State Reopening Plans Offer Glimpse of the Future for Restaurants

It’s been over two months since restaurants were required to stop providing dine-in service to patrons in order to control the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

The devastating effect this policy decision had on the restaurant and service industry is undeniable. Some projections estimate the restaurant industry will lose approximately $80 billion in sales this year while the pandemic has already cost over 8 million workers their jobs.

Now, as more states begin to allow restaurants to reopen to stem the economic losses from the pandemic, the list of regulations and recommendations regarding their reopening continues to grow.

Here is a look at how these reopening policies could permanently change the restaurant industry in the very near future.

Outdoor Seating

All over the country, states are allowing restaurants to reopen with increased outdoor seating.

Colorado’s draft guidelines will allow restaurants to reopen if they can meet three conditions: 1) They must keep a minimum of 8 feet of spacing between parties – table to table, 2) All employees must wear facial coverings and gloves, and 3) All shared surfaces must be deep cleaned and sanitized between seatings.

Denver is considering allowing restaurant seating to expand into nearby spaces like parking lots, sidewalks, and streets to accommodate the state guidelines. This means residents may have to deal with extended street closures around restaurants located in the heart of downtown like Tavernetta, Public School 303, and Citizen Rail.

In Boston, the city is considering taking the historic step of allowing outdoor seating for the first time in its history. For restaurants like Slade’s Bar and Grill, a Roxbury staple that was once owned by Boston Celtics star Bill Russell, outdoor seating could be the difference between staying open and closing as Boston requires restaurants to cut indoor seating by over 50 percent.

Under more conventional circumstances, outdoor seating has been shown to increase restaurant revenues by up to 30 percent, according to an article by Fast Company. However, if limited dine-in capacity becomes the new normal, restaurants could see unexpected climate interruptions while their business becoming more seasonal.

For example, the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions often see afternoon thundershowers during the summer and receive plenty of snow in the winter. Restaurants in these regions will have to adapt to the revenue fluctuations associated with these weather events when they can’t seat patrons outdoors.

Limited Dine-in Service

One way states are attempting to limit the communal spread of COVID-19 is by limiting dine-in seating for restaurants once they reopen. For businesses, this policy is both a blessing and a curse.

Restaurants in Napa Valley like Angéle and Model Bakery that have small, intimate dining rooms with little room to expand outdoors will struggle with reopening. Angéle’s owner, Bettina Rouas, told Eater SF that she plans on having just a couple indoor tables for dine-in service while the rest of her customers will either be seated outside or be restricted to curbside to-go orders.

Even large, communal-seating eateries like Oxbow Public Market and high-end businesses like The Restaurant at Meadowood will struggle with the dine-in restrictions because they pose logistical challenges for the businesses. Oxbow relies on the volume of sales from all of the restaurants in the market to afford its lease. Meanwhile, Meadowood will need to take time to tweak its menu to eliminate tableside preparations.

All in all, the days of offering restaurant patrons an experiential service may be coming to an end. With fewer customers allowed in dining rooms and social distancing ordinances in place for the foreseeable future, restaurants will need to prioritize their efforts on serving high-profit food and turning tables over schmoozing their customers.

Controlled Movement of Patrons

High-volume restaurants like those connected to casinos in Las Vegas will be required to control the flow of patrons in and out of the restaurant in order to reopen, according to regulations released by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Restaurants in casinos must confirm that they have a separate entrance for the restaurant, apart from any entrance to the restaurant off the gaming floor. If one doesn’t exist, the restaurant must find a way to ensure that patrons are only able to enter the restaurant from inside the property without traversing the gaming floor. Any business that doesn’t comply will remain closed.

Some restaurants like Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill, Yard House, and Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ at Red Rock Resort have already had their plans approved by the Board. Red Rock restaurant patrons can enter through the north casino entrance near Blue Ribbon without coming into contact with casino patrons.

While restaurants in other states adapt to these new protocols, restaurants may have to dedicate specific staff members for crowd control functions. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to assume that the crowded waiting area by the host stand is on the way out.

Heightened Cleaning and Sanitization Protocols

A recent viral video of a black light test from Japan illustrating just how quickly germs can spread in a restaurant if one person is infected has dramatically changed the way restaurant regulators are discussing the issue of allowing businesses to reopen.

For example, regulators from the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association are requiring restaurant employees to wear facemasks and gloves while serving and cooking food. Furthermore, shared surfaces must be deep-cleaned and sanitized before any group can be seated.

In Nevada, Governor Steve Sisolak is recommending food establishments to provide hand sanitizing stations for patrons, utilizing disposable menus, and deep cleaning the entire restaurant on a daily basis.

Restaurants of the future may have to accommodate these requirements, and others, by limiting their service hours so that employees have more time to deep clean after their shift is over.

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