Adapting to change: Setting diner expectations indoors and out

By Doug Radkey

For the first part in our “Adapting to change” series, please click here.


To maximize your seating, encourage guests to make reservations, preferably online. Your guests will want to pick their spots, their proximity to others, and their proximity to high-traffic areas. Your new seating arrangement should ideally be online to review and should also be flexible. Having a reservation system will also allow your staff the appropriate time to fully sanitize and prepare each area for the next number of guests in a reserved party.

With reservations, it may be wise to also consider time restrictions; guests who are used to travelling to tourism hot spots will be accustomed to these types of rules. Don’t be scared to put a 60- or 90-minute timestamp on reservations to encourage more table flips, which you’ll want to do as many times as possible within safety guidelines.

Waiting areas

To ensure physical distancing, especially during peak dining hours, ask your guests to stay in their cars or away from the establishment while waiting to be seated. You may also want to also consider text message systems to notify guests when their table is ready – you don’t want guests sitting in a waiting area with feelings of anxiety. Depending on your layout, you may also have an opportunity to use your typical waiting area for additional seating. Again, look for unique opportunities.

Patio space

Redesigning your patios and outdoor space with a semi-permanent atmosphere that is protected from the weather and pedestrians will help improve guest experiences, reduce anxiety levels, and increase guest tolerance.

Similar to that of your indoor seating strategies, you ideally want to have a strategic setup of outdoor tables and chairs.

Aside from seating, you will also want to ensure you provide temperature control, pest control, noise control, and patio-driven menus.

Contactless/off-premise ordering

When rethinking your seating, including on your outdoor patio, keep in mind curbside pickup as an option to maximize operations while at the same time minimizing any cross-flow of guests in enclosed environments.

Even when dine-in service restrictions are lifted in your area, you should continue to emphasize your restaurant’s takeout, delivery, and catering options. Provide a dedicated pickup area that will not disturb your dine-in seating.

You also will want to communicate these changes to your community by providing a tour with photos and video and being transparent about the updates to create a level of comfort and confidence in your brand.

All of this is obviously going to change how you operate from a financial point of view, since those in the restaurant industry are trained to generate revenue per square foot and to fit as many guests into a facility as possible. The math is not going to be immediately in your favour – it’s likely going to look ugly – and reduced capacity measures could break venues that are barely hanging on. Success is going to come down to adapting to change by adjusting your menu, your revenue mix, your day parts, your marketing, your cost controls, and your seating alignment. You will have to pay attention each day to determine how your revenue mix is split between on-premise, takeout, and other off-premise programs. You should not be reviewing your financials on a weekly or monthly basis as you had been previously. Review this data daily and know your numbers like never before.

You’re going to have to continuously review demand and adjust accordingly. Don’t necessarily make permanent decisions with your seating and layouts – the key is to be flexible over the next six to 12 months as we collectively navigate this new era.

To be ready, you’re going to have to adapt to change. It’s time to stop thinking negatively. It’s time to think opportunity, think big, and think solutions.

About the author:

Doug Radkey is the president of KRG Hospitality Inc., the author of the book Bar Hacks, and an international keynote speaker on all things restaurants, bars, and boutique hotels. Being in the hospitality industry for over 20 years has allowed him to become a leading voice in the development of detailed feasibility studies, award-winning concepts, strategic business plans, unique menus, memorable guest experiences, and financial management systems. Continue the conversation with Doug on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn, or by visiting