In a flurry of improvisation, guts, imagination, and determination, restaurant owners across the country leaped into action when COVID-19 closed their dining rooms and sent the world into quarantine earlier this year. Service models turned on a dime to embrace drive-thru, takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup as dining rooms sat empty and employees were furloughed with no firm picture of when the doors could reopen.
As many restaurants have had to improvise outdoor seating solutions in order to adhere to social distancing recommendations, they’re now facing the question of how to continue using that outdoor seating once the cold, wet, winter arrives.
Here are 3 ways restaurants can best prepare for the approach of the inevitable arrival of winter.
Double down on delivery
While many locations are slowly allowing dining rooms to open to some extent, the consensus seems to be that, as flu season arrives, increased infection rates and reclosing are a real possibility. Perhaps the most obvious strategy for riding out the colder months is to continue and expand efforts toward delivery.
Of course, there are now multiple third-party services to aid in the delivery process. But taking on delivery duties yourself can also be a good way to keep more of your employees working through the holiday season while avoiding the substantial fees and percentages those third-party services take.
If you do decide to provide your own delivery, however, you’ll want to make sure you think through your delivery process.
The goal should always be contactless delivery. When food is ordered, be sure to get instructions as to where food should be left outside the home so that direct social interaction can be minimized or eliminated.
Any surfaces with which delivery personnel may come into contact should be routinely cleaned and sanitized. This includes door handles, steering wheels, gear shifts, etc. Gloves should be worn and changed each time before the delivery container is handled.
Takeout and curbside pickup
Curbside pickup has been another lifeline for restaurants during the initial COVID crisis and will continue to be into the foreseeable future. Just as with delivery, though, customers are going to want and expect a safe contactless process. If they haven’t done so already, restaurateurs implementing curbside pickup may want to explore solutions like those offered by OneDine to help make that process as safe and efficient as possible.
Using OneDine’s guest-side solutions, customers who opt for curbside pickup can easily navigate the process, from ordering to payment to delivery, directly from their mobile device from the comfort of their car. Upon arrival, your guests simply choose a parking spot and scan a QR code from a sign to check in and announce their arrival.
Guests will then be directed to your custom mobile ordering website, where they can safely order and pay, and let your team know which parking spot they’re in. OneDine tracks whether the customer has paid were to take out the food, and how long the customer has been waiting. You can also manage the transaction by sending an SMS to the customer with a payment or notification link. Guests can order and pay in less than 2 minutes and be on their way quickly and easily without ever leaving the warmth and safety of their car.
Even if indoor dining remains or becomes an option as colder weather approaches, the fact is that capacities will continue to be restricted to as low as 25 percent in many places, and that’s often just not enough to cover costs. As a result, many restaurants are looking for ways to maintain and winterize their outdoor seating areas so they can continue to be used even as temperatures plunge.
Options to consider in this case are:
- Build an all-over, ventilated covering for your outdoor seating area: You’ll want to check with state and local restrictions before starting, but the first step in keeping outdoor dining viable during colder weather is to erect either a permanent structure or temporary tent tops over your seating area.
- Use furniture that can withstand the elements: Good, sturdy patio seating furniture will not only maintain a more aesthetically pleasing seating area, it will also ultimately save money in replacement costs.
- Outdoor heating elements: Even in the coldest of climates, good radiant space heaters can make for a dining experience that’s as comfortable as it would be in your dining room.
- Provide blankets for guests: Some people have a lower tolerance to cold temperatures. For those guests, many restaurants offer blankets to help keep them that much more toasty while they eat. Of course, reusable blankets will need to be washed and sanitized according to CDC and local guidelines between uses, so one option to explore might be pre-wrapped single-use blankets that the diners can then take with them when they leave.
The coming of winter doesn’t have to mean an end to outdoor dining. For more ideas to help your restaurant make it through COVID, check out our blog post “5 Ways a Good POS System Will Help Your Restaurant Succeed During the Pandemic.”