Regardless of which US state you live in, Americans are starting to see an evolution as more businesses slowly reopen during this latter phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
No one can deny that the face of retail has changed since late February. Certain retailers were obligated to completely shut down due to their “non-essential” status. Others were challenged to radically modify their operations to accommodate social distancing orders. The restaurant industry was hit particularly hard due to the unfathomable contagion rate. Dining-in was quickly eliminated and only restaurants who could organize and execute curbside pickup, if not drive-thru, remained in business.
But eating-out-only isn’t going to remain in effect forever. As of the writing of this article, several US states have begun initial phases to reopen. Restaurants now have the opportunity to either resume dine-in service or they can at least begin to make a strategic game plan for how they will reopen when the time comes.
As a restaurant owner, have you begun to consider how you will restructure your operations to accommodate a safe reopening plan that includes dine-in service?
By now, you’re probably just as annoyed as we are to hear the term “new normal”, but the fact of the matter is that when you do reopen your restaurant for dining-in, your operations won’t resemble what they once had before the pandemic outbreak. The customer and employee experience at your restaurant will be vastly different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Consider the fast-food giant, McDonald’s—as one of the most popular dine-in, drive-thru, & take-out restaurants in the world, McDonald’s has rolled out brand-new operational plans to keep both customers and employees safe during its reopening phases. Several new safety standards that will be implemented in the dine-in restaurant are designed to protect customers and workers from the spread of the virus. Let’s take an in-depth look at these measures, their pros & cons, and analyze whether taking similar precautions could benefit your restaurant in both the short and long term.
STRATEGICALLY ROPE-OFF SOME SEATING & TABLES
Whether we appreciate it or not, social distancing is here to stay… at least for the foreseeable future as all the “curves” and “waves” scientists have been talking about come and go—and come and go, again.
You’ve probably noticed this yourself, especially whenever you’ve visited grocery stores and pharmacies, that essential retailers have placed markers on the floor to help keep customers spread out at least six-feet. But in those stores, customers remain standing. In your restaurant, customers will stand, and they will also sit.
You can easily help your dine-in customers maintain a six-foot separation between parties by roping off every other table, just like McDonald’s is doing. When eating inside one of these fast-food restaurants, employees will deliver food to their customers’ tables in a double-folded bag, rather than allow those customers to cluster around the counter as they wait for their orders.
If you implement this strategy at your restaurant, the pros are obvious. You will keep customers socially distanced. The consequences are probably equally obvious. By cutting your in-door seating in half, you run the risk of frustrating half of your customers. Yes, you are likely going to run out of seating. What will this mean for customers who had hoped to dine-in? They won’t have much choice about having to return outside, and this is a real and present con.
CLEAN FREQUENTLY BUT NON-INTRUSIVELY
Another aggressive tactic that McDonald’s is planning to employ throughout its reopening of dine-in service is to clean its restaurant much more frequently. The fast-food restaurant will assign a team of employees to wipe down tables as soon as customers leave so that the area is freshly disinfected for the next party to sit and eat.
As an extension of this new routine, McDonald’s has decided to keep Play Places, the children’s indoor playground closed, as well as modify its “beverage procedure”. If you haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in awhile, let us refresh your memory. While food orders are prepared in the kitchen and handed to customers across the counter, employees of dine-in service never fill beverages. Instead, customers are handed an empty disposable cup in the size they requested, and they fill their own cup at the soda dispensers themselves.
Prior to COVID-19, organizing beverages in this manner was smart. It freed up the employees and also allowed customers to get their sodas “just right”. Some people like a lot of ice, others don’t like any, and by enabling customers to serve beverages themselves everyone was happy. But those beverage dispensers were not designed with social distancing in mind.
The modification? Employees will now fill beverage orders along with food orders. This way, employees can frequently wipe-down the beverage stations along with the rest of the restaurant. There’s one very important caveat to keep in mind, however, if you implement the same frequent cleaning schedule. No one wants to “taste” pungent cleaning odors while they’re eating their meals. Now is the time to consider faint-smelling and perhaps “all natural” cleaning products that won’t interfere—and overpower—your dine-in customers.
