Re-opening Restaurants and Food Services

Waterloo Region is in Step 2 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen. For more information please review Reopening Ontario.

Waterloo Region residents are strongly advised to continue practicing public health measures and get vaccinated to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Businesses and organizations can submit questions directly to the Ministry of Health.

Please note, there is no requirement for restaurants to be inspected by Region of Waterloo Public Health before re-opening. After re-opening, regular inspections by Public Health inspectors will resume to ensure compliance with the Ontario Food Premises Regulations, standards and COVID-19 prevention measures. Inspection results, including COVID-19 prevention measures will be posted on Check it! We inspect it.

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COVID-19 continues to circulate in the community and there is a good chance that a COVID-19 positive case will dine at your restaurant at some point. Your restaurant may be identified to Public Health Case and Contact Management by a COVID-19 case as a setting they have visited, so restaurant owners/operators must be prepared if this happens. For example, this could include reviewing the cleaning and disinfection schedule, providing a list of patrons to Public Health if requested, creating a communication plan to employees, or implementing a staffing plan if employees are identified as close contacts that may be required to stay home and self-isolate.

Ultimately, it is the owner’s/operator’s responsibility to provide an environment that minimizes the risk of transmission to COVID-19. Those that choose to re-open their restaurant/food premises should consider the recommendations described below in order to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 among staff, patrons, and the community.

Any new restaurants planning to open, or restaurants planning renovations, must contact Public Health before opening to arrange for an inspection by filling out a Food Premise Notification Form.

Step 2 requirements

For the most current information, please regularly check the Reopening Ontario Roadmap, and Step 2 Regulations.

  • No indoor dining or buffet-style service may be provided. Open only for outdoor dining, take-out, drive thru and delivery
  • Outdoor dining may only be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. (take-out, drive thru and delivery is permitted at any time)
    • Alcohol may only be sold or served from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
    • No consumption of alcohol from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.
  • All patrons must remain seated at all times, except when entering or exiting the facility, getting up to order, pay, use the washroom, or reasons related to health and safety
  • Capacity limits outdoors at the establishment are limited to the number where physical distancing of two metres from every other person in the establishment can be maintained
    • No more than ten people may be seated together, except for those in the same household, a member of up to one other household who lives alone, or a caregiver for any member of either household
  • The person responsible for the establishment must clearly post a sign in a highly visible location for the public that states the maximum capacity permitted
  • The outdoor dining area must be configured so that patrons seated at different tables are separated by a distance of at least two metres, or, plexiglas or some other impermeable barrier
  • Name and contact information must be recorded and maintained for at least one month, for all seated patrons
    • Contact information must be protected, and only disclosed to a medical officer of health or a Public Health Inspector, upon request for the purpose of contact tracing. Records can be securely destroyed after one month
  • Screening of patrons is required, in accordance with instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health
  • Patrons are not permitted to line up or congregate outside of the establishment unless they are maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres from other groups of persons inside or outside the establishment
  • Patrons are not permitted to line up inside the establishment (pay, take-out, washroom, etc.) unless they are maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres from other groups of persons and wearing a mask or face covering in a manner that covers their mouth, nose and chin
  • Music must be at a decibel level of normal conversation
  • No patron dancing or singing is allowed
  • A safety plan describing measures and procedures that are implemented to reduce COVID-19 transmission must be posted and available on request
    • Safety plan must describe screening, physical distancing, mask or face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, and the wearing of personal protective equipment
  • Face coverings are required except when eating or drinking only
  • Personal protective equipment, including eye protection is required when a worker must come within two metres of another person who is not wearing a face covering
  • Patios:
    • Ventilation in outdoor patio environments provide conditions, which assist in reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 virus
    • If there is a roof, canopy, tent, or awning at least two full sides of outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and not substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers
    • If there is a retractable roof, at least one side must be open to the outdoors, and is not substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers


Face coverings

  • The Face Covering By-law makes it mandatory for customers to wear face coverings in enclosed public places, including in restaurants except when customers are eating and drinking in their seats.
  • Clearly post Face Covering By-Law signage at all entrances (as per Region of Waterloo by-law that requires face covering in enclosed spaces).
  • The Province also implemented further requirements to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and requires those responsible for businesses to ensure patrons are wearing face coverings while in their business.
  • Staff working in areas accessible by the public must wear a face covering. Staff working in employee only areas must where a face covering if distancing with others cannot be maintained or guaranteed.
  • Staff must also wear eye protection when coming into contact with someone who is not wearing a mask.

