Many cities and states are reimagining their winter restaurant operations and extending their outdoor dining setups so they can continue to accommodate guests safely through the winter. Follow these tips to ensure your restaurant is set up to provide a clean, cozy, and enjoyable dining experience that keeps your customers and staff safe.

While you're reading, follow along with our Winter Restaurant Checklist. You can download and print out this checklist to prepare your restaurant for winter, including  tactics you can implement today to make sure you’re on track for the winter season.


Adopt (or modify) a reservation policy  

A reservation system is a great way to optimize your space. By setting clear expectations for how long customers can stay at a table, you can safely maximize capacity and avoid overbooking and overcrowding. Just make sure to leave enough of a buffer between reservations to clean and sanitize tables. Booking tools like Resy and OpenTable (which are currently waiving fees for restaurant partners) are a great resource for adopting a new reservation policy or modifying an existing one. 

Make sure your safety precautions are up to date 

Take diners’ temperatures before they enter your restaurant (preferably with a no-contact forehead thermometer), and be sure to have plenty of hand sanitizer and extra masks on hand for guests that may have forgotten theirs. You can also provide diners with a pouch to store their masks while they eat — and an antibacterial wipe for extra cleanliness. Distance tables appropriately and establish a signage system so staff and diners know which tables are ready for use and which need to be cleaned first. Your customers will appreciate the extra effort — and once they see you’re prioritizing safety, they’ll feel even more comfortable coming back. 

Prepare your space.

There are two things your restaurant will need for safe, comfortable winter dining: heat and ventilation. If it gets cold in your area, especially in the evening, make sure you have equipment like heaters, tents, and lamps available to keep guests warm. Shop the DoorDash store now for a wide range of heating equipment and supplies at special partner discounts. We also highly recommend scheduling an HVAC inspection early in the season to make sure your heating and ventilation are in working order. 

Optimize the flow — of diners, pickup customers, and Dashers

With on-site outdoor dining and a significant uptick in delivery and takeout orders, there may be a lot of foot traffic at your restaurant. Avoid overcrowding by:

Maximizing sidewalk space

Move your host stand inside, use an overhead heater rather than standing models, and designate customer waiting areas with stickers and tape. 

Creating separate sections for to-go and dine-in

Dashers and customers who are picking up food just want to get their orders and go. If you can, use a separate entrance or window to easily hand off pickup orders. Use signage to direct customers and Dashers to the appropriate area (and don’t forget to update your pickup instructions in the DoorDash Merchant portal).

Establishing special parking for curbside pickup

If cars are a primary means of transport in your area, it’s worth setting aside parking spaces specifically for your curbside pickup customers. In snowy areas, you’ll likely want to identify these spaces with a freestanding sign, but in warmer areas you can use paint to mark up the space itself.

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Create new staff safety protocols

Your staff is the backbone of your restaurant, so it’s important to make sure they are safe and supported so they can provide the best possible service to your customers. Make sure your staff has access to PPE (personal protective equipment) and appoint health captains to ensure customers and employees are following health protocols. 

Marilou Halvorsen, President and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, emphasized this point on a panel at the Main Street Strong Restaurant Conference:


A wise restaurateur once told me: ‘I take care of my staff. My staff takes care of my guests.'

Mailou Halvorsen

Mailou Halvorsen, President and CEO, New Jersey Retstaurant and Hospitality Association

Other restaurants at the conference agreed. “What can we do to support this group of people that is so vital to our operation?” Chen-Chen Huo, CEO of San Francisco’s A La Couch and MAC’D, remembered asking himself. Basu Ratnam, founder of INDAY, noted that providing staff with tips to stay healthy — mentally and physically — made them feel much more secure.


Revisit employee hours and holiday staffing 

In order to expedite the cooking process and reduce crowding, you may want to shift scheduling so a few team members come in early to prep ingredients. If your operation schedule is changing for the holidays — either winding down or ramping up – make sure your teams know ahead of time. If you need to hire more seasonal personnel, begin that process as soon as you can. 

Keep everyone in the loop

Don’t forget to communicate with your employees and your customers by showing your appreciation. Supporting your team is a surefire way to provide a great customer experience. And since many customers like to research a restaurant’s COVID-19 policies before they go, be sure to update your website and social media with any new information — it will make your customers feel comfortable, safe, and prepared. 

Start preparing for winter now 

It's important to start planning for winter now. Whether you're planning to offer contactless QR code ordering, or delivery and pickup,  it's important to outline exactly how your business will operate when the weather gets colder. Partner with DoorDash and make the most of the winter months. 


Already a DoorDash merchant? Get winter equipment and supplies at a special discount. Shop now.

Jen Brown
Jen Brown

Jen Brown is a copywriter based in Los Angeles. Her professional experience includes writing for  tech, nonprofits, manufacturing, entertainment, and consumer goods, but her lifelong commitment to spending most of her income at restaurants has been excellent preparation for writing for restaurant owners, operators, and staff. When she’s not planning (or writing about) her next meal, she likes to spend time outdoors and meet other people’s dogs.