Guidelines for Reopening Your Restaurant During COVID-19

Restaurants are starting to get the green light to reopen, and we’re moving forward with caution as an industry. The National Restaurant Association has provided guidelines for reopening, while industry leaders like Starbucks, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s, and Chili’s are paving the way—and showing restaurant owners how to reopen as safely as possible. 

Read on to see what reopening your restaurant looks like in today’s world, and how we can better serve restaurant patrons. If you’re ready to reopen and in need of online and mobile ordering options, MenuDrive has a 90-day free trial for coronavirus relief.

(Key data points from this article were taken from “Return to Work: Market Practices by Industry,” a May 2020 Kirkland & Ellis report.)

National Restaurant Association Guidelines

Start with Food Safety

Follow all requirements of the FDA’s Food Code. These are used by local, state, and federal regulators and must be implemented in the workplace. 

Update Sanitation Practices

Focus on high-contact areas that are touched by both employees and guests. Remove lemons and unwrapped straws from self-service drink stations. Consider eliminating table presets for condiments and napkins, and use disposable menus. If using paper menus, have customers take them or dispose of them after each use. Provide hand sanitizer for guests.

If you are using digital ordering systems, confirm that they are sanitized between each use. Check on self-service areas, tabletops, and any other commonly touched areas. Dispose of any single-use items left at the table. Make sure your servers are asking guests if they’d like condiments, napkins, or any other extras before taking them to the table, since they will need to be disposed of after contact. 

Monitor Employee Health and Personal Hygiene

Monitor the health of your employees. While it is not required to check employees’ temperatures, if you choose to, you need to engage health officials to adopt the proper procedures. The CDC recommends that everyone wear a face mask to mitigate risk, especially while in closed environments where social distancing is hard to maintain.

Continue to Implement Social Distancing Measures

Update your seating plan to allow for at least six feet of separation between guests. To accomplish this, you may have to block off certain seating options and have a hostess seat guests, instead of allowing self seating. For dine-in customers, follow your local and state governments’ “maximum allowed” rules for party sizes. 

Stagger workstations whenever possible to help employees keep a safe distance from one another. If that is not possible, consider requiring face coverings and increasing the number of times the surfaces of workstations are sanitized. 

To help maintain distance, consider using separate doors for entry and exit, with clearly marked pathways. Remind any third-party delivery drivers, vendors, or other suppliers your staff comes into contact with that your restaurant is practicing social distancing internally while reopening.

Not sure what to do next at your restaurant? It can be helpful to see how other popular establishments are handling a situation none of us has been in before. Read on to see how major brands are reopening their restaurants.


McDonald’s is shifting the way they do business, relying on touchless handwashing stations with foot pulls, automatic towel dispensers, and touchless sinks. All food service workers are wearing masks, gloves, and face shields per local mandates. (Prior to the pandemic, McDonald’s had set up contactless ordering systems with their app and touchscreens inside locations.)

Soda fountains have been shut off in most of their dining halls, with employees monitoring and pouring soft drinks for customers. Straws and other condiments have been taken from the lobby and must be received from the cashier. 


Chili’s announced that they are committed to opening their dining rooms safely; they reopened their Georgia locations on April 27. Since then, they’ve had many other openings across the country. 

Here’s what they’re doing to keep their customers safe. 

  • Using social distancing in seating arrangements
  • Reducing the number of physical touchpoints, with curbside deliveries and touchless payments
  • Placing disinfection stations at every entry point
  • Mandating that all team members wear masks and gloves when working
  • Mandating handwashing after each touchpoint, and every 30 minutes
  • Disinfecting all surfaces every 30 minutes

Dine Brands Global, Inc. – Applebee’s and IHOP

With Applebee’s Carside to Go campaign that’s gone strong for over a decade, during dining room closures, they fared better than their sister restaurant, IHOP. Still, reopening had to happen in order for either of the chains to stay afloat. 

Now they are reopening with limited occupancy of up to 50% and requiring all employees to wear masks and gloves. Applebee’s president John Cywinski released a statement that they are taking “precautionary steps to enhance protections.” He stated that they are educating their team members on CDC-recommended preventative measures, in addition to heightening handwashing procedures. Employees who feel unwell are required to stay home.

Darden Restaurants Inc. – Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Longhorn Steakhouse, and The Capital Grille

Darden Restaurants opened most of their dining rooms during the first week of May. They are requiring masks for all workers and have changed their dining room layout to promote social distancing. Parties are restricted to six or fewer guests. 

With Longhorn Steakhouse, you can join their waitlist online for a reservation, as they are not able to serve as many restaurant patrons at once. 

Tables are being disinfected after each guest visit. Darden requires temperature checks for workers at frequent intervals. They have also increased the frequency of handwashing required within their restaurants. 

Shake Shack

Shake Shack’s humble beginnings as a hot dog cart in New York City’s Madison Square Park launched them into becoming one of the most sought-after burger joints in the US. In order to start serving customers again while practicing social distancing, they’ve added drive-thru lanes and walk-up windows. Shake Shack has also added off-premise pick-up stations and encourages digital pre-orders. 

They’ve been reviewing their restaurant layouts to improve the safety of guests and allow for seamless pickup options. With their new pick-up areas to improve flow, and with their move toward digital adoption with online ordering, they’re saving customers time and keeping them safer while reopening. 


Starbucks had put advanced technology and contactless options in place before the pandemic hit, so they’re ahead of the game when it comes to reopening safely. They predict that the Starbucks app will soon become the preferred way to pay for customers. 

 Starbucks has added new features to its app, including:

  • Optimization of curbside pickup
  • Entryway handoff
  • Voice ordering through Siri
  • Improved drive-thru experience
  • Star redemption for all customers 

Starbucks has a goal of reopening at least 90% of their stores by early June, even if that means modified operations and hours. They’ve added new protocols adopted from China, where 98% of stores have reopened.

Safely Reopening Your Restaurant

MenuDrive is here for you as you move forward with reopening your restaurant, offering commission-free online ordering. Help customers place orders ahead of time to minimize contact, offer options such as curbside pickup, and ensure that safety and great food can still go hand in hand. It’s one small but effective step in the bigger picture of keeping the public safe while bringing the restaurant industry back to life.

We hope sharing this information from MenuDrive’s online ordering platform will help your restaurant not just survive these hard times, but thrive down the line. If you haven’t set up online ordering for your restaurant yet, we’d like to invite you to check out our services and start giving your customers what they want: a way to order your food easily with the click of a few buttons.

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