With the unforeseen challenges brought by COVID-19, preparing for a safe restaurant reopening is essential. While the restaurant industry has taken a major hit, this time is an opportunity to revamp operations and add new revenue streams that will sustain your business for the long term. 

As you navigate these uncharted waters of uncertainty and change, here are a few tips to ensure a successful restaurant reopening. 

1. Stay up to date on the latest safety protocols

In order to keep customers and employees safe, always follow the latest CDC guidelines for restaurant reopening, as well as your state and local policies regarding seating capacity, indoor and outdoor dining, social distancing, and masks. This is especially important as health officials learn more about the virus and vaccine and change their guidelines. 

Since these regulations are a new normal for both diners and staff, make them easier for everyone to understand by posting signage about your safety policies. Place six-foot markers on the floor where customers will line up and include step-by-step handwashing instructions in restrooms. Update your table layout to make customers feel more comfortable while also accommodating the new social distancing protocols. 

Varying from state to state, the restaurant reopening process will unfold in several phases. Some states allow dine-in customers at reduced capacities. Some regulations include no parties of 10 people or more; restaurants might also be required to limit the number of patrons inside waiting areas. 

Placing hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas like doorways and individual tables is a smart move that many customers will appreciate. People will also take notice of other sanitary upgrades such as no-touch garbage cans in the kitchen and restrooms, toilets with automatic flushing, and automatic restroom doors. 

2. Protecting & training employees while reopening your restaurant

As a next step, train your staff on how to communicate, follow and enforce the new safety guidelines. Update staff training videos and manuals with the latest protocols, and include step-by-step instructions on important tasks in the kitchen and dining room. 

Communicate to your staff that if they feel sick, they should stay home. The CDC also recommends taking employees’ temperature before work; anyone with a fever should be sent home and tested. Staff should also wash their hands throughout the day with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before handling food and after using the restroom. Hand washing is also important after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren’t readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a safe alternative. 

Additionally, the CDC advises that all restaurant staff wear clean and sanitized masks and gloves. Not only are you helping to protect customers and employees, but you’ll also make your customers feel more at ease. A survey by Washington State University found that a significant number of people reported that they would feel more comfortable with restaurant staff wearing gloves and masks. Restaurant operators (not just DoorDash partners) can purchase these items from the DoorDash Store

Similar to customer-facing signage with safety guidelines, you should also update signs around the kitchen and staff areas to reinforce the new safety protocols. For more information on safety guidelines and procedures for restaurants, visit the CDC website and consult their detailed guide. You can also get ideas and insights from our blog, “The New Normal For Restaurants,” which outlines additional trends and predictions for the restaurant industry's future.

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3. Connect with your customers ahead of your restaurant reopening

Keeping your customers in the loop during uncertain times is key to bringing back loyal patrons when you officially reopen your restaurant. If your customers don't hear from you, they may think your restaurant is closed for good. 

Social media, email, and your website are all excellent channels for your restaurant reopening announcement — and if you have a marketing budget, you can supplement your organic outreach with Google ads, Facebook ads, direct mail postcards, and flyers. DoorDash partners get access to a variety of marketing promotions and discounts that make your DoorDash listing more prominent, attract first-time customers, and create loyal regulars.

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Whether you are communicating your restaurant reopening or other updates throughout this period, be sure to adjust the tone to what works for your brand and target audience. For example, if it makes sense for your brand, feel free to keep your messages lighthearted and fun by including new recipes you’re developing or videos of at-home cooking tips, since your customers may be looking for entertainment. 

4. Give customers flexible delivery & pickup options

Throughout COVID-19, restaurants were forced to close and reopen on short notice — and flexibility will continue to be critical for restaurants going forward. As we start to see restaurants reopening, operators are looking for agile, sustainable business models that can weather any crisis and stay ahead of consumer trends. For restaurants, that means offering a variety of options for customers — including dine-in, delivery, pickup, and online ordering. 

Scaffidi Restaurant Group in Steubenville, OH partnered with DoorDash during the pandemic to expand delivery operations and create a “pandemic-proof” business model. “We didn’t want to rely so much on in-house dining anymore,” said Frankie DiCarlantonio, Director of Scaffidi Restaurant Group. “We wanted a brand that was untouchable — that has what it takes to get through a disaster like COVID-19.”