Complete an initial walk-through

  • It is important for management to perform a walk-through of the establishment to identify any areas of concern and take action, as applicable.
  • Consider the following before resuming business:
    • Check the condition of all food and discard product that is passed its Best Before or Expired dates, or otherwise unfit products. “When in Doubt, Throw it Out”
    • Check thoroughly for signs of pest activity. Contact your licensed pest control contractor or consider contracting a licensed pest management company prior to opening to ensure there is no infestation.
    • Ensure all hot and cold holding equipment are clean and functional.
    • Where applicable, ensure dishwashing machines are functioning adequately.
    • Ensure garbage storage areas are clean and of adequate size for the needs.
    • Ensure faucets are working properly and flush pipes for at least five minutes. Ensure there is an adequate hot water supply.
    • Ensure there is an adequate supply of soap and paper towels.
    • Ensure there is an adequate supply of cleaning supplies and proper sanitizer as required in the Ontario Food Premises Regulations.
    • Thoroughly wash, rinse and sanitize all food contact surfaces and equipment before beginning operation if you have been closed for a period of time.
    • Clean and disinfect all non-food contact surfaces, including high touch areas such as door handles and knobs, washrooms, etc. See below for more specific details about ongoing sanitizing and disinfecting.
    • Ensure there is an adequate supply of disinfectant for disinfecting high touch surfaces in the public area.
      • Disinfectant is not to be used in the kitchen, food preparation areas or for food contact surfaces.
    • Only use disinfectants that are approved by Health Canada, deemed effective against COVID-19 and viruses with a Drug Identification number (DIN), and check the expiry date.
    • Train staff on new procedures/requirements.

Promote physical distancing and safe flow of staff and patrons

  • COVID-19 is largely transmitted through respiratory droplets that can spread up to two metres.
  • Maintain two metres between staff and patrons, where possible.
  • Allow space for the safe circulation of customers and staff.
  • Use signage, flow demarcations/arrows to promote safe movement.
  • Be aware of physical distancing for non-household members and current limitations related to group gatherings under the current Zone.
  • Where possible, facilitate the one-way flow of people throughout the establishment in order to minimize face-to-face traffic. Ideally, patrons and staff should not closely pass by one another face-to-face when travelling to the washrooms, etc. Consider the following:
    • Wait staff should keep a two-metre distance from patrons when taking orders and wear masks/face-coverings and eye protection if coming within two metres of unmasked patrons

Monitor entry 

See the current O. Reg. 263/20: Rules for Areas in Step 2 requirements or the current Zone capacity limits.

  • A staff member should be present at the establishment’s entrance(s) to monitor entry.
  • Ensure that customers lining up maintain a two-metre distance from other groups/patrons.
  • To reduce crowding, establish a system for patrons to line up in order to gain access into the establishment.
    • Patrons must maintain two metres between themselves and others in the line. They must also wear a face mask/covering if inside for any reason.
    • Owners/operators should consider using signs or markers to assist patrons with practicing proper physical distancing while in line.
  • Consider taking reservations only, as opposed to walk-in business. This will help to: monitor capacity, ensure physical distancing is maintained, and assist with logs and contract tracing if needed.
  • Maintain a customer log of all patrons that includes name and telephone number or email for the purpose of contact tracing as outlined in Reopening Ontario Roadmap.  
  • If possible, do not use entrance points as exit points, other than in an emergency. This will help to facilitate the one-way flow of foot traffic.
  • Post signage regarding COVID-19 screening at the entrance to help patrons identify whether they have any symptoms and whether they should leave to self-isolate at home
  • Hand sanitizer (with at least 60 per cent alcohol content) should be located at the entrance(s).
    • Patrons and anyone else entering the establishment should wash or sanitize their hands upon entry.

Adjusting the space to support physical distancing

Patron space

See the current Step 2 Regulations for current capacity limits.

  • Remove any waiting area seating.
  • Remove seating from high traffic areas, if possible.
    • High traffic areas may include: near washrooms, pathways to seating areas, entrances, etc.
  • Install physical barriers, such as Plexiglass or similar, to protect staff and patrons in situations where physical distancing may be challenging.
    • For example, install physical barriers at cashier areas and host desks, when applicable. Consider installing physical barriers between back-to-back booths and other areas as necessary.
  • Use posters, signs, arrows, barriers, or other markings to promote physical distancing at the safe flow of people.

