or restaurant, you might be wondering how to keep your old atmosphere going with spread-eagled tables, hand sanitiser stations and masked servers. Floors emblazoned with black and yellow tape and signs reminding customers of the 2-metre distance regulation are hardly the joyous “welcome back!” you might have been fantasising about.

We also know there’s an abundance of information out there. It’s overwhelming. So much to read, so little time. 

Never fear! Our comprehensive guide on how to reopen your restaurant, café or pub post coronavirus is at-hand to help you flourish and thrive. With everything from what we expect the market will look like, advice on social distancing, cleaning, staffing, finance, sourcing a new menu, right down to the nitty-gritty on grants and property advice, we’re here to help you adjust to the new (ab)normal in a post-COVID world.

3. How has the hospitality industry changed due to coronavirus?

Exactly what the hospitality industry is going to look like as the pandemic continues and once restaurants fully reopen is still being defined. The whole world is in uncharted territory right now so circumstances are constantly changing on a daily basis.

What we can say for certain is that consumer behaviour has changed, definitely in the short-term and possibly forever. Cleanliness and hygiene have rocketed to the top of what customers want to see in a restaurant with 90 per cent of respondents in a survey of US diners identifying hand washing as an “extremely important” measure they want to see in venues.

Reluctant diners will also be a challenge. In a recent YouGov survey, 57 per cent of respondents said they would be uncomfortable visiting restaurants when lockdown is lifted. This rose to 63 per cent for bars and pubs.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Denied their favourite pubs and restaurants, there is going to be significant pent up demand for customers desperate to revisit their favourite eateries and socialise in their neighbourhood local.

i. What do the experts say?

Health experts have been cautious about the prospect of pubs and restaurants reopening with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health warning that ditching the 2m social distancing requirement risks triggering a second wave of the virus.

Experts in the US have advised that customers think carefully about whether or not they should be congregating in public places if they have any symptoms and that they should scan social media for evidence that venues they’d like to visit are complying with hygiene measures and social distancing.

Transmission rates of the virus are thought to be significantly reduced outdoors with Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, stating that “outdoor spaces with high degrees of ventilation” are less problematic for transmission than indoor spaces. Meaning customers are far more likely to feel comfortable dining al fresco than indoor while the virus is still with us.

ii. What does the government say?

As part of a range of measures announced on 23 June to get pubs and restaurants open again, the UK government revised its previous guidance for 2m social distancing to “1m plus”. This means that people should ideally try to maintain a distance of 2m with others but that anything down to 1m is acceptable.

The government has also advised that, where possible, venues should operate table service only and enable contact-free ordering through an app where possible (take a look at our solution if you haven’t got one yet).

Customers should also be encouraged to use hand sanitiser or handwashing stations when they enter a venue, and that operators need to provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene through the use of signs and other visual aids.

iii. How has the hospitality industry around the world changed?

While nobody has a crystal ball, looking at how the hospitality industry has reacted in countries who are several months ahead of the UK, such as China and South Korea, can give clues as to how the industry is going to react here.

In China, demand for outdoor street vendors has boomed as cautious consumers opt for eating outside over dining inside.

Communal dining halls across South Korea have been fitted out with perspex screens and limits on the number of people allowed to sit at tables to help prevent the spread of the virus. While the Korean government has published guidance for restaurants encouraging restaurants to utilise partitions and encouraging diners to spend a minimal amount of time in restaurants.

4. Operations

How do I maintain social distancing in my restaurant or pub?

This is one of the biggest challenges pubs, bars, eateries and restaurants now face. We wish it was as easy as donning pool noodle hats, but alas! Your strategy must encompass keeping customers and staff safe whilst allowing you to perform at your optimum.

We’ve curated the best advice from the UK government as well as initiatives from big industry players. Here are some of our best recommendations for reopening your pub, bar or restaurant:

Allow easy and safe ordering

With the government making table service a prerequisite for restaurants and pubs reopening, providing a safe and contact-free way for diners to order is going to be at the top of your to-do list.

Customers want (and expect) a joyous experience if they’re shelling out. Make it as simple and stress-free as possible.

  • Allow contactless ordering via an app or web browser for click and collect, takeaways and table service to minimise risk and contact time

  • Offer cashless payment only

  • Think about the customer experience with well-mapped out stations and clearly outlined steps for payment and collection

 Increase your hygiene and safety methods

Restaurants and pub operators have always had to be hygiene experts, but especially now in the world of post-COVID dining. Not only do stringent cleaning measures ensure your venue is as hygienic as possible, but it also communicates to customers that you’re serious about their safety.