No matter the economic environment, convenience will remain a key factor for diners — especially Millennials and Gen Z consumers who are accustomed to on-demand services. In fact, the National Restaurant Association found that 67% of millennials say the availability of delivery makes them more likely to choose one restaurant over another.

When it comes to building off-premise operations, every restaurant has unique goals. That’s why DoorDash offers a variety of products to meet your needs — whether you want to:

  • Offer pickup and delivery through DoorDash Marketplace
  • Build a branded, commission-free online ordering system with Storefront
  • Reach DoorDash customers while using your own drivers with Self-Delivery, or 
  • Get a white-label logistics platform and on-demand delivery drivers through Drive

75% of restaurants agree that DoorDash has allowed them to reach new customers, and 2 out of 3 restaurants say they have acquired new dine-in customers through DoorDash. DashPass, which now has more than five million subscribers, enables restaurants to tap into DoorDash’s most engaged customers to drive recurring sales. 

And even with the third-party commission, delivery can be more profitable for restaurants than dine-in — since DoorDash orders are incremental sales that don’t require increased labor or significant overhead expenses. In fact, 65% of restaurants say they were able to increase their profits during COVID-19 because of DoorDash. To understand how DoorDash sales can impact your profit margin, check out our delivery vs. dine-in restaurant profit margin calculator

Even when things go back to a new normal, people will be in the habit of ordering takeout. “COVID-19 is accelerating the trends of the restaurant industry, moving us into a world we were likely headed anyways — and delivery is here to stay,” said Andy Hooper, President and COO of &pizza.

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5. Add a new revenue stream with virtual brands

Virtual brands, also known as virtual kitchens, enable restaurants to launch a new brand and revenue stream while using their existing kitchen, staff, and operations. FSR described virtual brands as digital-only restaurant concepts housed in a brick-and-mortar kitchen, but only available to consumers through off-premise. 

Scaffidi Restaurant Group recently opened Scaffidi’s Wings on Wheels, a delivery-only chicken wing restaurant and the first virtual kitchen in the Ohio Valley region. Additionally, Scaffidi’s Gnocchi Nook, a carryout-only, make-your-own pasta bowl restaurant, is set to open its first location in April 2021. “The Gnocchi Nook was built in part because of our love for delivery services. DoorDash allows us to essentially have unlimited drivers, ready to take a delivery at any point,” explained Frankie. 

6. Promote gift cards — even after your restaurant reopening

Even as more people begin to dine out, gift cards are still a great, low-cost strategy to increase cash flow after your restaurant reopening. According to Donald Burns from The Restaurant Coach, only 80% of gift cards are redeemed, leaving the rest as pure profit. 

To drive gift card sales, try different promotions — such as offering 10% off gift card purchases of $50 or more. Communicate the offers through your website, email, and social media as a way for customers to support your business, whether they’re ready to dine in again or not. 

For a successful restaurant reopening, keep safety and innovation top of mind

As you prepare for your restaurant reopening, these tips will help you set up your restaurant for long-term success. Making adjustments for safety and hygiene, as well as offering convenient ways for guests to enjoy your food, will allow you to sustain and grow your business for the long term. 

Looking ahead, restaurants like Scaffidi Restaurant Group will continue to focus on developing virtual kitchens and expanding off-premise operations. “Even as COVID-19 is declining, we’re still seeing people placing DoorDash orders,” said Frankie. “Third-party delivery is here to stay. The comfort and convenience of eating at home isn’t going anywhere.” 

Hungry for more of the latest restaurant industry trends? Check out our Resources page for expert tips and guides, and grow your business with delivery and pickup sales by signing up for DoorDash for Merchants today. 

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author-saradeforest
Sara DeForest
Copywriter

Sara DeForest is a Bay Area-based freelance copywriter. Previously, she was VP of Marketing at an early stage startup that was named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies. Prior to that, Sara was a content marketer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Though Silicon Valley is a roller coaster, Sara finds her real adrenaline rush doing standup comedy, and has performed at SF Sketchfest, 208 Comedy Fest, and (most often) seedy dive bars.