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Restaurant Reopening Design Strategies

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February 11, 2022

Restaurant owners have been juggling the ups and downs of COVID dining restrictions and capacity limits while still trying to make a profit and keep everyone safe. As establishments start to open up their dining rooms and welcome more customers, it’s crucial to have a design strategy that is hospitable, safe, and efficient. If you’re looking for tips to help with your post-pandemic restaurant design, read on for all the details.

Why Restaurant Design For Reopening Is Important

COVID-19 has impacted the restaurant industry and customer dining experiences in many ways. Restaurants have expanded takeout & delivery, adopted more technology, and have dealt with staffing challenges all in an effort to enhance the customer experience. While restaurateurs and consumers are eager to get back to dining out, it’s crucial to make sure you have a plan in place to make the restaurant experience both enjoyable and safe. There are multiple design strategies for restaurants during COVID-19. Here are just a few elements to consider when fashioning layout changes.

Social Distancing Restaurant Design

Because  of the pandemic, restaurants are limiting their seating capacity and are adhering to social distancing guidelines. As establishments have been allowed to open up and increase guest numbers, owners are still exploring strategic, socially distanced dining. Eric Robinson, of RODE Architects, recommends a few standard practices when formulating dining room layouts in a post-pandemic world:

  • Always allow for extra room for guests and servers to move freely. When sticking to the 6’ rule for seating, plan for a little more space so that servers can easily access tables and guests have a bit of room to move to and from their tables.
  • If you plan on a build-out, incorporate adaptability in your design, like modulator or removable walls to increase airflow. 
  • Create an open restaurant design to also allow more flexibility in seating and service arrangements.
How Can Restaurants Implement Social Distancing

Explore Outdoor Dining Options

Adapting indoor spaces to maximize physical distancing isn’t feasible for every restaurant. If that’s the case, consider expanding your outdoor seating capacity. Patios are great for many restaurants  and outdoor dining is less risky in general than indoor dining. If you have patio space, think about ways to improve pathways, spread tables out, and even set up outside pick-up windows and self-serve bussing stations. 

Don’t have much patio space? Get creative. Many restaurants have had success with sidewalk seating. Others have repurposed their parking lots for al fresco dining. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Rooftops, alleyways, even part of the street can be savvy ways to expand your outdoor space. Make sure to check with your county regulations.

Rethinking Back-of-House and Service Areas

Keeping your staff safe is just as crucial as keeping your guests safe. While chefs, prep cooks, and servers worked closely together pre-pandemic, it’s time to rethink prep and service areas during COVID. Not only will you reduce the number of contact points, but you may also be able to improve your overall efficiency:

  • Create separate entrances for guests and staff. It’s also a good idea to have a sanitation station at the employee entrance. 
  • Assign a clean and sanitized special entrance for all deliveries and takeout.
  • Stagger workstations, in both the kitchen and service areas. Also, divide break times up to have fewer employees in break rooms simultaneously. 
  • Streamline your exchange areas. If possible, have a separate staging area for food and drinks. 
  • To minimize interactions, and increase efficiency, develop distinct paths going from the kitchen with food, and return to the kitchen with dirty items.

Design with Your Customer in Mind

No matter how you choose to reconfigure your restaurant, be it self-serve kiosks, limiting congregation areas, or having designated guest entrances, always communicate with your customers. Clear signage is a great way to inform your diners what is expected of them and let them know the lengths you are going to keep them safe. The same goes for your employees and vendors.

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