Staff space

  • Re-arrange equipment and/or processes in the kitchen and other areas used by staff so that a two-metre distance between staff members is possible at all times.
  • Staff working in areas accessible by the public must wear a face covering. Staff working in employee only areas must where a face covering and if distancing with others cannot be maintained or guaranteed must also wear eye protection.  
  • If staff are working directly across from each other or in close contact in the kitchen/preparation areas for prolonged time, eye protection and a mask are required. 
  • Reconfigure break rooms/areas and eating areas for staff to physically distance. Consider using barriers on lunch tables.
  • If necessary, re-arrange or create additional food pick-up areas for servers to maintain distance (e.g., use the bar as a serving area).

Promote hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

  • Staff and patrons should be advised to practice good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. This includes:
    • Washing hands frequently with warm, soapy water
    • Using hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol content when warm water and soap are not available
    • Respiratory etiquette includes coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or disposable tissue
  • Owners/operators should consider posting the How to Wash Your Hands sign in washrooms or other common areas.
  • Food handlers must continue to regularly wash their hands, as already required in the regulations
  • Non-food handlers and service staff should be reminded to properly and regularly wash/sanitize their hands.
    • After processing payments
    • After coughing, sneezing, or touching the face
    • After cleaning and sanitizing/disinfecting surfaces
    • Upon starting a shift, returning from a break or lunch
    • After making or receiving deliveries
    • Or at any other time which may cause hands to become contaminated
  • Handwashing stations must be equipped with soap, single use towels, and warm, running water at all times.
  • Hand sanitizer (with at least 60 per cent alcohol content) should be located throughout the establishment and specifically at the entrance(s).
  • Glove use among staff is not a requirement. Good hand hygiene and proper hand washing is preferred.
    • Incorrect glove use can lead to cross-contamination of surfaces
    • If staff choose to use gloves, they should practice proper handwashing before they put the gloves on, and after they take the gloves off
    • Gloves need to be changed frequently, as often as hands should be washed, upon becoming contaminated
    • Plastic, latex, and nitrile gloves are intended to be single-use only
  • Face coverings are mandatory in indoor, publicly accessible areas, as per the Face Covering Bylaw and Provincial regulation. Face coverings are also required when physical distancing among staff is not possible.
    • Proper donning and doffing measures should be followed for those that do wear non-medical masks. This includes:
      • Properly washing or sanitizing hands prior to putting the face covering on and after taking the face covering off
      • Individuals should handle the face-covering by the elastic ear hooks and avoid touching the part that goes over the mouth and nose
      • Masks should be changed or washed at least daily
      • For more information, review When and How to Wear a Mask
      • Note: Medical masks, including surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (e.g., N95 masks), must be kept for health care workers and others providing direct care to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. While non-medical masks are not appropriate substitutes for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), they may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing, or coughing under appropriate circumstances, conditions, environments or locations.

Increase cleaning and disinfecting practices

  • Owners/operators should establish a plan to enhance cleaning and disinfecting practices in public areas.
  • Continue to follow proper protocols for cleaning and sanitizing kitchen, food preparation and food-contact surfaces as required in the Ontario Food Premises Regulations.
  • All other public common areas and high-touch, non-food contact surface areas (e.g., doorknobs, counters, handrails, debit/credit card machines, phones, keyboards) require regular disinfecting (e.g., at least twice daily or more as required).
  • Ensure disinfection of tables and chairs in between customers. 
  • Disinfectant solution should have an 8-digit drug identification number (DIN) approved by Health Canada, deemed effective against COVID-19 and viruses.
    • Alternatively, a diluted bleach solution can be used, but requires surfaces to be cleaned beforehand and leaving the surface wet for at least two minutes
    • Note that bleach solutions get weaker in heat and sun; if kept outside (i.e., on the patio), the solution should be re-mixed at least twice a day. Health Canada recommends diluted bleach be prepared according to the instructions on the label or, assuming the bleach is five per cent sodium hypochlorite, in a ratio of:
      • Four teaspoons (20 mL) per litre (1000 mL)
  • For more information review Cleaning and Disinfection in Public Settings.
  • Disinfectants, household cleaners, and bleach are meant to be used to clean surfaces. Never use these products on skin or internally (e.g., by swallowing or injecting these products) as this could cause serious harm.
    • Ensure there is a process in place to verify appropriate concentration levels if the disinfectant is not already pre-mixed. Always read and follow manufacturers’ instructions for safe use (e.g., wear gloves and use in well-ventilated area).  

