If you opened your outdoor space last year between lockdowns then some of the below may be familiar to you but some areas have changed such as planning permission legislation, track and trace and group booking guidance so read on. For those new to outdoor opening, the following will walk you through all the major considerations when it comes to serving food and drinks safely in an outdoor environment:
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
Traffic management and signage
Ideally, you should have dedicated entrance and exit areas to manage the traffic and reduce contact between your customers. Make sure you have directional arrows on the floor and adequate signage to explain your traffic flow system. The key here is to keep your messaging simple. A picture speaks a thousand words and even more so after your customers have had a few drinks!
Reopening venues to outdoor socialising is bound to be popular and so having a robust queuing system is also important if space permits.
If space is at a premium then think about managing footfall online. Virtual queuing/waitlist software like Resy or WalkUp will take walk-ups’ details and send a push notification to their phones when a table comes free. This works well for venues that swing between very busy and quiet as a way to even out your numbers.
Alternatively, you can take pre-bookings online through reservation software like ResDiary or OpenTable which integrate into your EPoS for complete FOH table management. Venues are expected to be busy so other ways you can manage your capacity while offering service during peak times is through implementing time limits on tables which can also be managed through your reservation and EPoS software integration. Imposing time limits may have presented a barrier to customers pre-pandemic but data from HGEM has shown that 77% of people surveyed would now accept a time limit or a minimum spend on a booking.
Don’t forget when taking group bookings that the ‘rule of six’ will apply from April 12th. This can be up to six people or two different households. Venues are legally responsible for enforcing this so when taking group bookings this question must be asked.
Table plans – maintaining social distancing
With social distancing guidelines still in place, it’s important to maintain as much space as possible between your tables and seating areas but an absolute minimum of 1-metre plus. You can get creative with this using windbreakers and planters to segment your space without detracting from the ambience.
This revised seating will no doubt impact your normal venue capacity numbers and so any reservation software should be adapted accordingly to ensure no over-booking. Your EPoS should allow you to adjust your table plan setting and link in with your reservation software to aid this.
Weather coverage – change of legislation
Yes, the weather is the one element out of our control but operators can help with temporary coverage like gazebos, umbrellas and marques. Thankfully the government have recognised how temperamental the British weather can be and as part of the ‘Welcome back’ initiative, all pubs and restaurants will be allowed to erect marquees without planning permission. Any structures with a “roof” need to have at least half of the area of the walls open at all times while in use.
This is a change in legislation from last year’s relaxation of the 28-day rule which limits the use of temporary structures from just summer to suspension of the rule from the earlier 12th of April date. This flexibility is also extended to an estimated 9000 pubs and restaurants that couldn’t make use of it last year because of listed building status or other local restrictions.
Marston’s pub company have taken full advantage of this legislation change by upgrading their heating and lighting systems and investing in structures such as orangery-style garden rooms, teepees, marquees, awnings and jumbo umbrellas.
Marston’s head of property Andy Kershaw said: “Outdoor seating at our pubs has become more important than ever. We have worked on almost 300 pubs to ensure we are meeting not only government guidelines on outdoor social spaces but also ensuring we don’t compromise on pub operations and customer experience. Moving through 2021 and beyond, external spaces will become even more valuable and the industry needs to continue to provide a safe, comfortable environment for guests”.
It’s best practice to carry out workplace risk assessments before reopening and this will inform many of your new pandemic procedures. Here are just some areas you will need to consider:
Front of House
Track and Trace
The track and trace of all customers is still a legal requirement by hospitality operators and can be introduced as the official NHS QR code on posters, tabletops or menus. Note that this time around, track and trace details need to be recorded from every customer not just one person in a group.
Many SAAS companies like Airship and Wireless Social offer a smooth way to integrate the track and trace sign-in with mobile ordering or WiFi login to give the most frictionless experience for the customer and most fruitful for the operator.
Airship’s Trck.to app, for example, uses a QR code to scan so customers can fill out the mandatory contact information and then leads them out to the brand app for mobile ordering. If the customer returns to the venue within 21 days they just need to scan the QR code and their previous details are retained with no further action needed by the customer.
You may think track and trace is a pain to administer but the data opportunities that it provides operators is not to be underestimated. Here you can accurately measure your footfall as every customer will leave their digital footprint. By collecting names, email addresses, phone numbers and visit times & durations you can identify (and if the user already appears in your data somewhere – profile) your most valuable customers – defined by their frequency, recency & loyalty to your brand.
Make sure all staff login and out of your EPoS (ideally with fingerprint login as a unique identifier) to accurately capture when and where they worked in case this information is needed for contact tracing.
Mask-wearing and toilets
Face masks must be worth by all your FOH staff at all times. Customers need to wear masks everywhere except when seated at their tables. Customers are permitted to go inside to use your toilets or baby-changing facilities but again must wear masks and use sanitisers provided on entry.
Ensure your FOH team are regularly clearing and wiping down your tables, collecting empties and sanitising all contact surfaces.
The best way to limit risk is to reduce your sharing items within your bar or restaurant space. For example, swap your re-usable menus for single-use paper menus or better still a fixed wall, chalkboard or freestanding menu holder. Change to single-serve condiments and single-serve drinks where possible to reduce multiple contact on items.
Back of House
Try to minimise contact between staff by setting up specific work stations where possible. If distance can’t be observed due to the kitchen space then opt for side-by-side or back-to-back stations to reduce the opportunity for airborne virus transfer.
Ensure BOH wear face masks at all times which is a legal requirement. The wearing of gloves during food prep and cooking is not a legal requirement nor should it be seen as a substitute for regular hand-washing as the COVID-19 virus can contaminate disposable gloves the same way it does with hands. If wearing disposable gloves, ensure they are changed regularly.
Hand washing should be carried out frequently during the day by all staff, using the thorough 20-second+ technique.
Government guidelines still only permit food and drink orders to be taken at the table and so you will need to implement either tableside ordering and/or mobile ordering when you reopen. [A recent caveat from the government has stated that if a hospitality venue doesn’t serve alcohol, customers will be allowed to order and collect food and drink from a counter but must wear a mask and then consume it while seated outside].
The advantage of mobile ordering is that it puts your customer fully in control of the order and payment process which frees up your FOH staff to concentrate on fulfilling orders and providing excellent customer service. Also, it dramatically reduced the contact opportunities between your staff and customers i.e. taking orders and handling menus, payment cards or cash. See our blogs on How to adapt your restaurant into a contactless operation and How to choose the right mobile order & pay app solution for your restaurant, pub or cafe business for further details on implementation and benefits.
You can still limit contact and maintain social distancing with tableside ordering if your FOH staff use mobile POS tablets to take orders as these can fire straight through to the bar or kitchen for fulfilment without your staff needing to return to the counter till. This enables them to take more orders on the floor and importantly limit contact with other FOH and BOH staff. It’s worth noting that this mobile POS solution does require a dedicated WiFi (ideally separate to your customer WiFi) so orders can transfer through quickly from anywhere in your outdoor area with no interruption of service.
To summarise, you need to take an approach that covers pre-opening preparation (signage and capacity management, reservation and weather coverage), procedure (track and trace, FOH and BOH cross-contamination reduction and cleaning) and finally, your method for taking tableside orders, which ideally works with your existing EPoS system.
It’s been a long wait but once you have these all in place you can enjoy getting back to what you do best, running a successful operation for you and your customers. Good luck and happy opening!