Your 7-Step Guide to Reopening Your Restaurant

Your 7-Step Guide to Reopening Your Restaurant
Dew Smith

By Dew Smith

It’s been months since restaurants across the US, Canada, and beyond were forced to shutter their dining areas in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, after weeks of relying solely on takeout, delivery, and other business models to bring in revenue, restaurants are seeing some relief as regulations ease and business reopening plans rolling out across the country. Plus, as part of our COVID-19 resources initiative, it’s time we pivot our own content to help your restaurant have a successful reopening.

But reopening your restaurant isn’t as simple as flipping your ‘open’ sign around (we wish), and there’s a lot to consider from an operational standpoint before the big day. Run through our guide to reopening your restaurant to plan your labor, inventory, marketing, and more so you can reopen with a bang.

1. Plan your reopening timeline

The first question to ask yourself (and your team) when planning a reopen is “when”?

While your local government has likely provided businesses with a plan for reopen, you have to keep in mind that the reality of reopening will be a very different story. You must plan in advance for how long you will need to do things such as:

  • Ordering new inventory
  • Restaffing and hiring if need be
  • Planning your reopen menu
  • Restarting your utility services and distributor connections
  • Marketing and promoting your reopen

You should also consider that just because the government has provided reopen guidelines doesn’t mean that reopening will automatically be safe. It may be wise to plan your restaurant reopen a few weeks after reopen, so you can monitor how the public and diners react to “the first wave” of reopens and plan your own business accordingly.

“Just this last weekend, in the state of New Jersey, parks were opened and beaches were open, and there were a lot of people that just said ‘social distancing? I'm so sorry, I'm not doing that anymore.’

We don't want to reopen the restaurants unless we know that we can provide a safe and healthy work environment and eating environment for our customers. So, if we don't think that the guests will behave in the way that they're supposed to, then we're going to just pause for a moment and let people adapt to what the new normal will be.”

— Erica Gillespie, Ani Ramen

Spend some time figuring out how long you’ll need to properly (and successfully) reopen—with considerations for new employee health & safety training, inventory delivery, PPE equipment orders, menu planning, etc. If you have a goal reopen date in mind, work back from that to develop when each task needs to be complete in order to hit that goal.

Below, we’ll continue detailing other steps of your reopen plan which you can use to build out a timeline for your restaurant.

2. Update your restaurant policies and operating procedures

In order to reopen your restaurant safely and successfully, you’ll need to update your restaurant’s policies and operating procedures to comply with the latest safety guidance provided by the FDA, CDC, and your local government.

Social distancing and protective equipment 😷

Restaurants must keep staff and guests at least 6 feet away from each other wherever possible. This may mean limiting seating per table or reorganizing your dining area to ensure tables are over 6 feet apart.

Employee health assessments 🌡️

Most states and provinces now require health assessments before an employee comes into work. Employees must report any symptoms and recent travel to their managers before a shift. If an employee is at risk of COVID-19—either by experiencing symptoms or having recently traveled internationally—employers must instruct the employee to stay home.

Pre-screenings at work will help reduce transmission at your restaurant, so implement a quick health assessment process for employees before they start their shift. This could include taking their temperature and assessing them for different symptoms.

Pro tip: A new feature coming soon will allow employee health screenings to be done on an employee’s punch-in on 7punches. Book a demo to learn more.

Sanitization and cleaning 🧽

Keeping your dining and kitchen area clean is critical in keeping your employees and guests safe. Reduce transmission by following the suggestions provided by the FDA when it comes to cleaning and sanitization, including:

  • Prepare and use only EPA-registered disinfectants according to their instructions
  • Wash, rinse, and sanitize surfaces and equipment after every use (from coffee machines to doors and tables)
  • Frequently disinfect surfaces that guests and staff come in contact with (every 15-20 minutes)
  • Prepare and use only EPA-registered disinfectants according to their instructions
  • Check that that your washing machines are set to the correct temperatures with the right detergents and sanitizers (hot water can be used in place of chemicals in the machine to sanitize your equipment)

Food handling 👨‍🍳

Hold a training session before re-opening with staff to walk them through the latest food handling safety procedures.

