Restaurant policies are evolving and changing as a result of COVID-19. Every state has its own requirements that restaurants must adhere to, and social distancing is often being handled by strict controls on occupancy.

New York City restaurants remain closed, while New Jersey restaurants can operate at 25% capacity.

open restaurant design

Open restaurant design is going to be the new normal. Restaurants that want to change their designs will have to adhere to state-level regulations and be willing to adapt as different changes are made.

Changes that are almost certain include:

Seating Arrangements

An update to the restaurant floor plan will be included for most restaurants. Since most states do have capacity limiting regulations in place, it's important to focus on the space between tables.

According to CDC guidelines, patrons should be at least six feet apart, meaning that you will have to separate tables by 6 feet or more.

Restaurants will need to focus specifically on making more room and allowing for more ventilation in a room. Employees are especially vulnerable because they'll be around a variety of different customers all day. Proper ventilation will help keep the coronavirus at bay.

Advanced HVAC systems and air filtration systems may be used, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

It's important for restaurants to provide enough space for social distancing. This may mean making two different lines for checkout and for seating, or it may mean that restaurant patrons have to stay outside rather than in a packed waiting room.

Restaurant concepts that work today may not work tomorrow.

Restaurant seating designs may have to change at the back of the establishment, where employees are normally walking around or preparing orders, to allow for more guests to be able to eat inside of the establishment at one time.

Some cities are allowing businesses to offer outdoor seating and create an open space restaurant seating plan for outside. These opportunities to have seating on the sidewalk or on the street offer restaurants the ability to cater to more guests while generating more revenue.

Distancing When Checking Out

A restaurant seating plan is not the only change that will be made. The entire restaurant interior design can be updated to focus more on distance rather than maximum capacity. You can focus on distance in a variety of ways, including:

  • Restaurant seating spacing
  • Restaurant outside design
  • Checkout protections
  • Waiting room distancing
  • Apps and online ordering

Some of the many changes that may be put in place to help increase distancing during COVID and after include:

  • Plexiglass sneeze guard to keep distance between both employees and guests
  • Extended bar tops that are deeper and allow for more distance between guests and employees
  • Taller sneeze guards that may be put near hot food bars and salad bars
  • Buffet-style or salad or food bars may be eliminated in the short-term
  • Queuing spaces may be much wider
  • Markers may be placed on the floor to ensure that patrons stay a certain distance away from each other
  • Booths and benches may be removed from certain establishments to help improve distancing

Restaurants will have to spend a lot of time trying to find different areas inside of their business that can improve on distance. This can be very difficult for large establishments that are used to staying near or at full capacity. You may have to reduce your total capacity now and in the future when COVID is less of a problem.

seating arrangements

Interior Décor Items May Change

A lot of focus is being put on restaurant seating layouts, but there should be some focus on the decor as well. Many restaurants still have drapes, carpeting, and cushioning where germs can stay alive for longer. 

The hospitality industry is going to have to make a shift away from porous décor material to non-porous choices. Laminate and other solid surfaces will be the best options moving forward. Some restaurants may prefer plastic-based fabrics, while others prefer stainless steel, porcelain or other solid surfaces where the coronavirus cannot reside.

Kitchens May Be Transparent

Kitchen designs may also be changing due to customers wanting to make sure that kitchens remain clean and open. We may see more kitchens offering transparent designs where guests can see where their food is being prepared. This will allow for a visibility check from guests and more trust and entertainment factors for restaurants.

New Ordering Options

Ordering is going to be different in the future. Innovative approaches are really being taken by larger restaurant chains, and it is up to smaller restaurants to begin adapting to these innovative approaches.

Some of the approaches that may be taken include:

  • Walk-up windows that allow for takeout with social distancing in place
  • Digital menus that are at parking stalls
  • App creation and online ordering 
  • Specific doors for entry and exit ways
  • New, innovative ways for guests to access dining areas
  • Preordering and contactless pickup options
  • Curbside pickup options

One-time use material may be more prevalent now than in the past due to stricter regulations and fears of COVID being able to spread on surfaces.

Takeout orders and other alternative ways to order are expected to remain popular going forward. Some guests may come back to indoor seating, while others may opt to order online and take their food home. It's important for restaurants to cater to both of these crowds to maximize profits.

 restaurant policies

Rise of the Outdoor Space

Health officials have said that outdoor spaces offer the ventilation needed to keep people safe. While you will still have to take social distancing measures, keeping seating outdoors will be a top option for many restaurants that have even the smallest of patio spaces.

Restaurants are expected to be updating their outdoor spaces. Restaurants that have patrons go through the interior to get to the exterior seating are likely to be changing their layouts to better accommodate social distancing.

If patrons don't have to go inside of the restaurant and crowd together, this is a major bonus for the establishment, its employees, and guests.

Moving forward, restaurants will have to change their design concepts and be willing to adjust to new protocols recommended by health officials.