Re-opening with a purpose

Aug 6, 2020

Best Practices For Reopening an Independent Restaurants, Stage 3

The health and safety of everyone we engage with as independent food service entrepreneurs has always been of critical importance, but now more than ever, all eyes are on this element of your business. Staff and customers alike will be excited to be back in your restaurant’s dining room, but expectations and perceptions will be heightened. A clear and detailed COVID-19 protocol will help develop additional confidence in your restaurant instead of encouraging customers to stay home or support a competitor.

Utilizing recommendations from local health leadership, independent restaurant owners can execute a safe and secure reopening of indoor dining spaces (stage three) while sustaining any and all momentum gained from patios or via take-out portals during stage two.

We offer the following as best practices in relation to marketing, health and safety, physical distancing, and cleaning and sanitation procedures while reopening indoor dining spaces. These guidelines are informed by lessons learned in stage two as well as from international businesses that are further along in their COVID-19 journey. Over time, these guidelines may be updated in response to evolving recommendations from public health authorities. Please keep an eye on this website and our social media channels for current information.

Benefits of a Soft Opening

An unrecognizable chef cooking vegan food in a pan over a stove, the pan is alight with fire.A soft opening is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the reopening of your indoor dining space while working out some of the inevitable kinks that come with any change. Consider inviting friends and family to join you for an exclusive reopening event (or series of events). You can even use social media and/or newsletter communications to invite a select number of loyal patrons to participate. Your staff will be able to practice new routines, troubleshoot any unforeseen issues and gain confidence ahead of opening to the public. Treat each soft opening event like it’s the real deal – the right number of customers and staff, a simulated dinner rush with all new policies and routines strictly adhered to, etc. This is how to get the most from this experience. Be sure to get feedback and learn from it!

Take some time to meet with your staff well before the first shift starts. Be encouraging, answer questions and restate any critical messaging. It’s best to double-check all safety protocols and review our help checklists. Then, remember to breathe and get ready for the moment everyone has eagerly anticipated: your grand reopening!

Your operation needs to be ready to operate at peak performance from the moment those doors reopen. Safety should be your top priority, but consider gathering feedback from your team and customers and make improvements to their overall experience. This will confirm your concern for their safety while acknowledging that you’re always trying to improve.

  • Consider running a series of soft opening events over 2-3 days to maximize the benefit and implement any additional changes (some trial and error may be necessary, so plan to accommodate this). Your soft opening should take place the week before your planned reopening date. This approach will help your team prepare, train, learn and improve before those doors officially reopen. This step can also help you review server-guest engagement protocols to improve flow and service times.

Change can be a good thing, but you don’t need to recreate the wheel from scratch. We’re here to help you each step of the way – please speak to your Morton Sales Representative.

Create a Marketing Plan for your Restaurant Reopening

Your reopening won’t announce itself, but there are plenty of ways to get the word out. Consider a social media campaign and/or giveaway with a designated hashtag (i.e. #JoesBarReopening). Offer a discount to anyone who shows a promo code from social media, or run a contest that involves sharing photos and/or reviews online. Combine your restaurant’s hashtag(s) with local hashtags when posting on social media – this will help generate more traffic.

A strong website and social media presence can be very effective, but know your platforms: older Canadians are often on Facebook (this is where you advertise to baby boomers) while younger Canadians (30 and under) are often on Instagram. In addition to traditional marketing techniques and word of mouth, you may also want to consider social media advertising, which we’ve discussed in the resources section on our website.

Why Are High Quality Ingredients So Important?

Before we get into more detail regarding best practices for reopening your indoor dining area, let’s talk about food quality and why it’s so important to your restaurant’s success. The answer may seem obvious, but some restaurants still overlook the importance of having high quality ingredients in their kitchen. Your menu may have exceptional dishes and appealing flavour combinations, but how fresh are the ingredients? A great menu can be transformed into an unbelievable one simply by upgrading your meat, seafood, produce, pantry items, dairy and other kitchen staples. Your customers will taste the difference!

The quality of the food your restaurant buys and puts out is also important from a marketing standpoint. Your restaurant will stand out in a sea of competition if it offers some of the best quality dishes in town.

