States, towns and cities across the country are giving the green light for restaurant outdoor seating as coronavirus numbers dwindle. But before you take the plunge and convert your patio into a full-service restaurant, you need to prepare for a new set of risks.

According to The Simple Dollar, the average American household spends $8.64 on food at restaurants a day—only slightly under the $11.09 spent on groceries. Needless to say, Americans are eager to get back to the routine of dining out. If your restaurant has been fully or partially closed due to restrictions, chances are you’re eager to get back to it, too.

It’s important to take the right precautions to prevent additional transmissions by keeping your employees and customers safe. By maintaining a lower risk level, you not only help the community contain the virus, but also encourage return customers. These tips for restaurants with outdoor seating can help you create a safe—but comfortable—environment.

8 Outdoor Restaurant Seating Ideas and Tips for Your Restaurant

1. Research and Follow Local COVID-19 Rules About Restaurant Outdoor Seating

Washington was the first epicenter of the breakout in the U.S., before the virus hit NYC. Now, numbers are rising in Florida. Before breaking out the umbrellas, be sure to research new rules and regulations in your area.

There are best practices, but there are no universal rules when it comes to restaurant outdoor seating. Because the situation is fluid and changes daily, you need to be sure your restaurant is fully up-to-date on any recent developments.

2. Require Employees and Customers to Social Distance Through Seating Plans

It’s no secret by now that social distancing is key to reducing transmission and interacting safely. You can situate tables and restaurant outdoor furniture to limit face-to-face interactions.

At the minimum, tables should be six feet apart from each other, if not much more. It may not be possible to put tables 20 feet apart in NYC, but any additional measures can be helpful.

Your seating plans should also take into account that people dining together may not be part of the same household. When possible, try to provide larger tables so that customers can keep a social distance while eating (even if it’s only four feet).

Unfortunately, bulk seating—where diners mingle, rather than sitting by party—is off the table.

If you’re not properly equipped to host people eating outside, then consider exploring outdoor restaurant patio designs—it may prove to be a lucrative investment as the quarantine goes on.,

3. Screen Employees Before Each Shift

Your restaurant can reduce the chances for outdoor seating by operating outside. But if you’re not properly vetting your employees before each shift, then you’re not going the full mile.

Before cooks, servers, bartenders and anyone else working at your restaurant comes in, be sure to ask a few questions.

Inquire if they’ve had any coronavirus-related symptoms, like a fever or cough. Also, ask if they’ve had contact with anyone with a known case of COVID-19. Finally, be sure to conduct a temperature check.

If anything seems amiss, send the employee home, or better yet, ask them to not come in.

You can find a full list of required procedures by state here. This list includes rules for major cities, like:

  • NYC
  • Chicago
  • DC
  • Seattle
  • Portland
  • Pittsburgh

Nonetheless, be sure to research local guidelines for precise rules.

4. Disinfect and Sanitize Furniture and Other Spaces

Naturally, cleaning should become a main priority. Be sure to communicate this to your staff.

In the kitchen, ensure that all surfaces, appliances, equipment and everything else is thoroughly cleaned. Between meals, thoroughly clean all tables and seats. Check the bathroom to make sure that it’s fully stocked with soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and other necessary materials.

Cleaning is a team effort, so take the time to develop a system for how to do this thoroughly and effectively.

5. Clearly Establish a Face Mask Policy

Restaurant outdoor seating is a major step forward, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon other precautions.

Face masks can go a long way in reducing the risk of transmissions, and they can be part of your outdoor dining banquette seating plan without destroying the experience.

Customers should wear a mask during moments of contact with those outside their party. This includes before being seated, while leaving, during any trips to the bathroom inside, and potentially, while ordering.

Before creating this policy, be sure to research any local regulations.

6. Start Using Single Use Menus, Condiments, Sauces and Other Frequently Touched Items

Respiratory droplets are a larger risk than contaminated surfaces, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Instead of reusable salt and pepper shakers, ketchup bottles, butter trays and other typically shared items, start using disposable alternatives.

Condiment packets prevent customers from touching a potentially contaminated dispenser. Rather than distributing laminated menus, print them on paper, or put everything online.

Think carefully to consider anything that, under normal conditions, would circulate.

7. Don’t Forget About Your Staff

Your customers’ safety is paramount, but be sure to accommodate your staff.

If you can, provide a space specifically for staff to take a break. To prevent further contamination, make it clear that sharing food and/or drinks isn’t an option at the moment.

As you go on, listen to your staff about other needs and suggestions that can help them feel more comfortable and safe.

8. Tell Everyone What You’re Doing

Taking precautions is great, but to see the full impact, you need to communicate that information clearly.

Share what you’re doing on your website, social media accounts, printed posters, and more!

In addition to helping customers feel safer and more secure, this information may also prove to be great marketing during a time where safety matters most.

Get the Funding You Need to Grow Your Restaurant

As the past few months have shown us, the small businesses of America are resilient—you can make it through this. When you need funding to grow your restaurant, we’re here to help.

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