Restaurant Reopening Resource Guide + Checklist

Restaurant Reopening Guide and Checklist

There is a seemingly endless flurry of news, updates, and new regulations for restaurants to follow as the ongoing situation continues to play out. If you live in a state where reopening your restaurant is an option, take the time to read the relevant resources and prepare your staff to open with all precautions in place.

While you navigate reopening, understand that the situation is organic and new developments happen daily. Stay updated with the latest information and recommendations from organizations like the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Use this guide as a framework to guide your practices as you plan to reopen your restaurant.

Determining If Your Restaurant Should Reopen

During this unprecedented public health crisis, restaurateurs in certain states have the option of opening on-premise dining services on a limited basis. For example, restaurants in specific counties in Iowa are allowed to offer on-premise dining as of May 1, according to the Governor’s proclamation. As interviews with restaurateurs on ABC News highlight, restaurant owners face a tough choice. They can reopen in the middle of an evolving pandemic or keep their doors closed until the scientific community reaches a consensus that it is safe to reopen.

Financial Resources

If you decide now is not the time to reopen, you have options to keep your business in the interim. You can apply for various assistance in the form of loans to ease the financial strain during this challenging time.

  • While all small businesses could apply for disaster loans before April 15, the U.S Small Business Administration is still accepting applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from some U.S. agricultural businesses. Read the details to see if you are eligible.
  • Apply for Coronavirus Emergency Loans with the updated information provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Congress recently approved an additional $310 billion to help small businesses.
  • The SBA is also accepting applications for the Paycheck Protection Program as of April 27. This type of loan provides an incentive for restaurants and small businesses to keep employees on their payroll.

Food Safety

When beginning preparations to reopen your restaurant in adherence to local and federal regulations, food safety and cleanliness is a top priority. Adhere to this checklist of food safety best practices.

  • Continue to strictly follow the four key steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
  • The person in charge of your location must be ServSafe certified. Provide food handler training to all employees regardless of certification as a precaution.
  • In states where buffets and salad bars are permitted, keep sneeze guards installed at all times.
  • Wash, sanitize, and swap out utensils and barriers frequently during operating hours.
  • Do not stock coolers above minimum levels when providing “grab-and-go” services.
  • Dispose of all out-of-date food items.
  • There is no evidence from the CDC at this time that the virus can be transmitted through food. However, all surfaces and packaging materials should be considered possible surfaces of contamination and sanitized accordingly.
  • All operators should keep in contact with local and state regulatory agencies for the latest advisories and protocols to follow.
  • Takeout is a fundamental part of many restaurants’ operations at this point. Many consumers are concerned about the potential for contamination from takeout orders. Offer contactless delivery options to minimize risk. North Carolina State University compiled a helpful takeout FAQ that advises customers to wash their hands after handling the packaging in which their food arrives.


When it comes to slowing the spread and flattening the curve, an aggressive sanitation plan is necessary. Ensure your restaurant complies with all new regulations and guidelines. Follow the instructions below and review the FDA’s best practices guide for further details.

  • Wash, rinse, and sanitize all food preparation surfaces, utensils, drinkware, and dishware after use.
  • Increase how frequently your staff disinfects high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, equipment handles, checkout counters, and cash registers.
  • Maintain a strict cleaning and sanitizing schedule for floors, counters, and other access areas.
  • Verify that your sanitizers and cleaning products are EPA-registered disinfectants.
  • Check that your washing machines are operating at the appropriate temperatures and contain enough detergent and sanitizer.
  • In between parties, clean all surfaces at a table, including condiments, digital ordering devices, and high-touch surfaces.
  • For delivery, sanitize all transport containers and coolers for each order.
  • Engineer controls whenever possible to distance employees from work-related hazards, per the COVID-19 workplace guide developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Some of these controls include installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates, installing additional physical barriers like plastic guards, and adding a drive-thru window for customer service.
  • Retrain all team members on current cleaning procedures and protective measures per the guidance of the CDC and FDA.

Employee Health

Don’t jeopardize the health of your employees or your customers when reopening your restaurant. The following resources provide instructions on how to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

  • Instruct all employees who exhibit symptoms to report to their managers promptly. They should stay home and follow the CDC’s guide on what to do when sick.
  • If any employee has knowingly been exposed, follow the CDC’s best practices guide. Protocols include pre-screening before a shift, disinfecting all equipment and workspaces, self-monitoring, and wearing an approved face mask.
  • Face coverings should be kept clean throughout the day. For more information, read the CDC’s general cleaning guidelines.
  • Did one of your employees get sick even though they followed quarantine best practices? Consult the CDC guide on discontinuing isolation to determine if they can return to work.
  • Remind employees that they should thoroughly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after going to the bathroom, sneezing, blowing their nose, coughing, and before eating.
  • Employees should always wear gloves when touching ready-to-eat foods to avoid bare hand contact.
  • Everyone on the premises should wash their hands with soap and water. If soap is not readily available, team members can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Social Distancing

You will need to make significant changes to your processes to socially distance your employees and customers from other people while in your restaurant.

  • Increase signage and consider recording audio messages to remind employees and customers of proper social distancing etiquette.
  • Update your seating arrangements to ensure there is adequate space between every diner. Take into account that your wait staff will need to walk throughout the restaurant without getting closer than six feet to customers.
  • Consider shifting to reservation-only or call-ahead seating to provide yourself the ability to space out diners responsibly.
  • Do not allow customers to congregate in your waiting area or bar. Choose a process that works for you to separate guests who are waiting to be seated. This process could be waiting in their car, standing on floor markings, or outdoor distancing.
  • Install physical barriers like plexiglass wherever possible, such as at large booths or checkout counters.
  • Limit party sizes to the established “maximums approved” as recommended by the CDC. State and local regulators will set the maximum in your area.
  • Implement technology solutions when possible to reduce person-to-person contact: mobile ordering, online menus, and contactless payment options. Some states allowing restaurants to reopen are requiring contactless payment. Research the guidelines in your state, so your business is compliant.
  • Set up designated pick-up locations for takeout orders and allow customers to pay ahead electronically to minimize personal interaction.

Increase Your Workplace Safety With Chefs’ Toys

Many of these resources are being updated with the latest guidance and best practices during the pandemic. By sanitizing your restaurant and following local and federal regulations, you can prepare your business for the possibility of reopening. Stock up on workplace safety gear and sanitizing products from Chefs’ Toys to be ready for increased cleaning throughout the workday.