The quality you offer will shape your restaurant’s reputation and image in the community, which is particularly important during the reopening phase. Improving your menu can breathe new life into your establishment and bring new, loyal customers through your door. Premium food quality will not only ensure a great experience but also motivate your customer to spread the word to their friends and family. Now, on to best practices for internal and external communication, your restaurant exterior, front of house and dining room, back of house and bar areas. If you have any questions, please reach out to your Morton representative for support.

Communication Best Practices

Internal communications

  • Inform all employees of your intent to reopen and their anticipated return-to-work date (if applicable).
  • Review all municipal and provincial standards and protocols with your management team.
  • Revise or implement training programs, policies and procedures with all staff regarding sanitation, hygiene and the mandatory use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
  • Review social distancing practices and requirements.
  • Run through guest engagement protocols including greetings, steps of service, order taking and checkout.
  • Roleplay potential negative scenarios. Review de-escalation techniques and how to handle objections.
  • Establish guidelines for host/hostess and server engagement detailing the points that should be covered by each person. This will help your customers understand how they will be served, increasing the value of their overall experience.

External communicationsCook preparing many plates in a restaurant kitchen. Caterer in Canada

  • Update voicemail and any recorded messaging.
  • Update Google My Business with hours of operation.
  • Update your website with opening date and hours of operation.
  • Update all third-party applications including reservation and delivery platforms with menu revisions and hours of operations.
  • Update social media profiles and launch a campaign around reopening dates, promoting menu changes, special offers, and revised health and safety protocols.
  • Display “Reopening Safely” signage.

Delivery Communications and Best Practices

  • Contact your suppliers to update them on your reopening plans, coordinate a first delivery and clear up outstanding balances (if applicable).
  • Evaluate current fresh and frozen food inventory to determine opening orders. Consider products requirements associated with your new menu and communicate these requirements to your supplier with as much notice as possible.
  • Where possible, reactivate cancelled contracts.
  • Inform delivery drivers of your internal distancing requirements.
  • Make it mandatory for delivery staff to wear protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
  • If possible, provide a separate entrance for deliveries equipped with a hand sanitizing station.
  • If possible, assign a designated person to accept deliveries in this area with a tracking sheet. Consider using a software tool such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey to track and store this information.
  • Post signage promoting physical distancing upon every entry.

Exterior Best Practices

  • Ensure that the exterior and entrance of your establishment is clean, inviting and clearly demonstrates that strong health and safety processes are in place through signage and other indicators, such as the presence of a host in PPE and/or a hand sanitizing station.
  • Refresh landscaping and ensure the parking lot is free of debris.
  • Ensure all lighting is in working condition. Replace as required.
  • Choose curbside parking spaces and create signage to designate those spaces for that purpose.
  • Change sign messaging as required.
  • Open awnings or umbrellas (if applicable).
  • Return any benches, planters outside furniture and tables to their places.
  • Power-wash patio and outdoor furniture and sanitize tabletops.
  • Clean and sanitize outdoor service stations.
  • Enable automated programming to the security systems.

Back of the House and Service Area Best Practices

  • Create separation between service stations and open kitchens. Consider separating guests from the kitchen or service areas with high, clear dividers if the distance between guest and staff is less than six feet.
  • Where possible, stagger workstations so employees avoid standing directly opposite one another or next to each other.
  • Use directional arrows to control flow of traffic in the kitchen to increase efficiencies and reduce unnecessary interactions and crossover between cooking and clearing areas.

Front of the House Best Practices

Customer Facing Processes and Menus

  • Consider a reservation only model or call-ahead seating to better welcome and space out customers.
  • Denote through the reservation process how the initial part of the service experience will unfold. This will ensure compliance and start a great service experience for your guests.
  • When a customer makes a reservation, consider sending them a confirmation email in warm anticipation of their visit, inclusive of the menu and features.
  • Confirm through all reservation platforms that parties’ sizes cannot exceed that of current public health authority restrictions.
  • Leverage technology where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction, e.g. mobile ordering, menu tablets, text on arrival for seating, contactless payment options.
  • Print disposable menus and/or QR code menu signs. If using QR codes for digital menu access, your staff should be able to walk customers through the process of using their smartphone camera as a QR code reader.
  • Create focused specials that maximize vendor promotions, seasonal items, inventory on hand, etc.

