One chef’s reopening playbook

A Georgia operator shares best practices for welcoming back dine-in customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Photograph courtesy of Chef Joignant

After requiring residents to shelter in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Georgia was one of the first states to allow restaurants and other facilities to open back up for dine-in business.

Although reopening guidelines were outlined in Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order issued on April 23, most Georgia concepts weren’t able to pivot from shuttered to operating in less than a week, as the new rules took effect April 27.

Christophe Joignant, executive chef at Capital City Clubs, a social club in Atlanta, put a step-by-step plan in place in anticipation of fully opening his four locations on May 19. While he was bringing back and retraining employees, revising menus, upgrading sanitation protocols and taking care of other details, the clubs’ to-go program was going strong. “We are doing 120 to 150 meals a day, with a different special offered every day,” he says.

With social distancing rules still in place, dining rooms will not be filled, so carryout will likely continue. But Joignant is looking forward to serving guests at the table later this month and shares these steps he’s taking to make the opening safe and successful:

Streamlining the menu

During the carryout phase, Joignant pared down offerings to a couple of items per day. Now, he’s planning on limiting them to the proven best-sellers.

Starting outdoors, if possible

At the country club property, Joignant is opening with poolside service—even though swimming is not yet allowed—by reservation only. There are plenty of tables on the patios and areas surrounding the pool, and they can be spaced as far apart as necessary. Restaurants in Atlanta that have already opened are focusing on dining al fresco as well, and customers seem to feel more comfortable with that, he says.

Curbside catering for groups of four

Members who may be golfing or engaged in other activities can order lunch to go. Joignant is limiting the choices to cold foods that can be prepared ahead and easily packed for takeout to enjoy on the golf course or elsewhere in the club.

No bar service

All drinks must be ordered from waitstaff and served at the table. “We’re removing the bar stools and setting up the bar as one of the service stations,” Joignant says.

No more buffets

Brunch and seafood buffets were popular with guests, but those are now off the table. Joignant intends to put mini buffets on individual plates so diners can enjoy many tastes without crowding around a long, shared table.

Printing a new menu daily

The clubs will be using single-use paper menus that must be disposed of. Previously, tables were set for lunch with placemats, but those are a no-go. “We’ll be sanitizing tables between each group of guests,” Joignant says.

Upgrading sanitation procedures

Before and during the meals-to-go period, Joignant is conducting deep cleanings of the front and back of house. For the upcoming opening, he purchased a sanitizing machine to clean the dining spaces and kitchen, along with large quantities of hand sanitizer, masks and other essentials. “Be prepared for extra expenses,” he warns.

Intensifying training

Employees must be retrained extensively on new safety and sanitation protocols—another added expense. “Labor costs will go up because of all the training and extra equipment, such as masks, gloves and sanitizer,” Joignant says.

Adjusting staff schedules

Social distancing means that employees cannot all show up at the same time to prep in the kitchen or set up service. Depending on the size of the space, only two or three cooks may be able to work in the kitchen together at once, so rejiggering shifts and focusing on flexibility is essential.

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