Coronavirus has drastically changed every restaurant’s day-to-day operations, and our restaurant clients are reaching out to us with pandemic-related construction questions. Here are a few of the top concerns we’re hearing, along with potential solutions to consider for your restaurant operation:

Seating – While local regulations vary, most include some level of physical distancing between tables which has an enormous impact on profitability. Many of our clients are looking at some type of partitions between seats, and the two most requested materials we’re installing are plexiglass and wood. Booths with higher barriers are also an option. Staggered seating is a move our clients can make without an out-of-pocket investment, although some clients are considering modular furniture purchases for additional flexibility. Expanding outdoor seating is a great option, and an overhang can increase the number of meals that can be served outside. If local regulations allow, consider expanding onto the sidewalk, parking lot or street.

Takeout Area – With the increased interest in pickup and delivery, restaurant owners and managers are reimagining their takeout operations. We are building a separate entrance for some of our clients, often in the back or on the side of the restaurant, for takeout orders. That might include a new walk-up or drive-through window for picking up orders, and/or a separate walk-in waiting area for third party delivery services.

Ventilation – Proper airflow is enormously important in a restaurant, and now even more so. Per ASHRAE, ensure the efficiency of your HVAC filtration is at a minimum of MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) 13 or better. HEPA-filters can clean and recirculate conditioned air, and your air-changes per hour should be measuring correctly to dilute the air.

Enhanced Sanitation – After building as many restaurants as we have, we have a good sense of the type of materials that contribute to a clean restaurant.  We’ve always sung the praises of non-porous surfaces because pandemic or not, cleanable surfaces – including walls – will always make a restaurant kitchen easier to maintain. FDA regulations and food safety guidelines have reliably provided thorough guidance for a long time, but new operational requirements have changed the way we implement those guidelines. Solutions vary depending on each space but replacing materials both at the back and front of the house might be in order.

Storage – Storage needs within the restaurants have changed quickly as well. Clients have asked us not only about adding storage for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) – but also new storage areas throughout the restaurant for cleaning supplies. With increased cleaning of high touch surfaces and between seatings, it’s important to have the needed supplies easily accessible, especially in areas like the front of the house.

Plan ahead – While restaurants have been given the go ahead to reopen for in-person dining in many parts of the country, there is certainly a possibility of another shut down. Plan for that scenario and consider what construction changes you might want to make at your restaurant if that occurs. We do a lot of projects for our clients during off hours, but the opportunity to do larger projects over the course of a few weeks can make for an easier reopening process in our new normal.

Communication and Documentation of Safety Measures – This is the time to make sure your clientele feels comfortable. Social media, email communications, website updates, on-site signage and more can all help explain the changes you’re making and help your clients feel comfortable and safe in your restaurant. Document your new protocols, train your staff and expect to share your new procedures on deep cleaning standards, screening policies, personal hygiene practices and food safety measures with your clients and health inspectors.

This is the time to reach out to your partners and advisors – your builder, your architect, your kitchen designer – and think creatively. We are all in this together. Set yourself up for the current environment and think on your feet. None of us have ever been through a change like this before, and now is the time to get ahead of the curve (and potentially a second wave) and make necessary adjustments – even to business models that have been successful in the past. Evolving is always necessary to meet your customer where he or she is, and this pandemic is no exception.