After several months of stay-at-home orders and mass shutdowns of businesses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, all 50 U.S. states are now cautiously allowing businesses to reopen to some degree. Of course, things won’t return to the way they were before the coronavirus washed up on American shores–at least, not immediately–but after many weeks of uncertainty and financial hardship (for example, see these small business coronavirus statistics), entrepreneurs and small business owners finally have a reason to be optimistic.
Yes, state economies are reopening – particularly with the fear that small business loans won’t be enough for small businesses to make it through to the other side – but they are all doing so at their own pace depending on the concentration of COVID-19 cases in a given area, population densities, and the whims of state governments. Additionally, some types of businesses, such as retail shops, will be up-and-running long before others, like concert venues and bowling alleys.
Nevertheless, no matter your type of business, now’s the time to start thinking about reopening. The country is not out of the woods yet, so there’s a lot of planning to do and precautions to take before opening doors to customers. So, in order to aid and educate business owners and managers as restrictions begin to thaw, we’ve produced this comprehensive guide to reopening. Included are industry-specific reopening guidelines, as well as general reopening resources that should prove useful for all business owners.
Find more information on the Coronavirus Small Business Issues and Solutions Guide here.
Reopening guidelines by business type
As local economies across America begin to reopen, businesses are faced with the difficult balancing act of satisfying customers while maintaining low-risk, hygienic environments. This challenge presents varying levels of difficulty depending on the nature of the business.
In acknowledgment of the novel issues that each type of business will face, we’ve broken down our reopening guidelines by industry.
Traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores had it bad enough competing with online retailers before COVID-19 made the situation even worse, forcing a large percentage of stores to close for weeks. However, there is a path forward for retailers that are able to keep shelves stocked while complying with safety protocols.
- Set clear, realistic goals for your business as it reopens.
- Determine your hours-of-operation based on employee availability, operating costs, and local regulations.
- Make difficult choices about your staffing levels. Will it be necessary to maintain your original workforce? Reduced hours of operation may necessitate letting employees go or limiting employee hours.
- Contact suppliers to ensure that they will be able to deliver products in a timely manner. If the supply chain is disrupted, consider using a different supplier or making different products available.
- Create a reopening plan with the participation of employees, local officials, landlords, and customers.
- Set strict guidelines on hygiene, sanitation, and capacity limits based on state and local guidelines.
- Train employees on hygiene and sanitation procedures so that they are able to work safely and deal with customers that disobey social distancing rules or other guidelines.
- Test security and fire safety systems to make sure they are running properly.
- Set up “one-way” traffic flow through the store with floor markings and signs.
- Put clear signage outside of the store that alerts people to the fact that your business will soon be reopening.
- Consider installing alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations around the store.
- Take employees’ temperatures on a daily basis before their shifts and have them alert management immediately if they come down with any symptoms of illness.
- Display signs within the store that inform customers of COVID-19 safety measures and social distancing protocols.
- Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces that are susceptible to the accumulation of germs.
- Enforce a rule that makes wearing facial covering mandatory for customers while in the store.
- If possible, allow for the use of contactless payment options like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and RFID cards.
- National Retail Federation: State Resources for Retailers on COVID-19 – A page with the latest information on store reopenings and COVID-19 guidelines by state from the world’s leading retail trade association.
Restaurants and bars
Restaurants and bars have a tough road ahead as many people will have concerns about consuming food or beverages handled by others in the COVID-19 era. On top of that, turning a profit while observing tough new capacity restrictions will be a tough endeavor. Yet, by adapting to the new normal with strict compliance of local guidelines and an adjusted business model, eateries can still be successful.
- Communicate with state and local officials to stay informed on reopening guidelines and proper safety protocol.
- Create new operating procedures based on the most recent CDC and FDA regulations.
- Update hours of operation based on customer demand and employee availability.
- Decide on staffing levels based on new hours of operation and legally mandated capacity levels.
- Educate employees on proper safety and hygiene protocols.
- Adjust seating in order to comply with local occupancy restrictions, and switch to an outdoor seating model if possible.
- Contact suppliers to ensure that they are able to deliver the necessary items, and adjust menus if your restaurant is unable to stock certain food items.
