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September 21, 2020

How to Create and Encourage Social Distance in Your Restaurant

Samantha Hubay

Written by:

Samantha Hubay

How to Create and Encourage Social Distance in Your Restaurant

Restaurants are designed to be places that bring people together. But right now, people need to stay six feet apart. That means your restaurant is facing a huge challenge that you probably never saw coming.

Key Takeaways You Will Get From This Article

To promote proper social distancing, you’ll need to use arrows and clear, consice signage, close or remove self-service stations, space out tables or install dividers, encourage reservations and online menus, accept contactless payments, and sanitize machines.

How can you create a safe, spread-out space and still offer the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that your diners are craving? What can you do to encourage your diners to practice safe social distancing in your restaurant?

In this post, we’ll answer these questions with some advice on how to create a socially distant space that doesn’t feel distant at all.


Why is Social Distance Important?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. The more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

The CDC also notes the following four risk tiers for the food service industry:


Food Service: Risk of Spreading COVID-19

Lowest Risk: Food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curbside pick-up.

More Risk: Drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curbside pick-up emphasized. On-site dining limited to outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Even More Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Highest Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity not reduced, and tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart.


Which tier does your restaurant currently fall into?

As you can see, restaurants with limited in-person contact present the lowest risk for spreading COVID-19. Many places that are equipped with drive-through service have closed their dining rooms completely and are only offering drive-through service. This, in turn, protects their employees and their customers. Other restaurants that typically offer dine-in only have adapted their operations to also offer take-out, delivery, and/or curbside pick-up.

If your restaurant isn’t equipped to offer any of these options, that’s okay. There are still ways you can adapt your dining room, bar, and kitchen to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 in your restaurant. Keep reading for some ideas!


Create a Socially Distant Space & Encourage Compliance

To promote proper social distancing, you’ll need to do more than simply change the layout of your restaurant. You’ll also need to set specific health and safety rules and encourage everyone who enters your building to follow them. Keep these rules as simple as you can and use signage to make them clear upon entering the building. Here are more ideas to help you adapt your restaurant space:


1. Arrows and Clear, Concise Signage

As we mentioned before, it’s important to use clear, simple signage in your restaurant to make sure everyone knows the rules. You can create these yourself, or click here to browse and download signage, posters, and more from the CDC. Make sure to place these signs in highly visible areas, such as:

      • Restroom mirrors
      • Front doors
      • Front lobby area
      • By the host stand
      • Behind the bar
      • On each table

You can also consider placing directional arrows on the floor to keep everyone moving in the same direction. This will help to prevent diners, wait staff, and hosts from accidentally bumping into each other. You can easily create these yourself with some bright tape!


2. Close or Remove Self-Service Stations

To promote proper social distance in your restaurant, you’ll need to prevent people from congregating in certain areas. For example, if your restaurant has a self-service soda fountain or condiment station, these are typically crowded areas. In this case, the best way to promote customer and employee safety is close or remove the stations.

However, this doesn’t mean your customers won’t have access to a soft drink or some extra ketchup. You can still provide these items in a safe way. If you can’t move the soda fountain, consider assigning a single staff member to stand by the fountain and fill sodas. You could also consider providing condiments at the counter upon request or assign a staff member to offer condiment packets at each individual table. Small changes like these encourage your customers to stay in their seats, properly distanced from others.

3. Space Out Tables & Install Dividers

The CDC recommends spacing tables at least six feet apart indoors and outdoors to promote safe social distancing. Depending on your floor plan and dining room size, this might require replacing large tables with smaller ones or removing tables completely. If you’re working with booths or tables that can’t be moved, you’ll probably need to block some of them off to keep groups of diners apart. You can do this with a simple sign or come up with something more creative. (The Inn at Little Washington, a restaurant in Washington, VA, dressed up mannequins to sit at their blocked tables. Creepy or genius? You decide.)

Another way to keep germs from spreading across groups is to install dividers between tables and barstools. Sneeze guards or plexiglass partitions are recommended by the CDC to protect customers and employees from spreading respiratory droplets.


4. Encourage Reservations & Online Menus

Encouraging your customers to call ahead and reserve a table will help prevent unnecessary crowding and result in a smooth dining experience. It can also put your staff at ease to know how many people they will be serving on a given night.

What’s one of the most-touched items in your restaurant? We already talked about condiments, so it’s not the ketchup bottles. It’s the menus! Printed menus get passed from the host, to the diner, to the wait staff, and then back to the host. One way to lower the risk of contamination is to take those menus away. Instead, upload your menu to your website and ask diners to view it there. If you’d like to take technology one step further, consider creating a QR code for your menu and posting it at the host stand or on each table. That way, diners can simply hover over the code with the camera app on their smartphone and view the menu with a simple click. You can do this for free in a few steps on websites like

5. Accept Contactless Payments & Sanitize Machines

Another solution to consider is low-contact or contact-free checkout. You can ask customers to pay by credit or debit card only, limiting the contact your team must have with cash and change. When a customer does use their card to pay, make sure the machine is sanitized between each transaction.

You can also consider upgrading to a system like Total Touch Point of Sale, which is equipped with NFC payment technology. This allows customers to make payments from their mobile wallet. All the customer needs to do is take out their phone, open their mobile wallet, and hold it over the machine. This is a completely contactless way to accept payments that can bring peace of mind to your staff and customers.


We know making changes like these won’t be easy, but they could be the difference between staying open or shutting down. We wish you and your restaurant the very best. For more tips and information to help you navigate COVID-19 challenges, check out these posts:


How to Balance Customer Experience with Health Department Expectations

Ten Tips for Marketing Your Restaurant on Social Media

How the Right Merchant Services Products Can Help during COVID-19



Sources: Touch Bistro, CDC

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