May 27, 2020

Restaurants take action to assure customers it’s safe to dine in


States are starting to lift months of enforced stay-in-place orders, allowing restaurants and other businesses to reopen. As the process begins, operators are intent on conveying their safety protocols to allay concerns and ease the return to dining on site.

To ensure confidence in dining out again, restaurants will want to demonstrate how they will help protect customers on a consistent basis.

Restaurants are figuring out how to set up for social distancing, increasing the frequency and visibility of cleaning and sanitizing efforts in their restaurants — especially the high-touch surfaces from door handles to tabletops, ensure the use of face masks as required by state and local ordinances, and carefully monitor staff members’ health. 

One thing is true: good food and value alone will no longer serve as primary traffic drivers.

“This is an opportunity for restaurants to show their professionalism while providing an enjoyable experience in a safe environment,” said industry consultant Larry Reinstein. “That first return visit is going to be comparable to the restaurant’s opening day. It will have a significant impact on whether or not — and how frequently — guests decide to return.” 

Reinstein recently published a Post-Pandemic Playbook that includes

  • Thoughts about guests’ changing priorities and how perceptions have changed
  • Stages for reasonable social distancing
  • Areas to focus on to foster a sales rebound
  • Strategies and ideas on how to address required changes

What customer are willing to deal with

During a recent webinar, marketing research firm Datassential reported that large percentages of customers are willing to adhere to a number of policies restaurants might put in place to enhance the safety of on-premises dining.

  1. Mandating six feet or more of social distance, 85%
  2. Having staff at the door enforce maximum-capacity rules, 83%
  3. Requiring customers to sanitize their hands upon entering, 81%
  4. Having pickup/takeout customers wait outside, 77%
  5. Barring large groups from entering restaurant, 76% 
  6. Allowing only one person to enter for takeout at a time, 75%
  7. Having customers stay outside when waiting for a table, 73%
  8. Requiring reservation-only seating, 69%

Corporate plans 

Operators understand their guests’ concerns, and say they’re trying to make them feel more comfortable. The use of face masks, more handwashing, and better technology for contactless ordering and payment are examples of what some companies are doing.


The chain is distributing face masks to its employees. It also is asking customers to swipe their own credit cards in an effort “to limit person-to-person contact,” and is encouraging customers to download its app for contactless ordering. Customers will no longer have to sign receipts either.

One of the company’s most important projects is the installation of outdoor handwashing stations so drive-thru employees can wash their hands frequently. Managers are instructing team members to wash their hands a minimum of every 30 minutes and immediately after handling cash. The well-marked stations are located in view of drive-thru paths. Chick-fil-A provides sanitizing wipes to its team members to use regularly in addition to handwashing, as well.


The company is requiring all its employees in the food prep and service areas to wear single-use gloves and masks. This includes employees working in the drive-thru and at front counters at all restaurants. The company has sourced more than 100 million masks since the outbreak occurred. The chain also is requiring employees to wash their hands hourly and providing hand sanitizer or hand wipes to all customers. 

Team members clean and sanitize all high-touch surfaces and restrooms with increased frequency. Staff members clean and sanitize dine-in tables after each use and mark those tables as clean and ready to use with signs. McDonald’s also installed social-distancing decals on the restaurants’ floors to make it easier for guests to navigate where to order and pick up their food.


The family-dining brand says the safety and well-being of its guests and team members are the No. 1 priority. When guests return, they’ll always find all team members wearing masks and gloves. Team members also will be required to wash their hands every 20 minutes with soap and water, followed by an application of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. In the dining rooms, trained sanitation specialists will clean every chair, table, highchair, and menu. Multi-touch items, such as condiment trays, are no longer on the tables, and everyone is practicing social distancing.

Founding Farmers

Co-owner and managing partner Dan Simons said his upscale casual restaurants would screen employees in the front of the house every time they report for work. Simons also is requiring all employees to wear face masks and is installing plexiglass partitions where possible. In addition, he’s mass-producing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at his distillery. The company is making changes to its payment and ordering systems and menus, but he said a lot would stay the same, too. 

“Each change needs to be thought through; we still need to come back to the core reason of why we do what we do — hospitality, which has always included safety in its definition. We just need to expand safety to reflect COVID’s reality. People want to trust, and businesses need to convey things that build that trust.”