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Reconfigure Your Dining Room to Welcome Back Guests


Prepping your restaurant to reopen during a pandemic is the polar opposite of what you initially did to get the restaurant ready for its grand opening. 

“Turn up the lights. Get rid of extra things to make it look clean,” Tanya Spaulding, principal at Shea Design, is telling clients as they prepare to reopen their restaurants once Gov. Walz grants permission. Instead of grouping guests together so you look busy, now you’ll want to spread them out. “It’s the opposite of what we do when we design. We design with a lot of theater and touch points,” she says. “Anything in excess is going to be scrutinized at a different level now.”

Based in Minneapolis, Shea works with a variety of national hospitality clients on design, branding and workspaces, including a lot of high-end restaurants in the Twin Cities.

A good number of people will still be fearful when they return to restaurants and therefore your space needs to be “sparkling clean” as well as following all the mandates, such as tables spaced six feet apart. Do a deep clean, and constantly wipe down surfaces once guests return. Go touchless wherever possible, such a footguard on the restroom door. And paper towels, not just hand blow dryers.

Tanya Spaulding has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding and creating consumer experiences with Shea Inc.

And it won’t be enough to just seat every other table—or fill the empty booths with mannequins as one restaurateur did in Washington, D.C. Remove extra tables so the dining room looks spacious and servers can move easily between tables without touching anyone.

When you space out your tables, don’t just stack the extras in a corner, rent a storage unit, she advises. The snapshot you want diners to see is a safe, clean environment, and having furniture or décor cluttering the space works against that. 

One idea she doesn’t advise is putting barriers, such as Plexiglass around booths or tables. While you want people to feel safe, you don’t want to transfix your space is such a way that it goes against your brand. 

Here are some of the tips from Shea’s war chest of ideas: 

Fix worn and torn areas of your furniture and cover porous wood with butcher paper;

Remove candles and bud vases from tables and store silk flower arrangements and throw pillows. 

Clear the bar top of all herbs, garnishes and extra glasses. 

Rather than remove bar stools, move your two-tops up against the bar so people still have that sitting-at-the-bar seating, while maintaining social distancing. 

Open private dining spaces once reserved for parties for families with six members or even tables of four.

Order masks to match your uniform or aprons. “Take this opportunity to have fun with on-brand color, or something that fits you,” she says. “You have the time to do it now so you’re not just buying it off the shelves.”

Also make sure your signage—such as takeout signs in the window and social distancing stickers on the floor—is all on-brand and professional. 

“We’re removing some lounges or banquettes if they’re close to the front and putting in shelving for take-home markets,” Spaulding says. Using entry space for a mini-market can be another badly needed revenue stream, while also spacing people and staff out. Rethinking traffic patterns in the front of the restaurant is also a good exercise for right now. Remember in these opposite times, not looking crowded is better than looking like the hot spot. 

For more tips from Shea, go to their website, sheadesign.com/how-we-create/ and click on Now and Next: Post-COVID To-Dos for Restaurants. 

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