Dining Room/Bar

  • Remove waiting area seating and create a process to ensure that customers stay separate while waiting to be seated. This could include floor markings, outdoor distancing, waiting in cars, etc.Portrait of elderly professional bartender in eyeglases show hand OK in workplace closeup. High level and quality service. Evening time. The concept of service.
  • Clearly designate takeout/pick up locations when separate from dine-in operations.
  • Consider adding plexiglass barriers for all hostess and cash stations.
  • Temporary table dividers may be installed to make social distancing easier on patios and outdoor spaces for restaurants with communal seating, larger tables or where non-conventional space is used.
  • Display signs in multiple locations that indicate the maximum number of customers and staff the restaurant can accommodate at any one time.
  • Unless otherwise required by local authorities, redesign floor plans to demonstrate 50 percent posted capacity (or greater if floor plans can demonstrate required social distancing).
  • Mark direction of travel to designated entrances and exits, pick up areas and washrooms.
  • Demarcate floor in any areas where a line-up may occur (restrooms, pick up areas, etc.) and/or provide directional signage to indicate flow through the restaurant as well as outside. Washroom capacity may need to be adjusted to allow physical distancing.
  • Where furniture cannot be removed to adjust for physical distancing, mark certain tables and chairs unavailable for use. Make every attempt to make it look inviting and represent your brand.
  • Where practical, separate booth seating with physical barriers.
  • Weather permitting, prop open entrance and exit doors to reduce the need for staff and customers to touch high traffic areas.
  • Reduce the number of items on tables – discontinue on-table condiments, condiment caddies, table cards, marketing materials and candles.
  • Bring customer items only once they are seated: glasses, cutlery, rolls, condiments (as needed), etc. Don’t touch water glasses or coffee cups when refilling.
  • Build physical separation between customers and staff in counter service and payment settings.
  • Ensure that sanitizing stations are in plain sight and used by staff in front of your customers.A well-dressed waitress is laughing and enjoying being at work, while she is holding wine glasses to be served to guests.
  • Enhance cleaning procedures and protocols with special attention to high-touch surfaces and objects. Please contact your Morton Sales Representative for a wide variety of high performance cleaning solutions approved by Health Canada.
  • Avoid food contact surfaces when using disinfectants.
  • Update cleaning schedules and logs to reflect increased cleaning for high touch areas including door handles, front of house counters, restrooms as well as in the back of house.
  • Clean and sanitize shared equipment such as credit card machines, point of sale stations, safety vests, headsets, etc. after every use.
  • When cleaning tables between every seating, any cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, sauce dispensers, or other items must be removed and cleaned as well. Tables should be left empty until the new guest arrives and only needed items should be provided to customers.
  • Add hand sanitizer stations to every entryway of the restaurant making it available to all staff and guests.
  • Have a deep cleaning response plan ready to go in the event of an employee(s) testing positive for COVID-19.
  • Clean the washroom thoroughly with increased frequency and post a schedule in plain sight to ensure accountability and guest confidence.

A Reopening Reflection

Male manager and female chef using digital tablet in kitchen at hotelJust as important as the preparation and execution of your reopening is seeking and accepting constructive feedback. Following the first week of reopening, carefully review your initial successes and opportunities for improvement. Retrain staff accordingly and communicate externally the positive changes.

Take the time to actively connect with customers that visited during the first week and survey the staff for their feedback as well. Don’t forget to thoughtfully and purposefully recognize your staff members for their hard work, dedication and performance.


  • Give focused recognition: build or reinforce the culture through positive team recognitions.
  • Seek live customer feedback and consider surveying diners after their visit.
  • Encourage staff to talk straight and provide feedback for improvements.
  • Review social media comments, tagged posts and reviews.
  • Post thoughtful, thankful messaging throughout your social media platforms.
  • Review feedback with all staff and pivot accordingly.
  • Sit down with management and update protocols based on successes and areas for improvement.