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Ann Holtzapple
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11.2.20

Preparing for Winter in a COVID-19 World

Normally, winter dining trends are full of festive cheer, dashing décor and twinkling candlelight. But this winter, everything looks different. And so will your dining experience. At Vulcan, we are here to help you put your best foot (and food) forward, so we’ve broken down some tips for how to prepare for winter dining in a COVID world.

Embrace the Great Outdoors

No matter what climate you’re in, outdoor dining will be a big part of the restaurant industry this winter. Some states have mandates about how many people can safely eat indoors, while others have recommendations, but no matter your regulations, there will be diners who are more comfortable eating outdoors. So, barring winter coats and shivering spoons, how do you plan for a space that brings the indoors, out?

First, if it works for your restaurant, bring on the fire pit and turn up the outdoor heaters. Giving even the illusion of warmth is enough to make some diners feel like their al fresco experience is cozy rather than just plain cold.

Next, tee up some tents. Putting a roof over an outdoor dining area can make it warmer and shield it from the wind. If your outdoor sitting space has a particularly drafty passage, add plastic sheeting in that direction to shield diners as they enjoy their meal. Remember not to rely solely on umbrellas, as the wind can often take a toll on them.

If you have the space, set up a nice, sheltered outdoor service station for staff. It will minimize the need to keep running inside which can create a draft, and cuts down on door handle touches. However you do the outdoors, make sure you consider the traffic flow in your dining area to avoid too-tight quarters or mood-spoiling spills.

Less Contact. More Ways to Connect.

A completely contactless dining experience doesn’t make much sense, people need to eat after all. But the more you can minimize your contact the better. One way to add simple touches without all the touching is to offer contactless menus. Post signs and boards around your space, or, better yet, use a QR code for the guests to find the dine-in menu on their phones, so they can browse as they please. Online ordering is another way to minimize contact, allowing users to call in for pick-up, or even order online from their table. And near-field communication payments, digital wallets or a tap-to-go friendly terminal let diners check out without any worries.

Offer Incentives

Discounts obviously aren’t always on the table in these tight times, but adding something a little extra is a great way to get diners over the ‘should we even go out tonight’ hump. Extras like a free, pre-wrapped take-home cookie or a free drink with an entree are great ways to let people know you’re still open, and still here to serve.

Plan Food Accordingly

In certain parts of the country, it’s going to be cold when people dine this winter. Really, really cold. So plan for food that will make them feel comfortable and warm. Try adding a new soup, a warm dessert or heated bread to your menu. These will make diners feel a warm sense of welcome, even as the temperatures drop.

Set the Table for Spontaneity

Whatever you do, keep your plan flexible. If you planned to put up your tents on a day where forecasts loom dark, don’t stress about moving back your big day. And make sure your situation is flexible enough to be open outside one day, and closed the next due to winds, rain or temperatures. When the weather passes, you can pick right back up as if it never rained on your patio parade. One more temperature-falling note, be sure to check with your local city governments to see if they have grants available to help restaurants make the most of their outdoor arrangements. Washington D.C., for example, has money available to help restaurants set up a space that is comfortable and safe for all.

And keep doing what you’ve been doing, even as the weather becomes uncooperative. Mask requirements, social distancing and thorough cleaning are still the most important precautions with COVID dining. Don’t skimp on the sanitizing or table spacing to try to squeeze in more diners. Keep up all of your already-in-place best practices and keep promoting all you’re doing to keep dining safe.

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