With states slowly lifting restrictions on restaurants, some trends are emerging that give us a hint at what most dining rooms will look like going forward.
Some of these guidelines, like those around dining room occupancy and the banning of buffets, are what we expected. Others, like Washington State’s requirement that restaurants keep logs of customers’ names and contact info, took me by surprise and might also be harder to enforce. And still others, like California, are putting a different spin on some of the standard guidelines (more below).
For pretty much everyone, increased sanitation procedures, the wearing of face masks, and mandatory temperature checks for staff will be required for restaurants moving forward. Social distancing measures in the dining room will be the norm, too, and a number of operational changes are recommended by different states for keeping space between people.
Here’s a quick rundown of some common trends we’re seeing across states that have reopened or are planning to in the near future:
Reduced occupancy. Gone are the days of crammed dining rooms and trying to pack and turn as many tables as possible. Some states, like Indiana, are requiring restaurants to open at 50 percent reduced capacity. For others, that number is as low as 25 percent. California, in particular, hasn’t designated a specific percentage, but will instead determine each individual restaurant’s occupancy “based on its size.”
Reduced party sizes. Planning to celebrate your birthday with a big group of friends at your favorite restaurant? You can’t. Most states are restricting the size of dining parties to less than 10 people (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia), and in more cases (Mississippi, New Hampshire) six or fewer. For those who want to dine with 15 of their closest friends, you may have to go virtual for the foreseeable future.
No bars. Very few states have announced any guidance around reopening bars, and many have gone as far as to say that bar areas of restaurants must remain closed for now. However, some states, like New Hampshire, are allowing temporary delivery of alcohol when it’s ordered with delivery or takeout meals. Texans, in particular, are hoping this trend continues forever.
Prioritize to-go orders. “Where practicable, take-out and curbside pick-up services should be prioritized over dine-in services,” reads Georgia’s restaurant reopening guidelines. Arizona’s (rather loose) guidelines note that restaurants should “Continue to provide options for delivery or curbside service even if a location offers dine-in.” Most other states’ guidelines have some language around encouraging takeout, delivery, curbside, and drive-thru orders. That makes the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 prediction of off-premises driving the bulk of restaurant sales in future more relevant than ever.
Reservations (should be) required. Most states are encouraging restaurants to require reservations. It’s unclear how serious this measure will be enforced. That said, with even massive QSR chains now testing reservations platforms, it’s likely most casual-dining establishments we previously walked into will require reservations made ahead of time in order to manage capacity.
Order ahead and contactless payment options. Across the states that are reopening or planning to, contactless payment options and the ability to order meals ahead is highly encouraged. This is good news for restaurant tech companies everywhere, which are madly pedaling those technologies in the hopes of remaining relevant to the front of house.
Bye bye, buffet. This one’s a no-brainer, and it’s also not a recommendation. Arkansas says they are “prohibited.” Georgia restaurants must “discontinue the use of salad bars and buffets.”
The next steps in this reopening process will be restaurants trying out these procedures, technologies, and operational changes. It’s too soon to tell which ones will be easy to implement, which ones will be a nightmare (hi, customer logs), and if the need for new ones will arise as dining rooms reopen. Expect at least several weeks of trial and error, unexpected challenges, expected challenges, and pleasant surprises as more states reopen and the industry moves forward.