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By Dana Krook
The coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants’ dine-in service for most of the spring of 2020. But for summer, restaurants can finally offer their customers a taste of pre-pandemic dining – it’s time for your beer garden reopening!
Cities around the UK are allowing restaurants to welcome customers back with outdoor dining. Outdoor dining lets restaurants generate revenue while keeping customers and staff safe, since the risk of contracting the virus outdoors is much lower than in an enclosed space.
Now that the UK government has given the green light for all hospitality establishments to use outdoor seating or beer gardens – if they have them – you should consider offering the option to your customers.
This guide to opening a beer garden or outdoor restaurant will teach you:
In the age of COVID-19, outdoor dining is a better, safer option than serving customers in an enclosed dining room.
Before you open your outdoor seating or beer garden, check if you’ll need a permit or licence to do so.
Fortunately, some cities have made it easier for restaurants to get permits for outdoor dining by simplifying applications, expediting approvals, waiving fees, and allowing new rules.
The Eat Out to Help Out scheme by HMRC, for example, is an initiative that encourages people to return to restaurants. Some cities are even closing down streets, like London’s West End, to create new spaces for outdoor dining.
Once you’ve gotten the legal permits, you’re ready to start preparing your space. Here’s how to get ready for your outdoor seating or beer garden reopening.
Use these restaurant outdoor seating ideas to create a space that allows guests and staff to maintain social distancing measures.
If you’re launching outdoor dining for the first time, you may have to purchase outdoor furniture. Opt for wooden outdoor furniture over plastic, since some research shows that the coronavirus can’t survive as long on wood as on plastic.
As you prepare your outdoor space, consider capacity limits. Set up your tables accordingly. Move tables so that they’re at least one to two metres apart, if not more, to allow customers to move between them. If your beer garden has bar seating, you could remove the bar and its stools to make room for tables (remember, no standing at the bar allowed). Then, update the floor plan in your EPOS to reflect your new outdoor restaurant seating arrangements.
Before you put a tent up around your outdoor seating, check out local regulations about them. Some areas, like East Devon, may require restaurants to obtain permits to put up tents. If you install a tent on your patio, make sure that it doesn’t reduce air circulation.
Create dedicated entrances and exits to your restaurant’s outdoor seating to prevent unnecessary foot traffic. Add directional arrows on the floor with tape to ensure that guests know where to go.
If you have space to safely create a queueing area, put signs on the floor to mark off two metres wide spaces between customers. Don’t put out chairs, which could present another surface for the virus to collect – and spread to others. Better yet, implement a digital waitlist through your online booking system or standalone app so that customers can wait to be seated from the safety of their cars, or away from the queue.
Introducing new safety policies and procedures can make customers feel more confident about dining with you. Consider developing the following protocols.
Inform your customers about these new protocols on your restaurant’s website, on menus, and on signs around your restaurant and outdoor seating area. Telling customers about the safety measures you’re taking will ease apprehensions they may have about going to a restaurant during a pandemic.
Training staff members on the new safety measures is crucial, because they’ll be the ones to carry them out and ensure their success.
Some restaurants have developed new training programs for staff either coming back from furlough or those that are newly hired. These programs should include how to:
When you’re ready to welcome customers back through outdoor dining, make sure they know about your reopening. Spread the word through social media, email, and your Google listing. Include new rules and safety procedures in these announcements so that customers know you’re committed to their safety.
Post signage around your outdoor dining space to remind customers to maintain a safe distance from others and wear masks before being seated and when entering the restaurant to use the restroom. Train your staff to enforce these safety measures to create a safe environment for all.
Unfortunately, when dining outdoors, your customers will be susceptible to the elements.
In the case of rain, determine whether it would be possible, safe, and legal for you to move customers inside. If that’s not an option, create a plan to quickly wrap up customers’ food to go. Consider putting large patio umbrellas on tables, as long as they don’t create an enclosed space.
If you’re in an area that is susceptible to intense heat, think twice before setting fans up outside. While a natural breeze isn’t concerning, fans cause air turbulence that can propel coronavirus droplets from one table to another. Consider closing outdoor seating service if temperatures get too high.
So you’ve done all you can to prepare your space, your staff, and your customers for restaurant outdoor dining. But once you reopen your outdoor seating, the work has only just begun. Stick to the procedures below to ensure you’re managing your outdoor dining service safely.
Staff and groups of customers should maintain a distance of one metre plus or two metres apart from each other at all times, including while waiting for a seat, while seated, and while taking orders.
Reinforce the importance of maintaining this distance to staff during your training. Encourage staff to hold each other accountable by calling each other out if they get too close.
Have staff reinforce physical distancing among customers as well. If you put a zero tolerance policy in place, make sure to inform your customers so they know your commitment to safety.
Encourage customers to give feedback about safety measures and how well physical distancing was maintained by sharing their thoughts through social media or email.
Your reservations tool can help you seat customers safely, especially if contact tracing is a condition of reopening in your area. Space apart seating times to allow for cleaning between parties. For example, if your average table turnover time is one hour and 45 minutes, block out tables for two-hour intervals to make time for cleaning.
If your space is limited and reservations are popular, you may have to create a time limit on tables. Thoroughly communicate this point to customers so that the policy doesn’t take them by surprise. Let them know about the time limit both when they make the reservation, and when you seat them. Train staff to politely enforce outdoor restaurant seating time limits.
Maintain high cleanliness standards for staff and surfaces.
Front-of-house staff should maintain personal hygiene by washing hands frequently and staying home if they don’t feel well. Food handlers should wear masks at all times and obey social distancing in the kitchen.
Check the Food Standard Agency website for the most up-to-date guidelines about food safety amid the pandemic. If you create a checklist for your cleaning policy, enforce it by requiring staff to sign off each time they’ve completed it.
If you had an idea of your food and labour costs before the pandemic, those figures are probably no longer applicable to the current situation. Keep a close eye on EPOS reports around your patio reopening. This data can give you accurate information on food and labour costs to help you adjust your budget and spending.
You could even use this information to adjust the prices of your menu items.
Use marketing tactics to maximise the buzz and revenue generated from your beer garden reopening.
Consider creating new menu items to celebrate beer garden season. Frozen mocktails, for example, are festive, easy to create, and Instagram-worthy.
If possible, extend your restaurant’s hours. If you’re a dinner-only restaurant, consider creating a new brunch menu. If you’re a breakfast and lunch spot, open up for dinner, too. Extending your hours will help maximise revenue and let customers experience your restaurant in a new way.
Reach out to the local press to share the promotions that your restaurant is introducing for its outdoor seating reopening.
Outdoor dining gives restaurants that have been closed, or working in a diminished capacity, an opportunity to welcome customers back and make up for lost revenue. With the right safety measures and tech in place, patio dining can be a fruitful opportunity for your restaurant. Learn how TouchBistro can equip your restaurant with the tools for a successful outdoor dining service.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.
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