How Do We Dine 6 Feet Apart?

How Do We Dine 6 Feet Apart?

Restaurants are planning their reopening and reinventing the dining scene.

As restaurants plan their reopening, they are learning about new safety protocols, finding out how Asian restaurants adapted, and developing new guidelines on their own. The challenges abound as restaurateurs have to create a safe and inviting environment while discarding features that used to attract diners. The reopening process will be gradual, and its success uncertain. It does not appear to be an opportunity to start from scratch but rather to build on a good reputation developed before the crisis.

Video Spotlight: Reopening Restaurants with Caution

This post is based on The New York Times article, Safe Dining? Hard to Imagine, but Many Restaurants Are Trying, by K. Severson, April 26, 2020, and the YouTube video, Reopen or Stay Closed: Georgia Restaurants Face a Hard Choice, by The Washington Post, April 27, 2020. Image source: Onoky/SuperStock.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the challenges that restaurateurs face as they decide to reopen?

Guidance: The challenges involve modifying their operations in the face of uncertainty. They include: 1) predicting demand and determining appropriate inventory levels, 2) creating checklists for cleaning and food preparation, 3) eliminating some signature items on the menu (e.g. salad bars), 4) printing disposable menus, 5) projecting courtesy and friendliness even with a mask on, 6) creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere with tables far apart and few guests, 7) providing silverware in protective coverings, 8) screening asymptomatic employees and customers, 9) offering ample space for customers willing to wait for available seating, 10) breaking even, etc.

2. What do you think of the safety protocols that are currently in place to help restaurants reopen?

Guidance: According to the article, there are official guidelines, but very little standardization within and across states. Restaurateurs are trying to fill the gaps with the creation of their own best practices manual. The uncertainty about protocols and lack of standardization may affect public trust. In the end, the burden will be on restaurateurs to inform customers about the safety measures they have adopted, build upon their prior safety records to re-attract customers, and impose strict rules on their staff, their customers, and themselves.

3. How would you redesign menus to attract customers and allow for safety in the kitchen at the same time?

Guidance: When restaurants reopen, there will be few diners, and inventories of perishable foods should be limited. This can be a challenge because most people eating out demand some variety. Limiting the number of items on a menu over a long period of time is unlikely to attract either repeat or new customers. However, offering a limited menu for a short period of time (e.g. 3 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 3 desserts for 3 consecutive days) and then change it for another short period of time will create variety and attract customers while limiting inventory levels of perishable items. Moreover, the temporary “standardization” of menus will enable the configuration of safe spaces in the kitchen with fewer human resources dedicated to stations and fewer interactions. If the kitchen is very small, only minimal dining service should be offered.

4. Should the layouts of both kitchens and dining areas be reconfigured? If so, how? If not, why not?

Guidance:  Layouts are difficult and expensive to change. During this transitional and uncertain period of reopening, restaurateurs may not want to invest much in layout redesign. Kitchen equipment, in particular, cannot be moved easily. However, due to lower demand and limited seating capacity, it is expected that fewer cooks will be needed in the kitchen, thereby creating more opportunities for physical distancing, at least at the beginning. In dining areas, social distancing (50% capacity, tables far apart, plexiglass dividers, taped off areas, no more than 6 people at a table) as well as frequent sanitization, masks, gloves, etc. will be required to gain customers’ trust. Yet, we all know that crowded restaurants draw in more customers. Filling unused dining space with plants and other decorative items may create the illusion of a “full” restaurant and therefore attract more customers and generate revenue.


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