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Tips for running your restaurant with reduced staff in times of Coronavirus

3 July 2020 Small Business Advice

Restaurants across England are waiting eagerly for their grand reopening on Saturday 4th July, after almost four gruelling months of no trading.

Despite many people longing for a feast in their favourite local restaurant, it’s not going to be an easy start for the hospitality sector. Diners ready to step out again come July will need reassurance and confidence that the restaurants they visit are not jeopardising their health. 

From seating arrangements to cutlery, to the way they receive their food, these minor details we once ignored will come under great scrutiny.

So what can restaurants do to operate with first rate customer service, with contact-free measures and a reduced number of servers?

Give staff frequent training

Staff training will become a major success factor for restaurants reopening in the coming months, especially if fewer people are taking on more duties. 

Employees will need clear guidance and leadership from employers, to help them adapt to strict social distancing. While it’s not always clear what the official guidelines are, restaurant owners should create standards to withhold, that align with any government regulations

Additionally, owners should create bespoke situational training specific to their premises and ways of working. For example, fire procedures/drills and assembly points will need to be reassessed.

What can you do to help staff feel confident on reopening?

Training refreshers

It’s likely staff that have been furloughed for a few months will need some time to familiarise themselves with existing procedures and operations before being introduced to specific new implementations for Coronavirus.

Training refreshers may include:

New training

No amount of training or hospitality experience could have prepared us for these ‘unprecedented times’. This means that regardless of seniority or position, there will be new learnings for everyone. 

Whether it’s learning how to operate in a one way system, taking customer’s personal details safely for Test and Trace or overseeing food collection and cleaning stations, these things will need to be figured out and practised well ahead of opening. 

Other new training opportunities will come off the back of real situations that happen with customers.

Adapted training

All staff should be given thorough guidance and instruction on any differences (no matter how minor) to procedures that will affect the way they do their job. 

For example, the below actions may change for waiting staff, to ensure contactless service:

  • Walking diners to their table and seating them
  • Handing out paper menus 
  • Leaning in to help customers understand the menu better
  • Touching tables, plates, condiments and cutlery directly 

It’s second nature for hospitality staff to be warm, tactile and affable, so it may take awhile for staff to squash old habits they’re so familiar with. That’s why giving staff the resources and, more importantly, time to adapt to the new norms is crucial.

Cross training

Can your front of house hosts also confidently take food orders and serve diners? Can your servers also help with certain kitchen operations (e.g. processing stock/managing inventory)?

With less staff but potentially a lot more to do, employees will need to take on new roles that may be outside of their comfort zone or job-description. Firstly, you need to communicate this to them prior, to get their consent and assess their willingness to do things they previously would not be expected to. 

Once they have agreed to the changes in their role, it is up to managers and owners to cross-train staff so they are well-rounded and feel comfortable stepping into new roles where other staff members are not present. 

Utilise technology

One of the most enjoyable parts of dining at a restaurant is the level of service we receive. Yet, with the risk of transmission of COVID-19, still not eradicated, as less contact with others is no doubt the safest and most desirable option. 

Not only will technology help limit the risk of spread, but it will also help restaurants run efficiently with limited staff members.

Technology to help you run your restaurant with reduced staff

A modern EPOS

Instead of seeing your POS or EPOS as the means to take orders and payments, see it as the ecosystem for your restaurant’s operations. Whether that’s checking inventory, managing staff rotas, processing digital customer orders or billing, it’s a powerful tool worth investing in. 

Used to its full potential and EPOS will:

  • Save you time by reducing administrative jobs and manually keying in
  • Allow serving staff to manage payments seamlessly, at the table or counter
  • Reduce waste with an accurate inventory management system integration
  • Unlock better communications between your front of house and back of house staff

Self-serve stands or table-top tablets

Seen most commonly in fast food chains, self-serve stands or table-top tables for customers to place orders are now being considered across more traditional restaurants to help limit contact between staff and customers. 

The software on the tablets or stands processes orders and sends them to the EPOS and then to the kitchen where it can be prepared by chefs.

Digital reservation software

Using technology that allows customers to book their own reservation lifts a lot of administrative work from front of house staff who will now be busy giving customers extra guidance and overseeing safe social distancing. 

Whether it’s app based or desktop, your online booking systems should allow customers to do the following, to help reduce the pressure for serving staff:

  • Book a time slot (should also have an end time, so you can manage capacity, e.g. 7-9pm)
  • Select the number of people attending
  • Select specific seats/tables (to help manage 1m distance between diners)
  • Give with consent any specific information about their health in relation to COVID-19 (have they had symptoms in the last seven days etc.)
  • Give with consent their personal details, should they be needed for Test and Trace
  • Collect customer feedback (send an email to their chosen address)

Back of house software

With fewer bodies to help communicate important information, kitchen and back of house staff will rely on watertight systems in order to minimise order errors and waiting times. Luckily, there is reliable and affordable technology that breaches the gap between servers and food runners and chefs.

Kitchen display systems

Remove manual labour with paper order tickets and take everything digital with a KDS. 

A kitchen display system does a lot more than let your chefs know what they need to cook. It helps servers know what time to collect dishes, categorises meals by their course and table, gives notifications for when new orders come in and for pending ones. Your KDS will also provide time stamps so you can monitor waiting and turnaround times. 

Kitchen management systems

As delivery demand increases, kitchen staff will need to be able to distinguish between on-premise and outside food orders to avoid confusion for waiting staff, who are likely to be managing several tables. Effective kitchen management systems will ensure all orders synced with your EPOS or app service are separated accordingly so errors are reduced. 

As well as organising orders, KMS is essential for giving kitchen staff the ability to customise incoming orders in a way that suits them and their customers best. For example, Tapas restaurants are able to show order lists vertically by item, or orders can be categorised based on course. Servers, or customer’s themselves, also have the freedom to make bespoke choices to orders e.g. bringing out a starter with the mains etc.

Collect customer feedback

It’s unattainable for restaurants to achieve perfection across everything with such limited knowledge of the situation and limited members of staff who are expected to cover all bases.

Customers will be sympathetic to your learning curves, but before stretching yourself too thinly, why not play to your strengths by identifying where customers’ main concerns lie and focus your efforts to remedy these, creating reassurance and trust.  In order to better understand customers’ worries ahead of time you could send out online surveys with questions:

About social distancing: 

E.g. Out of the below, which statement best reflects your feelings on seating arrangements inside of the restaurant?

  1. I’m happy to be seated within 1m plus of other diners
  2. I would prefer to be seated 2m of other diners
  3. I would like to sit 2m away from other diners and not facing them

About your menu:

E.g. How do you feel about us limiting our menu to just specials while we work with a reduced team? 

  1. I’d still eat at X with the reduced menu
  2. I’d rather wait to attend when you have your full menu
  3. Other (please specify)

About hygiene levels:

Are you concerned about using standard (non-disposable) cutlery, glassware and crockery due to COVID-19?

  1. No, i’m confident that they are washed to a high standard
  2. Somewhat, it would worry me slightly 
  3. Yes, it would prevent me from dining at the restaurant 

By focusing on the above, you’ll have an idea of how you can channel your efforts to make your customers feel confident to dine with you, and your staff feel like they’re not overworked across minor details that are not major concerns for your customers in the present climate.


Need more advice about preparing and delivering food safely? Check out our guide here. Or if you’re looking to improve your restaurant’s efficiency by integrating your card payments with your EPOS system, read more about Paymentsense Connect here.

Why wait? Take card payments in just 3 days.