- Stagger workstations so that the kitchen staff aren’t working in close proximity to one another.
- Place signage around the restaurant alerting customers to the latest CDC and local COVID-19 guidelines and regulatory procedures.
- Set up alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations around the establishment.
- Allow for a contactless, “grab and go” option for customers.
- Have kitchen staff wear gloves and a mask when handling food.
- Perform health and temperature checks on every employee before their shift begins. If an employee feels unwell, send them home immediately.
- Discourage customers from gathering near the entrance or by the bar. Place floor markings according to social distancing protocols that alert customers to the proper areas where they can wait to be seated.
- Do not serve food in a salad bar or buffet-style arrangement, even if permitted by local regulations.
- Regularly disinfect menus and tables after each use.
- Strictly observe local capacity limits.
- Use mobile ordering and contactless payment options whenever possible.
- Eater: Where Restaurants Have Reopened Across the U.S. – A regularly updated guide on restaurant and bar reopening dates across the country, along with capacity and single-party limits.
Movie theaters, concert venues, and recreation centers
Of all business types, movie theaters and venues may have the hardest road ahead and could be the last businesses to reopen. However, the day will come when people are coming to see movies and attend concerts again, so it’s important to be prepared when the time comes.
- Consult with local officials and regulatory committees well in advance to develop a realistic, safe plan for reopening.
- Strictly observe local capacity limits once they are announced.
- For movie theaters and seated concert venues, consider leaving seats open between parties.
- Bowling alleys and other establishments that lend reusable equipment and items to customers should keep all equipment behind them counter and sanitize everything after each use.
- Encourage customers to use remote ticketing purchasing options. For customers that arrive without tickets, direct them to electronic ticketing kiosks.
- Perform health and temperature screenings on employees before they begin their shifts.
- Have employees wear masks and gloves during their shifts.
- Make customers waiting to buy tickets stand six feet apart and place floor markings at set intervals so customers know where to stand.
- National Independent Venue Association: #Save Our Stages – An effort to protect local and independent music and concert venues that have been devastated by the loss of revenue as a result of forced shutdowns.
- Crew Nation: Global Relief Fund for Live Music Crews – A fund established by the non-profit organization Music Forward to help live music crews forced out of work by the pandemic. Visitors may donate or buy merch to contribute to the fund. Additionally, those affected or put out of work by the shutdowns may apply for relief through the site.
Gyms and fitness
Gyms and fitness centers are another industry that’s been hard hit by the pandemic due to hygiene concerns and the fact that customers reuse equipment. Nevertheless, these businesses will be among the first to reopen in many states as they are considered essential to the lives of many people.
- Contact local health officials to stay informed on COVID-19 reopening guidelines.
- Educate staff on the proper safety protocols and encourage them to wear masks and gloves, if necessary.
- Strictly obey legally-mandated occupancy limits for all facilities and areas of the gym. This also involves limiting participation in fitness classes in order to comply with these limits.
- Do not allow showers to be used. Limit the number of people who may use restrooms and locker rooms at a given time.
- Keep saunas, jacuzzis and steam rooms closed until further notice.
- Test ventilation, security, and fire safety systems to ensure they are functioning properly.
- Offer virtual fitness classes to members who are at-risk for COVID-19 infection or are hesitant to workout in the presence of others.
- Post clear signage everywhere to remind staff and customers to obey social distancing measures and to return home if they experience symptoms of illness.
- Install hand sanitizing stations with alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout facilities.
- Perform a health and temperature check on all employees at the beginning of their shifts.
- Encourage customers and employees alike to wear cloth or disposable masks.
- Require customers to thoroughly wipe off equipment before and after use.
- Post staff around the premises to monitor customers to ensure that they obey social distancing protocols.
- Disallow sports and fitness activities that involve bodily contact between participants.
- Clean and disinfect all facilities at least twice a day.
- IHRSA: COVID-19 Relief & Information for the U.S. Fitness Industry – A list of COVID-19 closure and reopening information for gyms and fitness centers by state along with links to state and federal relief programs for those in the fitness industry.
