Arranging your restaurant tables for social distancing

Arranging your restaurant tables for social distancing

It’s been a tough year for restaurant and pubs, but this summer represents a glimmer of hope for many who are hoping to return to serving customers once again. Although both outdoor dining and indoor dining have now resumed in many parts of the country, some restaurants still have some preparing to do, and arranging restaurant tables and seating for social distancing purposes can be a minefield. As many of our customers are restaurant and pub owners, we thought it might be handy to prepare this guide to help you understand how to best prepare to rearrange your restaurant tables for social distancing, and more…

What are the rules from 17th May 2021?

The most important thing to remember is that restaurant tables must be distanced at two metres apart whether indoors or outdoors. This will ensure that there is sufficient space between groups of customers, limiting contact between groups to make sure everyone stays safe.  

Restaurants should set limits on the number of customers allowed inside the restaurant. When deciding this number, various factors will need to be taken into consideration including the size and shape of the restaurant’s tables and other pieces of furniture; the total space available in the restaurant; and how spacing will be affected if there are certain areas in the restaurant that are liable to get busy or congested for instance narrow walkways.

Clear signage and markings should be used to remind customers from separate parties to maintain an appropriate distance from one another at all times.  

Social distancing rules state that, for indoor dining, customers can be served in groups of six people at a maximum, with guests in each group coming from a maximum of two households. Outdoors, restaurants may serve groups of up to 30 people.

Customers should wear a mask when they are not sitting at their table to avoid spreading the virus if they come into contact with others on their way, for instance when they arrive and leave the restaurant, and when they go to the bathroom.

For non-licensed restaurants, customers may collect their food and beverages from a counter if appropriate. For venues that serve alcohol, table service is a must. In both cases, all food and drink must be consumed at the table, and at-counter dining is not allowed.

For their own safety and the safety of others, staff should wear masks when working indoors.

The NHS Track and Trace App has become an essential part of the government’s plan for stopping the spread of Covid-19. Customers should be encouraged to check in on the app on entry to the restaurant. There should also be a GDPR compliant system in place to collect customers’ details in case they do not have a smartphone or do not wish to use the app for any reason.  


What extra measures can I use?

For many smaller restaurants, the most pressing concern will be how to make the best business choices with the potential for a much reduced seating capacity. For many, the two-metre rule for restaurant tables may be very restrictive for seating and could be difficult to adhere to whilst keeping their businesses profitable. Luckily, there is a caveat to the two-metre rule for restaurants where sticking to this rule is not feasible. Restaurants may distance their tables at ‘one metre plus’- one metre apart but with added safety measures to ensure Covid safety for staff and guests.

The government’s guidance is not specific as to what these extra safety measures should be, but ideas include perspex screens or ‘sneeze guards’ between restaurant tables, and orienting your restaurant tables to avoid contact between guests when they get up and move around the restaurant.

Many restaurants also choose to employ a one-way system where feasible, for instance for guests travelling to and from the bathrooms and back to their tables. If it is possible to do so in your restaurant, this can be a useful option to help avoid customers coming into contact with one another when they get up from their tables. 

Contactless payments are increasingly becoming the norm when it comes to paying the bill at the end of the night, and encouraging customers to pay in this way is a great method of reducing the risk of cross-contamination when handling money or bank cards.


Get creative

Some restaurants have been gaining attention and attracting customers by using creative methods to help enforce social distancing rules regarding seating at restaurant tables. In summer 2020, one restaurant in South West London, for instance, used teddy bears seated at alternate tables to denote which restaurant tables were unavailable for customer seating. As well as serving a practical purpose, this added a sense of lightness and fun for customers and drew lots of attention and positive press for the restaurant.

Some restaurants and cafes have upped their technological game by introducing apps for ordering food and drink to reduce the necessity of staff moving to and from tables to take orders.


With all of the rules and restrictions, re-opening your restaurant can be a daunting prospect, but by working carefully and even creatively, we can all make sure that staff and customers stay safe!

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