Part 3: How to Respect Social Distancing

In Takeout Tuesdays Part 2, we looked at how you can adapt your existing menu to focus on options that work best for takeout and delivery. In Part 3 of our series, we will look at how to interact with your clients while respecting social distancing.

What is Social Distancing?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines social distancing, or physical distancing, as “keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home.” They offer these guidelines for practicing social distancing:

  • Stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people
  • Do not gather in groups
  • Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings

Equipped with this information, how can we setup the food service operation to keep customer engagements safe?

Food Packaging

When packaging to-go food, we want to try to minimize the areas that the customers will need to touch. By optimizing the menu for takeout, we have already taken a big step in minimizing touch points. By wrapping all items in the fewest number of bags as possible, customers should only need to touch the handles of each bag.

All orders should be checked for accuracy even more than normal during this time. Not only will a mistake on an order blemish the patrons opinion of your operation, but it creates more opportunity for contact when the incorrect items are replaced. As you adapt your processes make sure the expediter is stepping up their QA on orders.

If possible, minimize the number of staff that can touch the individual items. Although the entire staff may be wearing gloves and following correct hand-washing procedures, minimizing touches of any kind is a step toward security. Consider only allowing the expediter to put individual items in the bags while checking the orders thoroughly. If there are questions about the items and they need to be taken back out of the bag, allow only the expediter to remove.

Takeout Station

In part 1 we discussed how to create a dedicated pickup area in the dining room. We discussed ways to minimize contact points with patrons, including keeping the front door open if possible and making payment cashless, and in some cases touchless.

To find other ways to minimize customer contact, take a look at the flow of the customer interaction to make sure it follows with the CDC guidelines above.

  • Is there room for multiple people to wait on takeout orders in your dining room while maintaining 6 feet of distance? One way to make sure patrons have their own space is to setup a line with space built in. Using tape on the ground or other sign every 6 feet to show customers where to stand can help keep them safe. Post a sign on the front door to let customers know what the tape on the ground is for.
  • Are you allowing customers to not gather in groups? You might need to limit the number of patrons who enter to pickup an order to 1 or 2 people in each group.
  • Are you helping clients avoid mass gatherings? It might be useful to know the number of patrons who can comfortably be inside while maintaining social distancing, and limit the number of patrons inside at a given time.

When handing the order to the customer, make sure to keep space. Placing the order on an intermediate table for the customer to take will allow service staff to physically distance. All to-go items, including plates, napkins, cutlery, and condiments, should be distributed by staff. Self-service items provide an opportunity for contact that can be eliminated.

Consider setting up a contactless curbside pickup station if you have the space outside your restaurant. Meet your customers at the curb to further minimize contact. With a few cones and some tape, you can quickly setup a drive-thru in your parking lot.


Most national brands with large delivery segments have implemented “Contactless Deliveries,” which is the practice of delivering food while maintaining social distance. When delivering the order, the delivery driver will set the order down outside the door of the customer and allow the customer take the food with no interaction with the driver. To make this possible, contactless payment implementation is a must.

For restaurants that previously had a small or no delivery business, consider scaling quickly with a delivery service. Not only are major national delivery services like Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub offering contactless delivery options, but some are also waiving delivery fees during this crisis.

Uber Eats waives delivery fees for independent restaurants during COVID-19 pandemic

Stay Informed

Once you have your operation optimized for social distancing, don’t get complacent. Information regarding COVID-19 and the social implications of the crisis changes rapidly, so be proactive in getting your news. Just as your operation had to pivot quickly in response to social distancing, staying vigilant will help you prepare for the next time you need to pivot.

Here are resources from the CDC that you may find helpful:

*Next in our series on evolving customer engagement, we will take a deep dive into the different types of disposables your operation will now need, and which will be the best for your restaurant.

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