How to Safely Re-open Your Restaurant


As restauratns around the state begin plans for reopening, there are many concerns about how owners can keep staff and customers safe and happy.  We want to be here for you to offer some solutions and ideas that may help put you on top so that your customers can return knowing they will be taken care of.  After all, they want to support you and want to feel safe while doing so.*

While we have yet to find out the specifics on what will be required, it is safe to assume that the following criteria will come into play.

Social Distancing inside Restaurants

We have been hearing it for months: we must do our best to maintain a safe distance of 6 feet between individuals.  What does this mean for dinner parties, where we have more than 2 or 3 people to a table?  Let’s explore some ideas using the basic principle of all good design: Space Planning.

When space planning a restaurant, there is already a certain amount of fluid space, or circulation space factored into the overall plan or table layout.  We need to plan for people pulling their chair out in order to sit down, while someone may be walking by for example.  But in this new world where we are looking to ensure we maintain six feet of seperation, we need to understand that this means we need MORE than six feet between seats from one table to the next.  Why more? Because we have to assume that each person uses about 2 feet of curculation space, simply to get in/out of their seat.  It would be safest to assume an additional 2 feet of space per table, so theoretically you would have 8-10 feet total from the back of one chair to the back of the chair in another dinner party. Is this even realistic? If not we are going to need to design creatively to ensure that we can protect each table in one way or another. This could be an opportunity for a design twist!

What are we going to do with all that extra space?

We’ve all been there.  Walking down a street looking for a cool new spot to dine.  For the most part we are drawn to the restaurant that is bustling full of noise over the space that is sitting only one dinner party.  They say the most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty table.  If we are looking at decreasing the number of tables by at least 60 percent or blocking tables from being in contact in order accomplish safe practices, then we need to make sure we don’t decrease the curb-appeal.  Perhaps there is a creative way we can make this new negative space look intentional so that the restaurant doesn’t seem so empty?  Decorative screens, greenery, hanging panels, etc. these are all ways that we could enhance the quality of the space, add a little design flair, and make this space feel a bit more like it is part of the mood.  When thoughtfully designed, this could be an enhancement rather than looking like it was put up in desperation.

Restaurant Workflow with Social Distancing

All the restaurant owners I know have more than just their patrons to take into consideration.  They want to have their staff back, but also ensure that they can do their best to keep staff as safe as can be expected. I’ve worked in a restaurant before and I know there is a very delicate dance that takes place in the back of the house.  When that dinner rush comes, everyone is moving and grooving, and there isn’t much space to work.  Now that we are reducing our number of tables it may be a bit easier to flow as your staff will be moving at a slightly slower pace, but we may need to take a look at how the back of the house is set up to see if there are some creative ways to plan the prep space, line, and expo so that people can maintain a safe distance.  The solution here will come down to a unique plan for each restaurant as no two spaces are the same.

Waitstaff Workflow with Social Distancing

Your servers are the face of your business and they will help your cusomers feel at ease.  We need to design logical workflow that makes them feel safe.  Perhaps we decide that your restaurant is now a “one way street” for service staff, to prevent waitstaff from running into one another.  Or perhaps with fewer tables on the floor, you will be able to operate with only a few servers and we can designate seperate stations for each of them.  There may be unique features about your restaurant that we can use to our advantage in desinging a new workflow for your staff.

Health & Cleanliness in Restaurants

As part of reopening we are going to need to ensure that there are extra measures taken to keep peoples hands clean.  We can work to design logical points for “sanitization stations,” and while we are at it let’s go ahead and make them look good.  There is nothing romantic or exotic about a jumbo bottle of hand sanitizer strapped to the wall.  We can design a nice looking display, or even a clever fixture to hide the labels from your guests, all while keeping with the theme of your restaurant.  

Ready for help?

Send us a note or give us a call we have a new service ready for our fabulous restaurant owners!  Our restaurant re-opening planning session is designed to get you a plan in 2 hours or less! You can implement on your own, or we can tell you how we can help implement for you.  

Megan Thompson

Principal | Associate IIDA

*As I write this, I understand that information is changing by the hour in some cases.  As of now there are not complete reccommended or required applications for addressing safety inside of a restaurant.  I also understand and respect that not everyone is in favor of reopening and going back out in public.  My aim here is to help those business that are able to and want to open so that they can optimize the safety of all patrons and staff.  Refer to your local health department and jurisdiction for complete guidelines.

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