Our top hygiene and safety tips include:

  • Require staff to wear face masks and gloves at all times

  • Have accessible sanitiser stations

  • Restructure furniture to create appropriate space between diners or patrons of at least 1 metre, but 2 metres if possible

  • Wash, rinse and sanitise food contact surfaces with an EPA-approved food contact surface sanitiser

  • Display clear visuals for safe distances on flooring, using tape or markers

  • Show noticeable and legible social distancing guidance via posters (consider font size and accessibility on signage too) in and outside the venue

  • Avoid handwashing your plates, glassware and cutlery if you can

  • Wash glassware separately from everything else

  • GOV.UK recommend using disinfectants and sanitisers that are effective against bacteria as well as cold and flu viruses

 Develop and carry out a new, thorough risk assessment

If you have fewer than 5 workers, or are self-employed, you don’t have to write anything down as part of your new risk assessment.

However, no matter what your headcount, we’d recommend revisiting your old setup and devising a new risk assessment with increased rigour and focus on disinfection. Get help from HSE with their risk assessment template and examples.

You could also:

Managing your staff

Staff management is about to get even more important post-lockdown with the need to minimise the potential for contact and virus spread between your workers.

To help prevent this, you should:

  • Split your workforce into fixed teams or shift groups

  • Think about setting staggered shifts or allocating a rota of staff mealtimes to minimise the risk of transmission

Managing customers

Forget everything you think you know about customer flow at your restaurant and pub as coronavirus has changed all that. Managing the physical movement of customers through your venue, from the moment they walk through the door to the moment they leave, is going to have to be very carefully considered with social distancing measures to contend with.

Some strategies you can employ include:

  • Consider if you could implement a time restriction for customers who remain at the bar after they’ve ordered and been given their drinks or food

  • Think about routing customers through the venue using directional movement

  • Discourage customers from returning empty glasses to the bar themselves and tell them how tables will be cleared by staff

Maximising space in your revisited floor plan

You’ll need to redesign your space so that customers can be seated one metre apart for social distancing. UK Government guidance recommends that venues: 

  • Calculate the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow the guidelines in your premises

  • Have separate entrance and exits if you can

  • Limit the number of customers allowed inside

  • Try to reduce known congestion areas and tight spots, such as doorways and walkways

  • Make the most of your outdoor space for queuing where possible, for example, car parks

Dealing with food and commodities

By design, restaurants and pubs are communal spaces so shared commodities and items are unavoidable. The good thing is, you will already have policies in place to manage the cleaning and re-use of communal items such as cutlery, condiments, tables and menus. Ramp this up so that cleaning happens regularly (and by regularly we mean after every use!) or replace with single use versions.

Strategies that might prove helpful include:

  • Communal condiments and bottles of sauce should not be left on tables, but if this can’t be avoided then clean shared objects after each use

  • Consider using individually wrapped condiments and sauces on request

  • Cutlery should be taken to the customer with their food, don’t let them help themselves from communal cutlery baskets

  • Encourage table service

  • Reduce unnecessary customer contact with items such as trays, napkins, and menus

  • Avoid multiple-use menus left on tables in favour of single-use menus, ideally use laminated menus or boards displayed in the restaurant that don’t need to be touched

Better yet, allow customers to use an app to place their orders (such as ours!)

5. How can I manage my restaurant’s finances in the context of coronavirus?

With the government-imposed lockdown reducing walk-in revenue for all restaurants to zero for more than a third of the calendar year, every venue in the UK has suffered some form of financial pain.

The bad news is that reopening is only going to claw back some of your former revenues (70 per cent according to some estimates) with social distancing measures and reluctant consumers inevitably hitting your footfall.

The good news is that there are still a number of strategies that you can use to diversify your offering, cut costs and drive sales. Not to mention the help that is already available to operators in the hospitality sector.

The restaurant industry has never been a place for the faint-hearted, with razor-thin margins and high fixed costs, but with a little bit of creativity and planning, you’ll be able to weather the storm and come out stronger in the long-run. 

The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder is an accurate one. Customers are eager to enjoy the tastes of their pre-lockdown life. They are yearning to socialise again, enjoy former haunts and indulge themselves.

