As COVID cases begin to rise, many businesses are preparing for a second restaurant shutdown. Studies have shown that indoor dining can contribute greatly to the spread of COVID-19, because even if patrons are practicing social distancing, they aren't able to wear their masks for the whole meal in order to eat their food. Customers who are willing to risk indoor dining also seem to be more liberal with their safety choices, making them the exact demographic that can spread the disease and increase the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The restaurant industry has never had to worry about what kind of HVAC system they have until now. Even with small gatherings of people inside establishments, poor air circulation—which is regulated by this system—can contribute to the spread of the virus, since it's airborne. There's not enough information to know exactly how long the virus can linger in their air, so the safest way to handle this public health crisis is to shut down the dining rooms of restaurateurs.
Shutting down may greatly impact the country or state as a whole, but it puts restaurant owners in a tight spot. Closures may even feel like personal attacks, but rest assured, places like the Ohio Restaurant Association and public organizers like Washington's Gov. Jay Inslee and New York's Mayor de Blasio are just trying to keep their citizens safe. Before official calls are made to shut down the indoor dining aspect of the restaurant business, make sure you're taking steps as a business owner to prepare. Here are what others in the industry are doing to keep their businesses afloat in the case of a second restaurant shutdown.
Make room for outdoor dining
Even though you may not be able to have customers dine indoors, outdoor dining may still be on the table, depending on the strictness of restrictions in your state or city. In the hopes that their establishment will still be able to serve customers outdoors, restaurants are doing everything in their power to have the space available to serve in a patio style.
Depending on where your business is located, you may need special permission from the city in order to use the sidewalk or courtyard space. If you're a small business that's renting, you may also need additional permission from your landlords. Make sure you have the go-ahead before buying outdoor furniture for this venture. You don't want an unexpected lawsuit over something as silly as where your property starts and ends.
Weatherproof your new space
Unfortunately, the summer and fall months have come to an end making outdoor dining much more difficult. In any regular year, diners wouldn't even consider eating on a patio in less than ideal weather. However, people are so desperate to have some semblance of normalcy—and to not have to cook seven days a week—that they'll be willing to brave the elements within reason.
Once you've got permission to use the outdoor space, it's time to invest in more than tables and chairs. You'll need a way to keep diners warm, so investing in heat lamps is going to be important. Don't forget to stock up on propane tanks.
If you're using these kinds of lamps in an enclosed outdoor patio, read all of the safety guidelines. To be extra cautious, talk to the manufacturers to ensure that it's safe to use if it's enclosed by a tent. You'll be able to describe your space in detail and get a better idea of the risk that comes with using heating lamps.
Many restaurants have purchased outdoor igloos to keep customers dry. The jury seems to still be out on whether they're a good alternative during COVID because the air circulation inside might not actually be as good as originally thought. The call is yours. Do your research and see how you can sanitize those spaces to the best of your ability.
Be ready to do just takeout and delivery
With the holidays around the corner, many people aren't going to be following personal guidelines about gatherings. This may cause a serious rise in cases and shut down all dining areas. If that's the case, you need to make sure you're ready to only take online orders.
First, make sure you have enough to-go containers to support all of your orders. This number doesn't just include your takeout orders. Add up how many orders you fulfill overall, and buy the appropriate containers based on that number.
Next, make sure you're able to manage all of your online ordering systems. If you have different tablets for every delivery service, consider investing in a system, like Cuboh to keep everything together, so you don't miss a single order.
Your business may handle some delivery in house. If that's the case, make sure you've hired the amount of drivers necessary to make deliveries in a timely manner. See if any of your serving staff is willing/has the resources to switch to be delivery drivers if needed. That way you won't need to make new hires and can help the staff you already have.
Take stock of your PPE
Although your staff already needs to be wearing at least a mask, make sure you have enough disposable masks, face shields, and whatever other items of PPE you're using to last you a while. People and businesses overreact when there are closures. It's not a bad idea to have some extra supplies on hand in the case of shortages. If a shortage is occuring, don't contribute to it, but in the time leading up to closures, plan ahead responsibly if you can.
The good news is that there seems to be the possibility of a widespread vaccine in the months to come. That being said, it'll take time to roll it out to the whole population. Until the country's COVID cases decrease considerably, a shutdown seems very possible. Set up your outdoor dining area, prepare for an influx of delivery orders, and do what you can to protect your staff. This won't last forever. Plan ahead and then take it a day at a time.