Back to Open: The Reality of Restaurant Operations

/ Foodservice Tips, Restaurant Tips / May 29

Back to Open-The Reality of Restaurant Operations

For restaurants, getting back to open isn’t just a decision of when. Owners and operators also need to answer what steps they will take and how their restaurant will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complex considerations can be guided by analyzing three key topics: operational guidelines, supply chain challenges and menu adjustments.

Following Operational Guidelines

The first and most important consideration is how to operate under state and local guidelines, prioritizing employee and customer safety. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a three-tiered process for deciding whether or not to open. If your answer is “no” to any of the initial questions or haven’t completed any of the outlined initiatives, the CDC recommends that you meet the safeguards prior to opening.

Initial Questions Considerations



  • Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders?

  • Are you ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness?


Health and Safety Actions



  • Promote healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing and employees wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible

  • Intensify cleaning, sanitization, disinfection and ventilation

  • Encourage social distancing and enhance spacing at establishments including by encouraging drive-through, delivery, curbside pick-up, spacing of tables/stools, limiting party sizes and occupancy, avoiding self-serve stations, restricting employee shared spaces, rotating or staggering shifts, if feasible

  • Train all employees on health and safety protocols


Ongoing Monitoring



  • Develop and implement procedures to check for signs and symptoms of employees daily upon arrival, as feasible

  • Encourage anyone who is sick to stay home

  • Plan for if an employee gets sick

  • Regularly communicate and monitor developments with local authorities and employees

  • Monitor employee absences and have flexible leave policies and practices

  • Be ready to consult with the local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase in cases in the local area

Purchasing products such as hand wash timers, register shields and ice machine sanitizer can help your operation meet these guidelines.

Beyond the health and safety considerations, also consider how the operational guidelines will impact your business.  Consider the following questions:


  • If your dining room is permitted to open, what is the right balance of dining in versus carrying out?

  • Will you require reservations or allow for walk-in diners?

  • Do you have outdoor seating capacity that can be leveraged?

  • Is the permitted indoor occupancy worth opening for from a financial standpoint?

The National Restaurant Association’s COVID-19 Information and Resources website can help provide some additional guidance for operational considerations.

Lastly, feedback from potential patrons can also influence your approach to opening. Datassential has a comprehensive series of reports summarizing their coronavirus consumer research.

According to Datassential research fielded April 17 and April 20 with 1,000 US consumers, more than 80% of respondents would support the following actions to ensure safely dining in at a restaurant:


  • Six feet or more distance required

  • Customers sanitize hands before entering

  • Customers at bar must have a seat

  • Staff member enforcing capacity at the door

Additionally, 76% of respondents said they require common areas to the deep cleaned daily and surfaces to be sanitized after every meal.

Addressing Supply Chain Challenges

Another consideration is how your operation is impacted by supply chain disruption. In a recent episode of the PartsCast , we spoke with Robin Ashton of The Ashton Report about the foodservice supply chain.

Food is still the absolutely critical ― in order to be in foodservice you have to have food and prepare food. The food side of supply chain, however, has been more severely impacted than the equipment and supplies side. In addition to the food safety and security aspects, we’re also dealing with decreased production.

This situation impacts everyone in the food supply chain ― especially food suppliers that operate on 2-3% margins. These suppliers are still working, but at a reduced level. As an intermediary, they’re not only coordinating between food processors/manufacturers and end users, but also keeping an eye on their drivers and the entire warehouse storage supply chain.

Many restaurants are takeout only and even as business ramps up, the physical distancing requirements will keep volumes down because you can’t turn over the dining room like you could before. This reality means smaller drops for the food suppliers. They now need to make more stops per truck, which is time consuming, and time is money in the distribution business.

Obviously, restaurant operators are also impacted directly. Food is typically a 30-40% cost center for an operation. The cost of that food product is likely to go up, even though the operators are struggling with lower volumes and trying to make money any way they can. That’s a situation that will need to be assessed going forward.

Making Menu Adjustments

Many operations are reassessing their menus in light of these supply chain challenges. Ingredients may not be available, and chefs and owners have to react accordingly ― removing select menu items, limiting offerings based on availability or reducing the initial reopening menu.

Datassential asked consumers survey questions around menu availability and limitations. They found that 76% percent of respondents would have no problem with restaurants offering a reduced menu initially. Boomers and consumers who were unwilling to dine out right away responded even more favorably, 87% and 84% respectively.

Meat shortages are likely the strongest driver of menu adjustments. As operation of some meat processing plants stopped, production decreased. Datassential posed a few targeted questions around meat on the menu.

When asked “if there were no beef burgers available at a restaurant what would you order instead?” the responses were as follows:


  • Another kind of burger (turkey, chicken) – 43%

  • Something else entirely – 26%

  • None, I would go someplace else – 19%

  • A plant-based burger – 12%

Furthermore, 61% of respondents would be open to restaurants featuring less meat in a dish, and 47% said they will switch to eating more plant-based meats/meat alternatives.

Some surveyed consumers did indicate that they would be willing to pay higher prices for meat dishes at sit-down restaurants (41%) or for burgers at fast food restaurants (38% for all respondents and 51% for Gen Z respondents). Just over half (55%) indicated that they will choose restaurants based on availabilty of meat dishes they want.

Considering your operation’s response to guidelines, as well as the impact of supply chain issues and menu limitations, will help you safely and effectively prepare to meet consumers’ expectations as you get back to open.

Join the Back to Open discussion

We’re going to keep talking through what “back to open” looks like in order to help navigate the path forward and make our industry stronger.

Join the Back to Open discussion ― follow us on social media, visit our blog and subscribe to the PartsCast podcast via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your podcast player of choice.

Here’s to getting back to open!


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