DISPLAY SIGNAGE TO STAY ORGANIZED
The US president of McDonald’s, Joe Erlinger, recently said in a public statement, “As our daily routines continue to evolve, we remain committed to safely serving you and our local neighborhoods around the country. We look forward to welcoming you back into our dining rooms, when the timing is right and with these extra precautions in place.”
Another critical aspect of McDonald’s new procedures that will apply to all 14,000 locations across the country? In-store signage.
By displaying in-store signage, McDonald’s will be able to “free up” employees to concentrate on performing their duties both behind the counter and in the restaurant. Workers won’t have to verbally remind customers to stand six-feet apart, nor will they have to personally direct dine-in customers to the next available, and freshly disinfected, table.
We’re here to tell you, however, that not all signage is created equal. Static, printed signs come at a recurring expense and most customers these days are blind to them. If you’re going to implement brand-new “social distancing” signage in your dine-in restaurant, we strongly recommend that you invest in digital signage. It will ultimately save you a great deal of money in the long run. Plus, in the short-run, it will keep your restaurant organized. But how?
OVERSEE AND CONTROL NEW CAPACITY RESTRICTIONS
Displaying street & entrance facing digital signage can greatly help your restaurant stay within new capacity regulations without straining your employees. At least for a period, you may only be permitted to allow 50% occupancy in your restaurant, but who is going to be in charge of making sure you stay within regulations? With outward facing digital signage that displays a “capacity counter”, you will be able to easily organize the inflow of customers entering your restaurant. Simply work within the cloud-based dashboard of your digital signage software to program your outward facing digital screen to display a capacity percentage bar that relates to activity at the counter. While this isn’t an exact science, it can aid in organizing a line outside—if there are too many customers during peak hours—and welcoming customers into the restaurant one party at a time in the appropriate timing.
KEEP COUNTER-LINE CUSTOMERS SOCIALLY DISTANCED AND MOVING
It’s quite possible that you’re already using digital signage behind the counter of your restaurant to display menu items and meal deals. Or, depending on the style of restaurant you own, your dine-in service might be strictly table service with waitstaff to accommodate guests. Either way, implementing new digital signage at the counter or in the hostess area can greatly help your employees to maintain social distancing among customers while keeping them aware of any wait-times. You can also intermittently display informative facts about the benefits of social distancing and other scientific tidbits of interest to your customers. The trick is to implement digital signage to both entertain customers and maintain new rules and regulations at your restaurant.
ALLOCATE DINE-IN TIMECLOCKS ON OCCUPIED TABLES FOR FASTER TURN-OVER
This last tip might not be for everyone. Of course, customers rarely appreciate being rushed through the dine-in experience. However, the pros outweigh the cons this time if we are to continue to give credence to the importance of keeping in-door capacity low while also serving as many customers as we can. By displaying a digital signage screen at those tables which remain open for seating, as opposed to those you’ve roped off or taken out of your restaurant altogether, you can show countdown clocks—non-intrusively, of course—that are intermittently shown along with other digital signage images. If you make your dine-in customers aware that the restaurant’s indoor service has a time limit of one hour, thirty minutes, etc. in order to accommodate customers while also keeping lawful, they will most likely be very understanding. After being quarantined for so many months, the general public will be extremely happy to just be able to sit in a restaurant! You’ll be surprised at how flexible they’re willing to be! Digital signage can aid in this specific effort so that your waitstaff and employees don’t have to be the “bad guys” by reminding customers that they time is almost up. This particular use of digital signage hopefully won’t have to remain indefinitely, but later down the road, once you retract the table timeclocks, you can replace that display with other, more relevant images that enhance your customers’ dine-in experience.
FasTrax Digital Signage can help your restaurant transition smoothly during COVID-19 reopening strategies, and make you stand out on the block. Our specialists are ready and able to demonstrate how FasTrax Digital Signage can transform your restaurant into an interactive experience that organizes and engages customers as they become acquainted with your new dine-in rules.