Training should go over basic procedures such as:

  • Appropriate internal temperatures for cooked foods and how to track it
  • Appropriate time for prepped food to be stored (this should inform when your BOH staff start prepping food before a shift)
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before prepping (no soap or chemicals)
  • Routinely disinfect any surfaces that come into contact with food to minimize cross-contamination
  • Appropriate temperatures for food to be stored in for any length of time through storage, delivery, etc.  (between 41°F and 135°F is the “danger zone”)
  • Have employees wash hands with soap and water for 20+ seconds after every time they handle food, cough, sneeze, visit the restroom, eat, and touch high-traffic surfaces such as doors
  • Store hot and cold foods separately—especially for delivery—with the appropriate equipment (ice packs or insulated cases)
  • Regularly clean and sanitize any coolers or insulated bags used for delivery

Protective equipment for your restaurant and employees 🧤

Ensuring your team has the right equipment to keep everyone safe should be a big part of your reopening plan. Get ahead of your reopen by ordering the right supplies now—especially considering demand is at an all-time high.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Gloves: dishwashing, cut-resistant, and freezer gloves to protect your employees hands. Both FOH and BOH staff should wear gloves during their shifts to avoid contact with food and high-traffic surfaces
  • Masks: provide staff with masks or face coverings, and encourage guests/diners to do the same
  • Hand sanitizer: have sanitizer readily-available at different stations—or even at every table—for both staff and guests to use
  • Sneeze guards: if you have a salad bar or cashier area, putting up sneeze guards should be done to limit germ exposure to food, guests, and staff
"For employee management in restaurants, we are already seeing mandatory checks/balances needing to take place for safety reasons. Staff will be required to disclose if they've had a fever in the past 24 hours, are coughing, or are showing any symptoms of COVID-19. I expect we will see many staff wearing gloves and masks and even sanitizing things out in the open so people feel safer. The best restaurants will not only have to serve the best food, but be the most sanitary."

— Jordan Boesch, CEO

3. Talk to suppliers & providers

In order to reopen, you’ll need to coordinate with distributors, suppliers, and providers of services to make sure your business can actually become operational. With many restaurants opening at the same time, there are bound to be delays in delivery of supplies and inventory, so it’s better to get ahead.

Suppliers: 🥫

  • Find and order the correct PPE you’ll need for your staff
  • Talk to your food & drink suppliers to get your new inventory orders completed

Utilities & providers: 🛠️

  • Restart any utilities like power, water, heat that you may have temporarily shut off during quarantine
  • Get in touch with pest control
  • Restart phone & internet
  • Contact your insurance provider
  • Restart your rent (if payments were deferred)

Equipment: 🔌

  • Talk to your repair and maintenance vendors to check your appliances, security systems, coolers, and other equipment prior to opening

Software: 💻

  • Restart your POS subscription
  • Reactivate your 7shifts account
  • Reactivate your payroll system
  • Reactivate your guest management or reservation systems
  • Reactivate your music system

4. Plan your staffing & labor needs

The reopening of your restaurant will likely happen in stages, and as such, your staffing will happen in stages as well. Figuring out how many—and what kind of—staff you’ll need to keep your restaurant profitable and efficient during every stage is key!

Your staff schedule post-COVID may look very different than your pre-COVID schedule. If you’re relying more heavily on takeout & delivery, and those channels stay strong even after reopen, then you’ll need more BOH staff to keep up with order demand. You may even need to bring on more FOH staff to act as your delivery drivers if you’re offering direct.

"We're getting glimpses of what the 'new normal' for restaurants will look like. Several countries and states have instituted social distancing with respect to in-dining seating and limiting it to 50%. This means restaurants will have to look at other means to close the revenue gap—either by negotiating a reduced lease or looking at alternatives like delivery. Either way, this is going to be an uphill battle for restaurateurs."

Jordan Boesch, CEO

Base your scheduling around an ideal labor target—if you want to keep labor at 25%, then estimate what your sales will look like the first week of open, the second week of open, and so on. Then pick the critical staff you’d need to fulfill on those orders—how many cooks, how many dishes, servers, etc.—and put them into the schedule. Use the total shaft hours and role types to calculate your labor cost for the week, and then compare against sales to see if you can hit your target.

The ways in which you schedule staff will depend on what sources of revenue you’ll be focusing on—delivery & takeout mean more BOH staff, but on-site dining will mean balancing it out with FOH staff and managers.