Read on for some of our top tips to help you manage your finances in the age of socially distanced drinking and dining.

i. Diversifying your income channels

Restaurants across the country have already shown enormous creativity in diversifying their services in their local markets to maintain revenues throughout lockdown.

One of the most-common has been providing click and collect services for diners through an app or website. Diners select from a restaurant’s menu online, confirm their order and are given a time to come and collect.

Not only does this help to prevent queues building up at restaurants it also provides an option for diners who may be reticent about eating in venues while the pandemic is still with us.

Delivery and takeaway are similar, tried and tested strategies that can also help to boost revenues, especially when you reopen and seating capacity is at a premium.

ii. Menu pricing

With revenues being hit hard and fixed costs not going anywhere, many restaurants will need to look at menu pricing as a way to stay afloat.

The economics of the hospitality industry is going to be seriously stretched by social distancing, even at the current “1 metre plus” guidance, so previous menu pricing may be simply unviable.

Of course, nobody likes forcing price increases on their customers, but in the current circumstances, patrons are going to be sympathetic to the challenges you’re facing and will understand if prices have to change.

It’s not all about price increases either. Small tweaks to your menu, maybe in terms of portion sizes or sides, that allow you to maintain your current price range while reducing the costs for your venue, can have just as big an impact. 

Alternatively, if you’re going to be operating from a reduced menu for the foreseeable, consider grouping your dishes into those that share the most common components and ingredients to help minimise waste.

iii. Juggling your fixed costs

Fixed costs are the easiest thing for restaurants to plan for as they never change. But during the coronavirus pandemic, the very fact that they don’t change has posed one of the biggest problems for operators.

Rent alone, on average, costs restaurants over 10 percent of their revenue and has likely been one of your biggest headaches throughout the pandemic. Other fixed costs include business rates, energy and utility bills, staff costs, operating licenses and insurance, amongst others.

The best thing you can do right now is to make a list of all your fixed costs and when they are due. The last part is especially important as it will help you work out when your financial crunch points are.

Looking at your list, try and work out which ones you can reduce just by making a few changes. Utility bills are especially useful here as small changes in behaviour, such as turning off lights when they’re not needed or lowering your broadband tariff can help to bring your fixed costs down.

iv. Grants and government support

There are already a range of grants and government support available for restaurants who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK government has made a 12-month business rates holiday available for all restaurants, pubs and cafes, which will be applied automatically by your local authority for 2020/21.

If you haven’t already, consider taking advantage of the much-publicised Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly known as the furloughing scheme, which can help to subsidise the cost of wages for staff you might not need at the moment. At the moment, the government will pay 80 per cent of the salary of your furloughed staff but this will begin to taper off from 1 August 2020.

The Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) allows small and medium-sized businesses, including pubs and restaurants, to borrow from £2,000 up to 25 per cent of their revenue up to a maximum of £50,000.

More support is being announced all the time, so keep checking back to this guide for the latest guidance.

v. Getting some property advice

Spaced out tables, separate entrances and exits, queuing plans and no bar service are just some of the headaches you’re likely grappling with right now.

However, eclipsing them all is the continued requirement to pay your rent. As one of the biggest outlays for all pubs and restaurants, rent payments have inevitably been a huge problem for venues who haven’t been able to serve customers for the past three months.

Importance of communication

Communication is always the best approach so, If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to talk to your landlord. Whether they’re a big institutional landlord or an independent, the majority won’t want to see a valued tenant struggle.

Rent reductions or payment holidays

Options including temporary rent reductions or payment holidays have already been employed to support venues who are struggling. By opening lines of communication with your landlord and keeping them updated about your circumstances, you stand a better chance of weathering the storm together.

Lease forfeiture moratorium

To further the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, the government introduced a rent protection period for commercial tenants as part of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The measure prevents landlords from repossessing premises if they’re unable to keep up with their rent payments with bars and restaurants covered as part of the scheme.

While originally due to expire on 30 June, the government extended the so-called ‘lease forfeiture moratorium’ until 30 September, giving operators more time to get revenues flowing again.

It’s worth noting that the moratorium doesn’t absolve you from your rental payments, and that any missed payments will still be due in the future. The key thing here is, as always, communication. Work with your landlord to come to an agreement about what you’re able to pay and when Plan to revisit this every couple of months and be prepared for the scheme closing at the end of September.

vi. Discounts and transaction fees

Earlier we looked at revisiting your menu prices but it doesn’t have to just be focused on upward pressure. Smart discounting and offers can also play an important part of your financial strategy and are particularly effective in the era of social distancing for two reasons.

