As states begin to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, some restaurants are cautiously considering the same move. In Florida, which allowed restaurants to return to total capacity in September 2020, several chain owners reported a bump in sales. However, according to OpenTable, statewide restaurant reservations remain 20% lower than last year. So while local restrictions ease, the demand may take time to catch up. If you’re still deciding whether or not reopening to total capacity is right for your restaurant, here are a few important things to consider.

SLOW & STEADY

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that counties that allowed on-site restaurant dining had a rise in COVID-19 cases in the weeks afterward. Federal officials have also warned against removing coronavirus-related precautions too quickly as virus variants continue to circulate. If you see a similar trend in your area and local mandates currently allow 100% capacity, it may be wise to consider a few alternatives to attract diners safely.

INDOOR VS. OUTDOOR

With vaccinations on the rise throughout the U.S., diners are growing more comfortable with dining out—especially outdoors. According to an April 2021 Morning Consult survey, as much as much 68% of respondents said they feel safe sitting for a meal outside. Which is good news if you’re one of the many restaurant owners who’ve invested in an outdoor dining area. Utilizing this space as allowed by local mandates is a great place to start—especially during spring and summer. If your restaurant is limited to indoor dining, consumer comfortability continues to look promising. According to the same survey, 60% of respondents reported feeling comfortable dining out as of April 2021, and 73% of respondents said they think they’ll be comfortable dining out within six months.

ASK YOUR LOYAL GUESTS

Go straight to the source—it’s the easiest way to know for sure how many of your customers would consider dining with your restaurant again. We’ve covered the importance of loyalty programs in the past, and now is a perfect time to ask how many would consider an indoor dining experience. A simple survey and dine-in offer is a great way to gauge how many of your guests want to be in the dining room. Not only will this help you plan for seating arrangements and ideal capacity, but it can also inform how much you’ll need to order from your suppliers.

OFF-PREMISE & TO-GO REMAIN PROMISING

According to the Morning Consult survey, takeout continues to be the most popular dining option with 42% of respondents reporting ordering takeout at least once a week. If your restaurant has adjusted well to off-premise dining, consider sticking with the trend by offering menu items that travel well, along with a few others. Curbside pickup boomed during the beginning of the pandemic and demand continues to show no signs of slowing down.

MAINTAIN NEW REVENUE STREAMS

Over the last year, many restaurants found success in setting up and promoting new revenue streams. And even as restrictions ease, it’s still a good idea to maintain the ones that worked best for your restaurants, from the ever-popular family bundles around holidays and special occasions to extra helpings of heat-and-eat meals.

REMAIN FLEXIBLE

Few industries have felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic more than the restaurant industry. And while many are anxious to return to normal, no one knows for sure what that new normal will look like. In the meantime, it’s important to listen to your guests and staff, plan ahead and make adjustments day by day to gauge when returning to 100% capacity is right for your restaurant. 

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