If you integrate your POS with 7shifts, you can get a closer look at your projected sales costs with the labor budget tool as you build out your schedule. Using smart software to help keep your costs air-tight as you reopen is a good move—you can try 7shifts for free for 2 months here.

5. Build your reopening menu

Just because you open back up for business doesn’t mean you have to (or should) offer your full, pre-COVID menu. If you altered your menu for takeout and delivery to optimize profitability, that menu would be a good place to start.

As your restaurant will likely be opening up in phases, it’s a good idea to match the size of your menu to each stage to keep it manageable for your staff. A smaller menu means less prep time and hands needed, and you can stick to your most-profitable dishes.

  • Consider focusing your menu on combos, as these orders increase your kitchen’s output, yield a higher profit margin (as sides are generally cheaper than entrées), and generate more revenue than single-item orders.
  • Review your pre-COVID sales data to find your most-profitable dishes to reintroduce
  • Review your delivery & takeout sales data to find your most profitable dishes to reintroduce
  • Stick to your classics for now and avoid testing out or offering new menu items until you’re fully back in action—you don’t want to start experimenting with your margins too early!

6. Diversifying your revenue

You likely won’t be able to stay profitable on dine-in alone after reopening, so sustaining other revenue streams is a good option.

In our blog on ways to pivot your business model, we suggest:

  • Offering meal kits 🥘with packs of ingredients and a recipe for diners to follow along to make dinner at home
  • Alcohol delivery 🍻to expand your takeout menu to offer drinks and make new combos like date night packages
  • Pop-up grocery store 🛒 or essentials ordering to let your diners grab more than just your food—and a great option when grocery stores are packed or dangerous
  • Takeout, delivery, and curb-side pickup 🥡to keep revenue flowing in from off-site dining

Track each stream of revenue to see how profitable and successful it is—this will help you determine what streams you keep on as you continue to open up your restaurant.

  • Track which revenue sources are the strongest and which ones to remove/cut down (will help inform your staffing as well)
  • Track sales & labor variances with 7shifts to optimize your spending

7. Market your grand reopening!

Your restaurant reopening will only be as successful as your marketing! Take to Instagram to start teasing out pics and promos to get your diners excited about visiting your restaurant once it opens.

  • Update your website, social media, online listings and answering machine with your new hours and details about your grand reopening
  • Post sneak peeks of your staff prepping the restaurant with descriptions like “coming soon!” and “stay tuned!”
  • Show pictures of your staff as well as your restaurant’s new hygiene and protective equipment—your diners will want to know the precautions you’re taking to make their dining experience a safe one
  • Post countdowns until your grand reopening to remind your audience and get them excited for the big day
  • Consider having an Instagram contest or giveaway for a free meal once you reopen to build the hype

For more tips on marketing & talking to your audience during COVID-19, check out our blog 👇

Bonus: Celebrate!

Celebrate! There are always going to be hiccups with new openings, but focus on what worked and what you did well. It’s important to pause and celebrate so you can boost and maintain employee morale.

Conclusion: your reopening checklist

Restaurant polices & procedures

  • Update new policies and procedures to staff (social distancing, protective equipment, employee health assessments, sanitization procedures, food handling, etc.)
  • Create new 7tasks lists for proper cleaning and sanitization tasks during shifts
  • Send Announcements in 7shifts to communicate new health & safety procedures

Talk to suppliers & providers

  • Order PPE
  • Power, water, heat
  • Internet & phone
  • Insurance
  • Rent
  • POS
  • 7shifts
  • Order management
  • Music system

Plan your labor

  • Reactive any deactivated staff in 7shifts
  • Have staff submit time-off and availability
  • Create reopening staff schedule (based on projected sales)

Revenue streams

  • Plan your reopening menu
  • Plan any meal kits or essentials ordering
  • Plan any alcohol delivery

Market your reopening

  • Update your website, social media, online listings, and answering machine
  • Post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn about your grand reopening day
  • Run a reopen contest or giveaway for a free meal

Track & optimize

  • Track your restaurant sales from different revenue sources
  • Choose which revenue streams to keep and which to cut down to boost profitability

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Dew Smith
Dew Smith

Hey! I'm Dew, the former Brand Strategist. I cultivated 7shifts' social and content garden, and I looked for ways to grow our network of restaurateurs, local talent, and tech companies.