Since the start of the health pandemic, the restaurant industry has faced many hurdles. In some places, restaurants have been allowed to continue with indoor dining. In others, owners have had to get creative, relying on outdoor dining to keep diners safe and business running.
According to the owner of Virginia’s Fontaine Caffe and Creperie, most of their diners have chosen to sit outside. “You can have the inside completely empty, while the outside is full and has a wait list,” Fontaine said.
Even when restaurants are able to fill the space available inside, the capacity limits of keeping tables 6 feet apart can be a challenge.
“I think these times have been a true testament to the commitment and dedication of the people who work in the hospitality industry. Not only do they have to worry about paying their own bills, they also have to worry about keeping their staff safe and on payroll, and they have to worry about keeping their customers safe and happy.”
Restaurant owners have worked hard to figure out how to keep their business running and make people feel safe while sitting inside or outside.
Here are just a few of the creative ways they’ve implemented.
Outdoor dining pods
Sort of like a tent, many business owners whose restaurants are located in cold weather destinations have installed outdoor dining pods or “dining bubbles.” Much like you would find in Europe, these pods keep dining safer because only individuals from your close circle can enter. Further, a side of the tent is kept open and staff are instructed to disinfect surfaces inside and air out the tent after each use. Air circulation is critical to pandemic safety.
Keeping outdoor spaces open
Over the summer in many locales, it wasn’t uncommon to drive by a restaurant and see tables set up on the streets and sidewalks. Now that wintertime is here, owners are keeping outdoor spaces open by implementing heat lamps and other warming elements.
“Once we opened up in May, I was already thinking, ‘What does winter look like?’” Fontaine said. So, he ordered heaters in June.
Carlo Parentela agrees, “One of the most important things for restaurant owners right now is keeping spaces open for diners. Honestly, if you didn’t realize very early on in this pandemic that these changes were going to happen, then you probably missed the opportunity to get prepared.”
These days, BYOB doesn’t mean what it used to. Some restaurants have even become as creative as asking patrons to bring their own blankets (BYOB). Others are even offering diners with incentives for sitting outside, like a free warm beverage or a drink from their bar menu.
Keeping indoor dining safe
For restaurants who are able to invite guests inside, owners have been taking every precaution they can. For instance, some places have assigned a dedicated manager to implement and monitor risk reduction efforts.
Carlo Parentela: “Having a manager who is solely focused on answering concerns, questions, or complaints improves accountability and shows your dedication to maintaining the safest possible dining environment.”
Restaurants have also taken steps to manage the flow of foot traffic to limit a patron’s contact with others. They’ve implemented directional indicators, established separate pickup areas from dining areas, and offered curbside pickup.
Employee safety has been equally crucial. You’d be hard pressed to enter a restaurant where a server or bartender is not wearing gloves and a mask. Many restaurants are also requiring employees to wash their hands every half hour, and providing hand sanitizer at the entrances, exits, restrooms, and even at tables to encourage its regular use.
Keeping clean air circulating at all times is another way restaurants have attempted to mitigate risk. One thing is certain, at least for the foreseeable future, restaurants will have to continue facilitating these strategies, at least until the virus is finally at bay.
As for the owner Fontaine Caffe and Creperie, he says: “This has been challenging. The good part is that we have all been forced to be creative and think outside the box in ways we probably would have never done.”