As one of the first industries impacted by the COVID-19 closures, hospitality has experienced significant change. The rules have changed. Expectations have changed. People have changed. One thing remains the same – the drive to consistently provide an exceptional, welcoming, and memorable experience. Now that the world is slowly embarking on this next chapter to open restaurants and close the social distancing gap, where do you start when you already feel behind?

There are excellent guidelines provided by the National Restaurant Association, Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control, which are highly recommended to reference during these shifting times in preparation for re-opening. To further help navigate your approach with operations and prepare a new mindset with your crew, there are four key areas we are recommending restaurant leadership teams focus their response efforts upon. These are:

Internal Operations

  • Create a staged re-opening plan – avoid reopening too quickly; a slow, steady plan with proper staffing will set you up for success.
  • Alter the restaurant layout to accommodate the flow of traffic – creatively fill any gaps with flowers or plants to break up any empty space, and test the music and noise with the change in capacity to ensure you have a welcoming environment.
  • Control the timing of new ordering systems – ensure you can control the timing of any online orders and deliveries and anticipate any hiccups that may occur during this transition.
  • Inform your guests – update your website and social media frequently, informing guests of your safety protocols, status, and menu changes.

Financial Readiness

  • Control costs – review prime costs and controllable costs with your management team daily and weekly, in order to hold them accountable and ensure financial benchmarks are clearly defined.
  • Implement continuous accounting practices – review your sales, labor, and expenses daily, to be sure you understand your financial performance and can quickly pivot as needed for improvements.
  • Analyze cash flow – create weekly and monthly cash flow projections to ensure you can cover cash outflows in the immediate term while ramping up operations with a new normal of demand.
  • Create additional cash controls – pay employees’ tips on paychecks rather than with cash to improve controls and avoid retaining excess cash on hand.
  • Evaluate your menu – remove any loss leaders from your product mix.

Safety and Sanitation

  • Evaluate all cleaning protocols – follow the restaurant associations’ and DHEC guidelines for best practices, including posting signs for guests with your sanitation protocols.
  • Initiate a deep clean throughout the restaurant – sanitize hourly and select one person per shift to be tasked with ensuring sanitization is done thoroughly and consistently.
  • Sanitize timely – sanitize tables and chairs immediately after guests depart and avoid possible cross-contamination by using disposable towels; have hand sanitizers readily available at all entries and in high traffic areas.
  • Circulate air – keep doors slightly ajar or tape door latches to avoid touching doorknobs and to help with air circulation.
  • Follow social distancing guidelines – mark floors with tape to arrange tables 8 feet apart, and use as a map for your guests to keep foot traffic within guidelines.
  • Set servers up for success – create additional server stations to avoid congregating in one area.
  • Present your menu – post menus on walls or use chalkboards to avoid having to dispose of or sanitize after each use, and train your team to memorize the menu to verbalize the dishes if possible.
  • Implement contactless payments and practices – use mobile credit card processors and implement protocols for sanitizing pens, check presenters, and guests’ credit cards, and ensure they are presented to guests clearly marked as sanitized.
  • Consider portions and sharing – prepare and serve any family-style or shareable items in smaller portions, and order individually wrapped sanitizing hand wipes for your guests.
  • Use disposable wares and paper goods – be sure to contact your waste management company to be prepared for the increase in waste and recycling.
  • Place waste in strategic areas – be mindful of the location of your trash cans and the distance they are from tables.
  • Communicate electronically with guests – use your reservation system or text guests to notify when their food or table is ready to avoid guests from congregating in one area.


  • Implement a gradual rehiring plan – hire key employees first to help strategize the opening.
  • Schedule required trainings – ensure your team meets the requirements of ServSafe training and any DHEC training or certifications in your area.
  • Implement specific guidelines and training – follow COVID sanitation and safety standards, stay consistent, and avoid sending mixed messages by ensuring your entire team follows all mandatory protocols so that you are presented as one unit and keep your guests at ease.
  • Create detailed task lists for each staff level in the front of house and back of house; be specific, don’t leave anything to interpretation.
  • Respect others’ space – implement rules for your staff to not touch anything belonging to a guest.
  • Schedule more staff than usual – schedule extra staff to bus, clean, and turn tables quickly in order to clear and sanitize the area immediately after a guest leaves.
  • Communicate with your team – implement an efficient “line up” before each service for all staff to discuss best practices, changes and updates, and feedback from customers.
  • Protect your crew and customers – order masks or bandanas with the company logo for all employees to wear and make it mandatory; perception matters to your guests and taking these precautions will help them feel at ease.
  • Stay safe and positive! It’s contagious.

This is an opportunity. This is a time to make changes for growth and assess your weaknesses and strengths. The industry has changed and everyone has to change with it to grow and succeed. It’s time to be hospitable for each other again, and the Hospitality Industry can lead the way to bring people back together.

Recommended guidelines:

We Can Help

Elliott Davis advisors can help navigate the waters of reopening your hospitality-related business. Contact a member of our team to see how we can assist you.

For more helpful resources to navigate COVID-19, visit the Elliott Davis COVID-19 Resource Center.

The information provided in this communication is of a general nature and should not be considered professional advice. You should not act upon the information provided without obtaining specific professional advice. The information above is subject to change as a result of rapidly evolving legislative developments and government guidance.