Business tips

8 ways to help your restaurant customers feel safe during COVID-19.

By Ryan Gibbons on
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Virtually overnight, the coronavirus brought the restaurant industry to its knees. As the weeks and months slowly trudge forward, restaurateurs have been forced to either become adaptable and nimble or risk shuttering their operations. If you feel as if your eatery is struggling, there is no time like the present to take as much control as possible over your future.

Become an excellent communicator.

Even before the coronavirus inserted itself into our midst, it was important to cultivate a warm relationship with your customers. Your ability to establish interpersonal bonds (and to ensure that you and your staff answered customer questions and concerns about the foods you sold) no doubt helped to encourage your patrons to come back again, and to recommend you to others. If these skills were important pre-pandemic, they are absolutely essential now.

To that end, stay in touch with your customers on as many levels and platforms as possible. That includes social media, your website, physical signage, and perhaps even via radio and television. Go the extra mile and provide information on your hours, any specials you may be offering, delivery options, locations, and all of the safety precautions you are taking to protect the health and wellbeing of your customers and staff. It also doesn’t hurt to appeal to people’s selfless natures by bringing home the point that local establishments like yours are desperately in need of support from neighbors like them during these unprecedented conditions.

Become a family-friendly resource.

In recent months, many consumers are staying safe by leaving home as seldom as possible. Therefore, they tend to shop in bulk and consolidate all of their errands into a single trip.

As a restaurant owner, you can capitalize on this tendency by offering meal kits that can feed several people. With these family-sized offerings, loyal customers can enjoy their favorite items from your menu safely in their quarantine bubble.

Use social media to demonstrate your commitment.

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s one thing to talk about all of the time and effort you have devoted to promoting customer health and safety. It’s quite another to actually show potential customers what you have done.

Social media sites provide a terrific and affordable mechanism that you can use to highlight your cleanliness, social distancing, and safety features. Combine these videos with genuine customer testimonials, and you will go a long way toward convincing hesitant but hungry customers to step inside your door or walk up to your takeout window.

Clean like your life depends on it.

This is no exaggeration. If your physical site appears messy or dirty, no one will buy your food no matter how delicious it might be. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Wash all surfaces frequently with soap and water, especially those that are touched often. This includes doors, light switches, counters, and bathroom facilities. Remember, soap permeates the oily membrane surrounding the virus and renders it inactive.
  • Provide all staff members with disposable gloves, making sure that they actually use them. This is particularly important for those who come in contact with cash.
  • If you have not already done so, consider offering customers the option of making contactless payments via their smartphones and a near-field communications (NFC) reader.
  • Hire professionals to conduct regular deep cleanings.
  • Advertise your commitment to cleanliness and customer safety on your signage and website, and let customers see the efforts your staff make to keep the entire eating area clean and disinfected.

People who have been locked down in their homes are not just looking to escape their confines; they want to go to a haven where they can pretend, even if only for an hour or two, that life has returned to normal. Going above and beyond to provide them with a clean and happy environment can provide them with just the escape they have been craving.

Revamp your reservations policy and capacity.

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed all aspects of the restaurant business, including customer flow. An establishment that may once have had lines out the door most evenings might now be seeing a handful of patrons during each shift. Whether local or state regulations require it or not, you may want to modify your dining room’s capacity to allow for at least six feet between tables.

In addition, clearly post your reservations policy. Assign one member of your staff per shift to take phone inquiries, and consider waiving your cancellation fee if you had one in the past.

In short, make it as easy as possible for potential customers to overcome any hesitancy they may have in order to dine at your restaurant.

Plan ahead to ensure staff and customer safety, should someone display COVID-19 symptoms.

At some point during the course of the pandemic, your worst nightmare might actually come true. Right in the middle of lunch or dinner, one of your staff or customers may begin to cough or display other symptoms of illness that may or may not turn out to be COVID-related.

Don’t wait until that fateful day to have a plan in place. Everyone involved will feel much better about your eatery if you have taken preventative measures that include the following:

  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks to all staff members.
  • Requiring that customers wear face coverings when not eating or drinking at their tables.
  • Being prepared to offer immediate medical assistance.
  • Thoroughly disinfecting every surface that the ill employee or guest has touched, including tabletops, glasses, plates, and flatware.

Overall, it is important that you deal with the situation quickly and professionally. Be prepared to allay other customers’ concerns, and be sure that all your guests see your efforts to restore and maintain a clean and infection-free environment.

Provide safe options for homebound customers.

No matter how pristinely disinfected you and your staff may keep your restaurant, there is a significant percentage of customers who will remain unwilling to risk eating out. However, that does not mean that they may not still be willing and eager to eat your food. You simply need to do all you can to make that possible.

For many restaurants, that will mean signing up with third-party food delivery services. These companies owe their livelihoods to demonstrating the convenience and safety of the delivery options they provide. As you struggle to remain solvent, it may seem like an unjustifiable expense to give such a high percentage of your meager food sales to one or more of these companies. However, it may be the only way you can maintain your relationship with a sizable number of your loyal customers.

Keep your food safe.

In addition to a spotless physical location, you must also take every step possible to ensure that the food you serve is virus-free. Incorporate the following suggestions into your daily business practice:

  • Send staff members who feel ill home immediately with no threat of punishment. Moreover, make sure that you know the latest information about COVID-19 symptoms and testing resources in your area.
  • Require staff to wash their hands as frequently as possible, including: as soon as they arrive, between orders, after touching shared services, after a break, after handling money or cleaning, and when they leave for the day. Make disposable paper towels and hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content available at the front and back of your eatery.
  • Limit the number of staff members who handle food and the packaging used for delivery.
  • Implement contactless drop-off and payments for your delivery drivers.

When in doubt about the best ways to keep the food items and beverages you sell virus-free, continue to monitor local, state, and federal laws to ensure that you remain in compliance with the latest standards and information about transmission of the virus.

Uncertainties abound in this era of the coronavirus, and entrepreneurs of all types are bearing the brunt of the resulting fear and wariness. Since there is no way to know when the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror once and for all, your best bet as a restaurateur is to do all you can to ensure that your establishment is clean, and that comprehensive preventative protocols are in place. Once this happens, you, your customers, your staff, and your reputation will be properly safeguarded.