- Movemeant: COVID-19 Relief – An organization offering resources for fitness instructors whose businesses have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hair salons, barbershops, spas, and cosmetology
The salons and grooming industry is one that people might be hesitant to embrace in the short term due to the fact that close physical contact presents a risk for customers and employees, alike.
Still, most people can’t go very long without a haircut and salon/spa visits are essential self-care for many. In fact, in many states and localities, salons are already reopening to some degree. By observing safety regulations, these businesses can be successful in our post-COVID-19 reality.
- Store managers and owners should consult with local officials and health experts to determine the safest course for reopening.
- Observe local capacity limits and post signs alerting customers and employees to these limits.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect the business with EPA-approved disinfectants before reopening.
- Make alcohol-based hand sanitizer readily available for customers and employees in multiple areas throughout the business.
- Use a touchless infrared thermometer to perform a temperature check on employees and customers as they enter the business, and turn away anyone with a temperature over 99 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Require all employees to wear facial coverings and gloves during their shifts.
- Use contactless payment options whenever possible and discourage the use of cash.
- Limit the number of customers in the business and have them wait outside rather than in indoor waiting areas.
- Clean and disinfect capes, smocks, and equipment after each use.
- Clean and disinfect shampoo bowls, spray nozzles, and armrests after each use.
- Recommend that customers wash their own hair at home rather than having it washed in the salon.
- Have employees wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after each customer service.
- Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces regularly.
- Post floor markings and signage to remind customers to observe social distancing practices.
- Vogue: How Hair Salons Will Be Transformed by the COVID-19 Pandemic – A fascinating long read on the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the hair salon industry and the difficulties businesses will face upon reopening.
While young children are notorious vectors for the spread of germs, fortunately, they don’t seem as prone to serious illness from coronavirus as other age groups. As businesses reopen and schools remain closed, more and more people will be returning to work and require a childcare center to supervise their kids, making them an essential industry.
Although it may seem like a difficult task, childcare businesses will be able to operate in a fashion that limits the spread of illness.
- Consult with local officials and health care experts to develop a sound plan for reopening.
- Educate employees on hygiene and sanitation procedures and notify them of the risks involved with working at a childcare center during a pandemic.
- Strictly observe local limits on capacity.
- Clean and disinfect every area of the business before reopening.
- Remove any toys or objects that children may place in their mouths.
- E-mail clients informing them of the decision to reopen, notify them of the risks involved, and discourage them from bringing their children in if they or their child exhibit a high temperature or any COVID-19 symptoms.
- Clean and disinfect all areas before opening and after closing every day.
- Check employees’ and children’s’ temperatures with a touchless infrared thermometer when they arrive. Send anyone with a temperature over 99 degrees home.
- Ask children about how they are feeling upon arrival.
- Have classes educating children on hygiene and sanitation.
- Have employees wear facial covering, masks, and wash their hands regularly after contact with children.
- Have children wash their hands thoroughly with soap once every hour.
- Disallow activities or games that involve close contact between children, and calmly separate children that engage in close physical contact.
- Have a licensed nurse on the premises at all times.
- IFC.org: Childcare in the COVID-19 Era: A Guide for Employers – An excellent, informative guide to childcare in a world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide contains visuals and discusses different strategies that childcare businesses and parents alike can take to minimize the risk to themselves and their children.
Reopening your business: General resources
- Whitehouse.gov: Guidelines for Opening Up America Again – The official Whitehouse guidelines for reopening released by President Trump, which consists of three phases. Although the Federal Government has left the specifics of reopening up to the states, this is nevertheless a solid resource with plenty of helpful information.
- CDC: How to Protect Yourself and Others – A guide from the U.S’s leading public health institute explaining the proper health and safety precautions to avoid getting sick or spreading COVID-19 to others.
- CNN: This is where each state is during its phased reopening – A comprehensive, regularly updated guide tracking each state’s reopening schedule.
- Coronavirus.gov – The Federal Government’s official coronavirus website, which contains all the major official resources covering all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, relief efforts, and up-to-date statistics.
- National Governors Association: Coronavirus: What You Need to Know – A site with the latest information on COVID-19 in the United States updated with regular memos on NGA activities and a state-by-state timeline of the steps taken by state governments to combat the spread of coronavirus.