Implement additional safety procedures

For staff

  • Ensure all staff know to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, even if symptoms are mild. Staff must complete a COVID-19 self-assessment, prior to entering the establishment for each “shift” to help identify any symptoms and/or the need to stay home.  Ensure screening is documented.
  • Screening can also include checking temperatures of staff at the start of each shift/upon entry to identify anyone with a fever of 37.8 degrees Celsius or greater.
  • Staff with a fever of 37.8 degrees Celsius or greater, or that report COVID-19 symptoms, should not be permitted to work their shift and should seek testing and self-isolate at home.
  • Ensure staff know who to inform if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms during their shift. A plan should be in place to report symptoms before and during shifts, as well as to manage absences.  
  • Stagger shifts, lunches, and breaks times to prevent overlap and congestion of staff. Establish a plan to reduce or manage congestion effectively and support physical distancing.
  • Establish consistent groups of staff for each shift and/or alter shift schedules so that the same groups of staff are always assigned to the same shifts. This is known as “cohorting” and can reduce the spread of COVID-19 by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other. Cohorting is also referred to as a “bubble” and may also reduce the number of workers quarantined should exposure to COVID-19 occur.
  • Require that staff limit the time they spend within two metres of patrons. This may include introducing new practices or procedures for interacting with and serving patrons.
  • Ensure staff thoroughly wash their hands and avoid touching their faces after clearing dirty tables, touching reusable articles, and soiled linen. 
  • Encourage staff to wash their work clothes between use.
  • Where feasible, owners/operators should consider implementing cashless/touchless payment systems or encouraging only debit or credit card payment. Proper handwashing/hand sanitizing must be practiced after each payment is processed.

For patrons

  • Consider taking reservations only versus walk-in business. This will help to monitor capacity and ensure physical distancing is possible.
  • Maintain a customer log as outlined in the current Zone requirements.
  • Establish a plan for encouraging physical distancing among patrons.
  • Restaurants/bars must ensure that background music and any other background sounds, such as from televisions or other electronic sound producing devices, is no louder than the volume of normal conversation, so patrons can have a normal conversation or speak to their server, without raising their voice or leaning closer to each other to hear.
  • Avoid using re-usable menus if they cannot be properly disinfected after each use.
    • Instead, consider switching to single-use, paper menus and/or using menu boards, online menus, or chalk-/white-boards
  • Avoid using shared/table condiments if they cannot be properly sanitized after each use. Instead, consider switching to single-serve versions, or by order to be prepared by the kitchen.
  • Do not pre-set tables, utensils should be rolled or packaged, use disposable napkins where possible. If reusable linen napkins are used they must be placed in laundry collection bag to be washed with hot water and detergent.

Maintain communications

  • A written safety plan is required and must be made available to anyone who asks to see it.  Ensure it is updated regularly.
  • Ensure staff are aware of any policies or procedures that will be implemented while operating within the context of COVID-19. Restaurant owners/operators should provide additional training to staff on all new procedures and requirements prior to re-opening.
  • Ensure all employees know to stay home if they think they have COVID-19 symptoms, and report if they have symptoms while at work. Employees should be made aware of any procedures for reporting symptoms to management. Communicate regularly with employees who are off work and provide reinforcement that this is not to pressure the employees to return to work.
  • Owners/operators should consider communicating to patrons about the policies, procedures, or other practices they are implementing to help minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 (e.g., via social media). This will help patrons know what to expect before coming to the establishment.
  • To help collect the information needed from patrons, owners/operators are encouraged to accept reservations only (versus walk-in business)

Applicable laws and regulations

Not withstanding the above, owners/operators of restaurants and other food premises must continue to comply with all applicable legislation, including:

See the current Reopening Ontario Roadmap for the current Zone requirements.

Owners/operators should also refer to guidance from the Ministry of Labour. This Ministry guidance supplements, but does not replace, guidance from Public Health about food safety, or the Food Premises Regulation.

Additional resources

Public Health does not provide advice regarding your ability to operate and it remains the business’s responsibility to ensure compliance with all applicable laws to operate at this time. These guidelines and resources should be reviewed and followed, and while we aim to provide relevant and timely information, no guarantee can be given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided. Continue to monitor this site, along with the Ontario Government website to stay as current as possible. The content is provided for informational purposes only and not intended to, nor does it provide legal advice, and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice.

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