Although many restaurants have continued to serve customers via takeout and delivery through COVID-19, more and more states are allowing restaurants to re-open with social distance and occupancy limits. Los Angeles area restaurant builders H.W. Holmes, Inc. thought this would be a good time to look at the potential long-term impact this pandemic might have on restaurant design moving forward. Particularly in the areas of sanitation and safety. Strict cleaning regimens, social distancing, and employees in face masks and gloves look to be the new normal moving forward. But what else might restaurants find themselves doing to safely welcome back sit-down guests?

Give Customers & Guests Some Space

Social distancing will be key to move us closer to a return to normalcy. Occupancy limits seem to be enforced state to state as restaurants re-open for eat-in dining. Sure, there’s always been occupancy limits. However, those occupancy limits were typically based on the maximum density of the space per building and fire codes. Restaurants now will be faced with the challenge of remaining profitable with strict seating capacities in response to social distancing requirements.

For restaurant workers, this will unfortunately mean a reduced employee headcount in response to the smaller crowds. Smaller crowds will also mean less tips. Restaurants that are able to reconfigure outdoor/open-air seating to accommodate more guests will take less of a hit. Many cities and municipalities, desperate to reinvigorate their economies and keep as many local restaurants open as possible, are being more flexible with their sidewalk and street encroachment guidelines. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the restaurants able to seat and serve customers outdoors will have an easier time making it through this COVID-19 hit.

For those restaurants without an outdoor patio, try to reconfigure the space to give takeout customers their own area separate from dine-in customers. Figure out a means to streamline entry and exit into the restaurant. Perhaps with specific doors for each. These types of changes won’t break the bank in renovation costs and will make each type of patron more comfortable coming to your establishment. More restaurants are utilizing walk-up takeout windows and carside service. They’re also using more app-based technologies that simplify ordering, allow for contactless pick-up, and help keep lines, guests queues, and wait times short.

Segmenting restaurants like this will be a great way to offset the sting of a less dense dining room.

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt – Little Details Matter

Physical distancing is one thing but a number of little things will also need to be implemented. The plexiglass guards we see at grocery stores between the cashier and customer are being added to ordering counters at fast food restaurants. Fast casual restaurants like Subway or Chipotle are extending the dividers they already had.

Self-serve salad bars or buffets are a no go in states mandating restaurant employees serve the the food. This is to limit the number of individuals touching shared utensils and keep people from hovering over the food. These offerings are still customizable but must now be hands off.

Airflow is Critical

In February of 2020, 10 people from three families in Guangzhou were infected with COVID-19 after eating at the same air conditioned restaurant. The belief is infected droplets from their talking, laughing, sneezes, or coughs spread to those nearby via the airflow of the restaurant’s AC system. However, samples taken from that HVAC system were negative for the virus. And no other customers in close proximity and no restaurant employees serving these families became infected.

The COVID-19 transmission was all a matter of poor air distribution. Probably a dated or poorly maintained HVAC system since a modern and professionally maintained can actually play a positive role in controlling of COVID-19. HVAC systems and the built environment optimize air purity and play a vital role in helping to prevent the virus from spreading.


H.W. Holmes, Inc. are qualified and experienced restaurant builders in the Los Angeles area. We have the knowledge and expertise to ensure your newly built or newly remodeled restaurant is up to code, meets all required standards, and built to your complete satisfaction. Contact us today to discuss your restaurant remodel or renovation.