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Restaurant Table

Phase 2 of the federal guidelines for Opening Up America Again can begin if there are 14 days of declining positive tests and a downward trajectory of cases with symptoms after Phase 1 reopening. Dining in at restaurants has been banned in Phase 1.

When Governor Kay Ivey institutes Phase 2 in Alabama, restaurants will be able to reopen but only under certain conditions. Your goal as a business owner should be not to just reopen but to determine how to remain open during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Phase 2 federal guidelines, restaurants are classified as large venues with sit-down dining. They are in the same category as movie theaters, sporting venues, and places of worship. These can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols. Governor Ivey can adopt the federal standards as is or she can add additional protocols for the Phase 2 reopening in the next few weeks.

To maximize profits, restaurants normally have a maximum number of tables. Most tables are designed to seat four adults. One place setting for a customer is defined as a “cover” with one cover being all of the necessary cutlery, flatware, crockery, glassware, and linen necessary to lay a certain type of place setting for a specific meal for a single person. The size of one cover is 18 inches x 24 inches. A rectangular table or booth that seats four adults (4 covers) is 4 feet 6 inches x 2 feet 6 inches.

The moderate physical distancing protocols require more distance between tables. At this time, a six-foot distance is considered adequate, but this will mean fewer tables placed farther apart. Governor Ivey also reduced total occupancy as established by the fire marshal to 50 percent for retail businesses. This may apply for Phase 2 reopening as well.

Restaurants do not usually operate under large profit margins that are generally affected by local competition. A reduction in tables and occupancy will drive down profits in a business that already has a low profit margin. To stay afloat financially, the table traffic (covers) must be turned over several times during hours of operation. To maximize the turnover, owners may need to adjust their normal operations, including opening earlier and closing later.

The average restaurant menu consists of appetizers, entrees, beverages, and desserts. Generally, the appetizers are served first, and while the customers consume the appetizers, the main entrees are prepared. This lengthens the time customers are occupying the table space. After the meal, customers are offered dessert and while the table is cleared of dishes, the dessert is prepared and taken to the table. This also lengthens the time customers are staying. To maximize the table spaces allowed under Phase 2, restaurant owners will need to cut down this time. Owners may need to consider not offering appetizers and desserts during the Phase 2 reopening. This may require printing a new menu with only entrees and drinks. Website menus will need to be adjusted.

Meat prices are increasing during the coronavirus pandemic. Some meat-packing plants are shutting down because of worker shortages. When the restaurants start reopening, there may be more demand on the industry than it can provide. This situation will drive up costs for perishable goods that restaurants require for serving their customers. Owners should consider a short-term increase in costs for items on the menu and consider identifying other vendors to fill unexpected shortages.

Communication with your customers will be vital if you have to raise meal prices. Consider posting on the entrance doors and on menus that a temporary increase in cost is required for the restaurant to reopen. Your customers want you to reopen and remain in business. Proper communication will encourage them to continue dining with you. They are aware that the price of meat has gone up during these times because they see it in the local grocery stores.

In addition to the required distance between tables, most restaurants do not have a waiting area that will accommodate the currently required social distancing. Restaurant owners will need to be creative by asking customers to make reservations and to wait in their vehicles. Employees can call them on their cell phone when a table becomes available. Again, communication with your customers will be important, and your staff should be trained in good communication skills that will assure your customers that this inconvenience is only temporary.

Last but not least, we will all be in this Phase 2 together. Consider placing a notice on the exit doors. Examples are Thank you for helping us reopen our business, Thank you for helping us remain in business, Thank you for helping us feed OUR families, Thank you for helping us help our employees and their families and Thank you for your patience as we work together to offer restaurant services to your community. The goal is to make your customers feel appreciated and to help them realize that they are a big part of a community family. With this buy-in from your customers, you can get them to return and offer positive reviews to others in the community.

Owners should remember to update their websites with new menu information, hours of operation, social distancing guidelines, instructions for how to wait for seating, and other information that will help customers feel that it is once again safe to dine in a restaurant.

The National Restaurant Association offers other tips to help restaurants reopen.

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