As many states begin reopening and others prepare for the near future, restaurants have a lot to think about before opening their doors again. There is no universal roster of dos and don’ts, with each state rolling out its own set of specific requirements (and some even broken down by county), however there are some overall recommendations that will likely be relevant for all dine-in restaurants.

Social Distancing & Protective Equipment

  • Buffets, condiment bars and self-service drink refill stations should not be offered
  • No more than 6 people per table
  • Tables spaced 6-10’ apart
  • Shields at host stands and counters
  • Contactless payment
  • Bars should not be open to avoid congregation
  • Designated entrance and exits to avoid cross traffic
  • Either one member of a party should wait in the waiting area, or more preferable, a text/intercom system would allow parties to wait outside

Employee Health

  • Employees should wear face masks, and possibly disposable gloves
  • Employers should set a limit on how many employees can be in their break room at once
  • Temperature checks at the start of every shift, with the person taking temperatures wearing proper PPE
  • Ensuring a system is in place to monitor employee health


  • High traffic surfaces such as doorknobs & push plates, railings, light switches, faucets, kiosks, pens and chairs should be sanitized at least every 2 hours
  • Tables and any condiment containers should be sanitized after every customer
  • Menus should be sanitized after every use, or disposable
  • Utensils should either be placed on tables after guests are seated, or in sealed containers
  • Increase restroom cleanliness checks to ensure everything is clean and well stocked

A restaurant in Hong Kong published a COVID-19 Playbook with their tips for re-opening. In the introduction, co-founder Syed Asim Hussain says: “Prepare for criticism, because no matter what you do, it will come. But if you are doing what you believe in your heart of hearts is right, the negativity tends not to pierce as deeply.”

A new study by Magid, a Minneapolois based research consultancy, shows that 47% of consumers trust restaurants to take the proper safety precautions when re-opening. 57% of consumers expect to return to restaurants by the Fall, but their return is based upon a few key factors, such as personal sanitation kits at every table, visible hand washing stations for employees, beverages served in the original bottle or can, and contact-free payment.

The biggest consideration is that you want to make customers feel that their safety is your top priority. It’s not just about extra cleaning and precautions, but ensuring that your patrons know that you care about their health and well-being. Consider posting a statement sharing your hygiene and cleanliness standards, although actions speak louder than words. Make sure customers can see employees taking additional precautions, such as washing their hands and sanitizing tables after patrons depart.

More than anything, a re-opening plan has to be flexible and prepared for changes. There is so much uncertainty and things are changing day by day. There is also the possibility that after a period of re-opening, restaurants will be required to close again. These are all things that restaurants need to be prepared for and aware of. Although closing and re-opening is costly, the experience that restaurants endured in March has given them the experience and a chance to be better prepared if it happens again.

Additional Resources:

A List of Statewide Return to Work Protocols

Best Practices from the FDA Website

Reopening Guidance from the National Restaurant Association