Firstly, as the economic impact of coronavirus really begins to bite consumers are going to be particularly price-conscious. Offers and discounts will help to broaden your appeal to those customers who have seen their incomes fall.

Secondly, smart discounting targeted at specific downtimes, such as mid-afternoon or weekdays, can help to increase revenues during traditionally off-peak periods. And with social distancing now in play, clever discounting can help to spread your customers throughout the day, reducing the chance of long queues developing at peak times.

6. How can I market to my customers effectively during the coronavirus pandemic?

The hospitality sector has always been an enormously competitive space with the battle to be seen and heard a never-ending challenge, even for the best venues.

This hasn’t changed due to coronavirus, but with revenues and customer preferences adapting, the need to get customers through the door and make sure they keep returning has never been more important.

Restaurateurs and pub operators know how to provide a great experience for their customers and that alone will help to keep patrons coming back for more. But getting them through the door in the first place is the first hurdle and that all comes down to communication.

In this day and age, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, along with Google are a key channel for you to communicate with your customers. In the current circumstances, they’re even more crucial than ever to let people know you’re open for business.

Whether you’re already set up on social media or not, here are some of our top tips on how to communicate with your customers and let them know you’re ready for business.

i. How to communicate effectively with your customers

Effective use of social media to communicate with customers and potential customers doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Following a few simple guidelines will let people know that you’re open for business and inform them of anything that has changed.

A couple of things you should do right now:

  • If you haven’t already, claim your Business Profile on Google

  • Claim your business page on Facebook or create one if it doesn’t exist

  • Update your opening times on Google and Facebook

  • Include any additional information such as cuisine and venue style.

Once you have up to date Google and Facebook information, you can then start communicating with your customers using your profiles.

Posts explaining your plans for opening and any changes you’ve made are a good start, as are photos and images of your new layout and coronavirus measures. Providing as much information before customers even get to your venue can go a long way to reducing stress and reducing confusion.

ii. Remarketing and opening offers

Getting people coming back for more is going to be vital for restaurants looking to thrive under the new measures and the best way to do this is to encourage loyalty amongst your most committed fans.

You might have heard the term remarketing before, but if you haven’t it means exactly what it sounds like it means—keeping front of mind with your customers by repeatedly marketing to them with promotions and offers.

If you have built up a following on social media you can easily do this through channels like Facebook or Instagram by offering exclusive offers and discounts to your followers.

An app or digital solution, such as ours, can also be a great platform to target repeat customers with marketing materials and offers to keep them coming back for more.

7. Advice in summary

All the advice and guidance available might seem overwhelming but really it all boils down to four core points of guidance that should define everything you do.

1. Put safety first

You owe it to yourself, your staff and your customers to put safety first. Many customers have expressed discomfort about putting themselves in situations where close contact with others may be required. So you must ask yourself – what can I do to make my customers feel safe in the post-coronavirus landscape? How can I make this a stress-free, safe and pleasurable experience? If you’ve clearly gone out of your way to put your guests at ease and feel as though they’re in safe hands, they’ll thank you for it and return your kindness with future custom.

2. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket – diversify your revenue

The businesses that will survive, and even thrive post-pandemic, are those willing to adapt where needed. We’re not advocating changing cuisine or dining style overnight, but suggesting you reflect on other means you can utilise to ramp up profit. For example, Zaap Thai restaurants followed suit of many other food giants, offering click and collections and deliveries. For those outside of their catchment areas though, they cleverly pivoted to launch a brand new range of Thai ready meals and starter packs. Ask yourself: what else can I do to pad out my revenue? Consider ready meals options - excellent for a population working from home en-masse, offering your customers home deliveries, or selling off any stock or pantry items you have. 

3. Adapt your menu offering

Adapting, adjusting and tweaking is what all operators do. Your customer’s tastes have changed and the economics have changed, so you need to adapt your menu accordingly. This might mean sourcing new dishes and revisiting your prices, or it could mean thinking cleverly about discounts and offers. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to be creative and think outside the box.

4. Communicate clearly

Customers need to know you’re open and ready for business, let them know by shouting about it on social media. You’ll have new hygiene measures and services in place, let them know about it before they come down to your venue so that they know you mean business.