July 20, 2020

Reopening design strategies: Rebuild trust through visibility

Extend dining tables onto the sidewalk, parking lot or street parking lane, maintaining proper social distance. Photo by Amy Pezz/Pezz Photo for Forbici Modern Italian, Tampa

The keys to rebuilding the business you lost during the pandemic shutdown are visibly letting people know you’re open for business again and communicating the steps you’re taking to keep them safe from the coronavirus.

The more you can do to reassure your customers that you take COVID-19 and their safety seriously, the more likely they’ll dine on-premises.


  • Post signage at the entrance stating that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 will be permitted inside.
  • Either in the entrance or near it, clearly post key points of your state or county’s reopening guidelines to let customers know what’s expected of them.
  • Post clear signage in the entrance to explain any new procedures for ordering, paying for, or picking up orders.
  • Post clear signage that bullet-points your COVID-19 personnel policies and cleaning and sanitation protocols. Use chalkboard signs, posters or whatever will be readable from near and far.

Guiding customers

  • Use floor markings indoors and outdoors in waiting areas to indicate safe social distances.
  • Post floor and wall arrows or markings to indicate how customers should proceed through the restaurant to restrooms or food exchange areas (from kitchen to server or takeout customer).
  • Post signs to remind customers about social distancing.
  • Clearly mark hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations so they’re visible from all areas of the restaurant.

Verbal communication

  • Make sure staff thanks customers for coming when they enter and when they leave.
  • When greeting customers, offer them a mask (whether required by authorities or not) and ask that they use them when moving around the restaurant.
  • Ask customers if they have any questions regarding either the government guidelines in your area or the policies and procedures you’ve put in place.

Additional ways to build trust

Put your new safety policies and procedures on display, if possible, to reassure customers.

  • Create clear sightlines to the kitchen, if possible, so customers can see food being prepared.
  • Pack to-go and delivery orders in the exchange area (maybe an unused bar area?), using safe food handling practices, so customers can see the care you take.
  • Tell staff to visibly model the behavior you want to see from customers, including wearing masks and washing and/or sanitizing hands between tasks, and using gloves.

Increase your visibility outdoors

Work with your municipality and health department to claim outdoor space adjacent to your restaurant.

  • Expand waiting area onto the sidewalk with proper social distancing; use patio umbrellas or tenting to keep customers dry in wet weather, and patio heaters for warmth.
  • Extend dining tables onto the sidewalk, parking lot or street parking lane, maintaining proper social distance.
  • Roofs may be able to house covered or open dining and exchange areas or serve as socially distanced waiting area or cocktail lounge, since many bars are not yet allowed to open.

For more information, consult these resources: