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Adapting to change: Restaurant seating post-COVID-19

By Doug Radkey

It is in our human nature to fear either change or the unknown. That’s what many restaurateurs across Canada – and the world – are overwhelmingly feeling right now.

You may not like all of the changes that are occurring or being recommended by our leading government bodies, but you can be sure that if you resist them it will be even more difficult to be financially sustainable when this pandemic is over. When you begin to recognize the possibilities created by change, you can be more prepared to adapt, pivot, and take advantage of it. That’s the mindset you need to be in right now.

Understanding flexibility and a willingness to embrace change will make you a valuable leader — one who can reliably deal with many different opportunities and scenarios. You will then find change is not something to fear, but something to welcome and turn into an advantage. For restaurants with a large on-premise business model, change is happening and you need to prepare – now!

The biggest fear factors for many with a significant dining room are the new seating recommendations and capacity levels for dine-in restaurants. Everyone reading this will be in a slightly different scenario, pending the size of venue, location, and style of concept, so it is hard to create a cookie-cutter solution.

However, there are some new strategies and standards to consider that will help you adapt, pivot, and embrace these changes.

Preparation

Maximum occupancy inside a restaurant will be temporarily adjusted based on its size to limit the number of people inside. While some areas will mandate a 50 per cent capacity level and others will require a 6-foot distancing protocol, it would be wise to prepare financially for a reduced capacity in terms of on-premise foot traffic.

What does that mean for you? To satisfy the desired guest experience (and, as my friend Marc Gordon says, their level of tolerance), rethinking how tables are positioned to create the best energy possible while also complying with physical distancing regulations is going to be critically important.

Seating alignment

Have a plan in place for moving/removing tables, chairs, bar stools, and any gaming or entertainment equipment for the time being. Rework your floor plan and ensure you have storage space for anything that’s being removed. Don’t just put tape around it or stack it away in a corner – both of these options take up valuable space.

Rework your seating alignment to:

  • Increase private or semi-private dining experiences
  • Increase spacing between tables or small groups of guests, following the 6-foot guideline

To accomplish this, you will have to review your style of seating:

Booth seating: These seats are an advantage right now, since they can be adapted with higher barriers and therefore better ventilation, which in most cases will “remove” the 6-foot distancing guideline.

Banquet seating: This seating style needs to be spaced out but can still be flexible in terms of party size. It is recommended to set them up for parties of two with appropriate spacing.

Standard tables: The obvious choice for seating is also the most flexible option, both inside and outside. Remove as necessary but keep a balanced mix of two-tops and four-tops.

Bar seating: This will likely be the last style to be introduced, but at this time you will want to un-anchor any bar stools that may be locked in and remove approximately every other bar stool to adhere to the 6-foot guideline.

With the correct adjustments, you could be looking at around 20 to 25 square feet per guest instead of the typical 12 to 15 square feet per guest. This will help maximize your space, and therefore your revenue and profit opportunities. An 800-square-foot dining area, for example, may have originally sat 53 to 67 guests, whereas a new seating configuration may allow for 32 to 40 guests. That’s significantly less than what you’re accustomed to, but also more than 50 per cent.

Whatever your government mandates, don’t just look at the negatives. Be positive and look for opportunities maximize your space as best you can.

Doug Radkey shares more real-world solutions for your post-COVID-19 seating plan in the second part of this two-part series. Subscribe to RestoBiz Bytes and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more.

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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or by visiting krghospitality.com

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